Now that you’ve got those Christmas giftcards, it’s time to treat yourself or that uncle you forgot about to a great read. Here at ParksByNature, not only do we love nature, we also love good prose. Whether it’s hunting, angling, or general nature writing that interests you, these five essential nonfiction books for hunters and anglers will dazzle readers with their style, wit, and insight into the mysterious realm of nature.
1. The Hidden Life of Deer by Elizabeth Marshall Thomas
Whenever we recommend this book to serious deer hunter friends of ours, the usual response is: “you mean that tree hugger?” If a tree hugger is somebody who spends more time in the woods than shopping at Cabelas, then count us in. Instead of telling you how deer should behave, this book records how deer actually behave. In The Hidden Life of Deer, Thomas weaves personal memoir, anthropological perspective, and a certain observational grace into a beautiful and revealing portrait of deer in the woods of New Hampshire. We’re not ashamed to say that a lot of what we know about deer hunting and behavior comes from this unique book.
2. The Founding Fish by John McPhee
John McPhee is master stylist who has chronicled everything from basketball to the history of the Florida orange. He also happens to be a lifelong shad fisherman. The Founding Fish is a cultural history of American shad fishing that seamlessly blends meticulous scholarship with the ease and locality of travel writing. The book follows McPhee as he travels up and down the Eastern seaboard fishing for the mercurial shad and meditating on the fish’s importance to America’s dietary past. Did you know that George Washington’s Continental Army might have starved if it wasn’t for the spring shad run of 1778?
3. A Man Made of Elk by David Petersen
This is an unusual and still obscure entry into the annals of hunting literature. One of the reasons for its slow reception is that Petersen is a dedicated traditionalist who only hunts one animal, elk, and does so with longbow, a form of technology unchanged since the 1300’s. Since longbow hunting requires getting up close and personal with the animal, Petersen has learned to act and think like an elk. This is probably the closest thing we have to a book on elk hunting written by an elk.
4. A Sand County Almanac by Aldo Leopold
Leopold was a rare combination of philosopher, naturalist, conservationist, and hunter. A Sand County Almanac (1949) is a collection of personal essays about the wilderness of Wisconsin in which Leopold developed the modern philosophy of land conservation or “land ethic”. The book describes that era of conservation history when it was believed that the eradication of certain predatory species would increase the overall abundance of game. Leopold, as a hunter, was one of the first to see that an ecosystem was a far more complex matter.
5. The Longest Silence by Thomas McGuane
You don’t have to be a trout fisherman to appreciate the tension and tug of McGuane’s prose. The Longest Silence is composed of 33 essays written over an equal number of years that take you everywhere from trout ponds in Michigan to fly fishing for bone fish in Florida. But the real subject of McGuane’s book is that mysterious and infinite silence between bites that every fisherman knows.