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This book's thought provoking essays also force all of us to think about our own carnivorous instincts. Since almost all of us eat meat from the supermarket the book takes cows as an example and asks non hunters if the castration of bulls, the branding, the feeding of them in outdoor, closed in, excrement filled pens and the eventual slaughter of them is really somehow better than the hunter who shoots and kills a deer in the wild? It seems we all live with blood on our hands. But not to let you think this book is simply cut and pasted from the pages of American Hunter. The book also questions trophy hunting and whether hunting should even be considered a sport.
Since many hunters spend a good deal of time defending what they love to do, I would recommend that they pick up a copy of this book in order to be able to answer the question "why do I hunt?"
If one expects this to be a book merely about hunting, that expectation is wrong. If one expects this to be essays written only by undereducated, good old boys-"slob hunters"-who relish ambushing Bambi from a truck that is wrong. If your expectation is that all the essays will be unambiguously pro-hunting or gun sport, you are "off the mark." Fairly, Nelson, in his introduction says," In the United States, hunters are probably the largest, most diverse, and most important potential advocates for preservation of natural habitats and protection of wild animal populations." That remark comes close.
I believe that many city folk have so lost touch with wild life that they now believe that hunting is something akin to a video game using live ammunition. That a hunter would relish spending an entire day tracking game, and not succeed seems antithetical to their purpose for some. After reading these essays, one understands why the writers deem the day a success, something very special; e.g., "I began to realize that what I like best about hunting was the companionship of a few good old trusted buddies in the out-of-doors."
If hunters can feel so deeply-even those who later abandon it-one hopes for a return to earlier days when more Americans shared the pastime. Pete Dunne writes about "the Great Moment: How the universe held its breath, waiting-waiting for the sound of an echo that never came; the echo of a shot that was never fired" while sighting a deer-and not shooting-after his many years of hunting. You can feel the heart of this "ex"-hunter who still declares that "anti-hunters who believe that hunting is synonymous with killing and that anyone who hunts is unfeeling and cruel" ... "aren't dishonest. They are merely wrong."
I could go further, providing so many wonderful examples of the humanity of these writers. I suggest, however, that you make the time to read this book. Perhaps the greatest compliment I can pay to these writers is that they are knowledgeable, articulate, caring people. If their hunting experience has helped them become that way, hunting is very important to our culture and our society.
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Many poems are better "heard" then "read", and though these poems are certainly enjoyable when read aloud, I've enjoyed them quietly, as my own, on my own, like a little prayer book to read on the subway or bus or at lunch. A volatile, fiery prayerbook, to be sure, but a prayerbook nonetheless. You can tell from the other reviewers that this book tends towards intimacy between the reader and the page--you do get attached to them. Imagine how you keep remembering what your beloved said to you the night before, or the look on the face of a child in a favorite photograph, you think of it all day. It's like that. In just a few lines (and most of these poems are no more than 8-10 lines) a picture is drawn of a motion, a setting, a remembrance, sketched in just enough sparse detail that you either recognize the scene as one from your own life, or else you end up fixated on it it from an intimate distance, explode, burn and fade in one quick moment.
Think Babe Ruth, swinging for the seats on every pitch. Sometimes he strikes out, but even his whiffs look prettier than most people's base hits.
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The self-described "hook-and-bullet hack" -- in fact, one of the most thoughtful hunting and fishing writers in America, a field editor for Sports Afield magazine -- travels "The Sporting Road" like Kerouac with a fly rod and a 12-gauge, where every stream is a stream of consciousness. As you cruise the blue highways from Washington to Florida, Fergus muses about hunters' patient wives, sharptail grouse, bamboo fly-rods, the coming of snow, bonefishing, Native American culture, lives worth living, the perils facing small towns, good dogs and good friends. There's a certain poetry that emanates from somewhere deep down, an echo of a primitive time, brought up-to-date by Airstream trailers, Coleman grills and, for better or worse, Eddie Bauer.
This is a good book for non-hunters and non-anglers, the most militant of whom assume avid sportsmen have little conscience or intellect. Fergus proves otherwise. He is an eloquent spokesman for the sporting life, not defensive and clearly thoughtful. If you've ever wanted to understand the allure of frigid mornings in high-plains cornfields, or soggy nights on the banks of an unknown river, or why a hunter would drive for two days for a fleeting glimpse of a bird too small for dinner on its own, read "The Sporting Road."
I was very excited about my first hunt and after three days of not seeing any game, I realized that during that time, I had changed ... from a novice hunter to a man in love with the outdoors.
I may not have seen any game but I saw the trees (seemed like the first time) ... and the grass, the river, the lake, the fields, the sun and shadows, the clouds drifting overhead.
I listened to the wind, the sounds the trees make when they rub together, the rustling of the grass.
In spite of the fact that I carried a weapon and moved thru the woods in a preditory mode (or maybe because of it) I experienced a sense of peace and wonder that I hadn't known since I was a child ... and I loved every moment of it.
I felt safe, at one with my surroundings ... I felt like I belonged there.
Reading this book brought me back to that place ... and it made me long to get back in the woods as soon as I can.
This book spoke to my heart.
Thank you Mr. Fergus.