the best american hunting stories

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For over 100 years, Field & Stream magazine has published the best in long- and short-form writing from the nation’s greatest writers, thinkers, and outdoorsmen. In this collection, we bring together the best of the past decade of contemporary writing in celebration of the sport of hunting.From Field & Stream’s talented experts and renowned writers like Bill Heavey, Rick Bass, Steve Rinella, and Philip Caputo come some of their most harrowing and touching words on the art of the hunt. Go with Susan Casey on her first elk hunt, travel to the black forest of Germany with Dave Petzal, and tag along with one of the youngest, most deserving hunters to ever leave an impression on Bill Heavey.These stories are rich in philosophy and wisdom, humor and empathy, and the deep thread of experience that runs through all those who love the outdoors. Read them by the campfire, and then go out and make your own great memories.Compiled by the trusted editors at Field & Stream magazine, the world’s leading outdoor magazine, which has provided expert advice and accounts from every aspect of the outdoor experience and lifestyle, including hunting, fishing, conservation, and wilderness survival, for more than 100 years. The magazine is read by millions of avid hunters, anglers, and adventurers each year. Stories by Dave Petzal, Bill Heavey, Susan Casey, Philip Caputo, T. Edward Nickens, Keith McCafferty, Anthony Licata, Dave Mance III, Steven Rinella, Brad Fenson, Rick Bass, Mark Sullivan, Thomas McIntyre, and Nate Matthews.

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  • 2014 Weldon Owen Inc.

    415 Jackson StreetSan Francisco, CA 94111weldonowen.com

    All rights reserved, including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form.

    Library of Congress Control Number on file with the publisher.

    ISBN 13: 978-1-61628-676-7 ISBN 10: 1-61628-676-8 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 12014 2015 2016 2017Printed in China by 1010 Printing International

    Cover and interior design by William MackAll interior illustrations by Kelsey Dake

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    or over 100 years, Field & Stream magazine has published the best in long- and short-form writing from the nations greatest writers, think-

    ers, and outdoorsmen. In this collection, we bring together the best of the past decade of contemporary writing in celebration of the sport of hunting.

    From Field & Streams talented experts and renowned writers like Bill Heavey, Rick Bass, Steve Rinella, and Philip Caputo come some of their most harrowing and touching words on the art of the hunt. Go with Susan Casey on her first elk hunt, travel to the black forest of Germany with Dave Petzal, and tag along with one of the youngest, most deserving hunters to ever leave an impression on Bill Heavey.

    These stories are rich in philosophy and wisdom, humor and empathy, and the deep thread of experience that runs through all those who love the outdoors. Read them by the campfire, and then go out and make your own great memories.

    INTRODUCTION

  • HORN OF THE HUNTER

    DAVID E . PETZAL

    t begins with music. The hunters stand assembled and are serenaded by six drivers, who play a tune called the Begrssung (greeting) on

    German hunting horns. Originally designed to enable the trackers to signal one another, they look a bit like French horns, but are keyless, and their shafts are wrapped in green leather. The tone is deeper and more resonant than that of a bugle. The greeting is for 40 writers from 19 countries assem-bled outside the town of Laubach on a bitter cold February day. We have come from America, Europe, Great Britain, and Russia, and we are about to participate in something with roots going back to when Germans hunted with spears.

    Unlike most American hunts, which are more or less grabasstic, a Ger-man hunt is tightly organized and, after the serenade, begins with a brief-ing from the Jagdmeister (hunt master), in this case a gentleman named Ruediger Krato. Herr Krato, using actual horns and antlers to demonstrate, shows us what we may and may not shoot. German game populations are very carefully managed, and the biggest and best animals are left strictly alone. There is no lecture on gun safety; the German system of gun owner-

    I

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    ship and hunting license qualification is infinitely more rigorous than ours, and anyone who gets through it is guaranteed safe.

    A German hunting licensea Jagdscheinis issued not by one of the countrys 16 states, but by the federal government. You get one after a year of intensive study in the fields of game biology, ballistics, marksmanship (rifle and shotgun), handling of meat, and everything else connected with the sport. You pay a considerable amount of your own money for the in-struction, and I understand that about 60 percent of the people who take the oral, written, and range examinations flunk on the first try. It is a life-time licenseunless you do something like drive drunk, in which case it will be taken away, along with your guns, and you will never get it back.

    Holding a Jagdschein permits you to hunt, but it also obliges you to kill a certain amount of game (to limit crop damage), aid in searches for lost persons, kill troublesome wild animals, and help the police and game war-dens should it be necessary. You become, in effect, a game warden yourself. Hunting in Germany has been called a sport for the rich and famous. Not so. Over 700,000 deer (and thats just deer) are harvested every year, and its not just the rich and famous who are taking them. According to the German Hunting Association, 74 percent of the countrys hunters work for a living. That said, public hunting, as Americans understand it, does not exist. On private land large enough to qualify as an estate, hunting rights belong to the landowner. Smaller properties can be grouped together un-der a system of shared hunting territories, and hunting rights here are con-trolled by a hunting cooperative that leases those rights.

    We are broken down into groups of roughly eight people, assigned to vans, and driven by a guide to our stands. The hunt begins officially at 9 a.m. The stands are made of timber, and we sit 15 feet off the ground. We have been told that the hunt will end at 11; furthermore, we are not permitted to leave the stands for any reason until our guide comes to get us.

    I am sharing a blind with Shannon Jackson, who handles public rela-tions for Zeiss in the U.S. Shannon is a good person to be in a blind with. She takes up very little room, sees game very well, knows how to sit still, and is bloodthirsty.

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    The land on which we are hunting is a hilly section of hardwood forest with clumps of evergreens scattered throughout. There are clear-cuts here and there, and the stands are sited either on these or on open fields.

    At 9 a.m., pandemonium breaks loose. First comes a volley of rifle fire from all points of the compass from people who have gotten something in their scopes right away. Then come the dogs. Each driverthere are about a dozenhandles a pair of small dogs that course through the woods on their stubby legs, making a high-pitched racket. Adding to the general ca-cophony, the drivers yell, whistle, blow horns, and bellow for their dogs.

    This causes the local game animals to go elsewhere in a hurry, and there is an impressive variety of them. At the bottom end of the scale are fox-es, raccoons, and a coon-dog hybrid. In the middle, roe deer (a small deer about the size of an American antelope). Larger specimens include mou-flon (pronounced muff-LON), wild boar, and red stag. The first animal of any size that I see is a mouflon with a huge full-curl left horn, but no right horn. He canters through the clearing with a yap-yap dog on his heels, or hooves, as it were. Since he is not legal (you cant shoot anything bigger than a half-curl), I dont pull the trigger.

    A minute later a driver walks through and asks if Ive seen anything. I say yes, and describe the sheep; the driver says, Ja, I know him. And that is quite true. All these woodsmen know every major animal on the property.

    My turn to pull the trigger comes when a big sow (legal, because she does not have a string of piglets trailing her) chugs into the clearing and pauses for a second. At the shot she goes down, scrambles up, and staggers for 20 yards before she drops for keeps. Minutes later, three drivers show up, gut her, and take her away.

    At 11, our guide arrives and leads us back to the van. We go back to the inn for lunch, and by then its good to get back inside; we have been sitting on frozen snow, and its something like 20 degrees F outside.

    The second drive starts at 1:30. Shannon and I are in a stand where you can shoot on three sides. After the starting din, a couple of pigs streak across our clearing just as fast as a pig can go. Then, from down in the woods near the road where we walked in, I hear a loud grunt and breaking branches.

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    Its time to pound some pork, I think, but what steps into the open is not a boar but a red stag.

    He is perhaps 30 yards away, and I have to choose instantly whether or not to shoot. That morning wed been told to check the ends of the antlers: If each antler forks into two points, the stag is almost certainly legal; three points and its an emphatic nein. This fellow has two points. I shoot, hitting him high in the lungs. He goes down hard, but then struggles up and makes it into the woods.

    A few more high-speed hogs and dogs run by us, and then a pair of pigs pause on a ridge 70 yards away. One is very, very big, and the other is me-dium-sized. Das Viertel hat sich zur Holle, says the big pig to his friend (The neighborhood has gone to hell).

    Bang, says my rifle. The porker makes it perhaps 30 yards and drops.By now it is 3:30, and the drivers come to collect us. After looking for

    a few minutes we find the stag, a nice, legal 8-pointer about the size of a small bull elk. I breathe a sigh of relief that can be heard in Frankfurt.

    It is time to go back to the inn for the closing ceremony. In the U.S., a big-game animal gets slung in the back of a pickup, or over a packsaddle, and that is pretty much it. The Germans do something much better.

    On an open field, the drivers lay a bed of pine boughs that form a rectan-gle roughly 20 yards long by 40 yards wide. At each corner of the rectangle is a section of tree trunk that has been cored and split; fire is put to it, and the wood becomes a giant torch. The days kill is laid out in order of im-portance from bottom to top: foxes, roe deer, boar, mouflon, and red deer. The total is 12 red deer, 65 wild boar, 15 mouflon, 13 roe deer, 16 foxes, and three raccoons. Not one person has shot something he wasnt supposed to. I dont know if that would happen here under the same circumstanc-es. Jagdmeister Krato, standing at attention and saluting smartly, renders this accounting to our host, Dr. Ralph Nebe, who is vice president of sales for Zeiss.

    The last act of this pageant, like the first act, is music. There is a Jag-dhorn tune for each species. The drivers play six different tunes with a few minutes silence between each. Its how German hunters pay their last

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    respects. There, in that bitter cold evening with the torches snapping and smoking, I sense that I am participating in

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