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Out There: Words that define us

1/28/2005

Editor's note: Watch for Keith "Catfish" Sutton appearing on "The Casting Couch," a one-minute commentary on the wild world of fishing that airs on Saturdays during "BassCenter" on ESPN2.

I am a bibliophile.

People close to me know of my affliction, and they know this gentle malady first struck me when I was quite young.

I came by it naturally. My mother was a librarian. Every day, without fail, she brought home a new book for me to read. This continued from the time I was 6 until I was well into my teens.

And on those rare occasions when she was precluded from this self-appointed duty, I felt neglected for those few hours or days that passed before I got my next literary fix.

I became a book junkie, prowling dusty shelves for hardback highballs and soft-cover fixes. And like most junkies, I eventually narrowed my choice of poisons to one in particular that gave me the biggest rush. I got hooked on books about hunting and fishing.

I never made an attempt to kick the habit, and to this day I'm strung out on the words of people like John Madson, Gene Hill, Gordon MacQuarrie, Charles Fergus, Robert Ruark and Thomas McIntyre.

My years as a bibliophile have led to some unusual quirks, including one in particular — turning down the corner of each page where I chance across some magical combination of words, some wonderful passage, that offers something special about the pastimes I love.

Last night, for example, I was compelled to dog-ear my copy of John Madson's "Out Home" when I ran across this sentence:

"I do not hunt for the joy of killing but for the joy of living, and for the inexpressible pleasure of mingling my life, however briefly, with that of a wild creature I respect, admire and value."

My God, I thought. The words define me as a hunter and a sportsman. They say what I wish I could say, and they say it better than I ever could.

It is a line that is magical and unforgettable and insightful all at once. When I read it, I wondered if Mr. Madson had to struggle with the words as he tried to connect them in just the right way, or if he put them to paper with hardly a second thought.

For some, such things come easy, like turning on a faucet. For others, like me, the words never seem just right, and we must sweat blood to create sentences with far less permanence and perfection.

In this column, therefore, I've decided to give you some of my thoughts, but not in my words.

Following are some unforgettable words about hunting, words for the ages, all taken from the dog-eared pages of my books and magazines:

"For the hunter, fall is the island and the rest of the year is the swim."

— Charles Fergus, "A Rough-Shooting Dog," 1991

"Some people ask why men go hunting. They must be the kind of people who seldom get far from highways. What do they know of the tryst a hunting man keeps with the wind and the trees and the sky? Hunting? The means are greater than the end, and every … hunter knows it."

— Gordon MacQuarrie, Field & Stream, November 1939

"I suppose it may seem like a strange sort of lullaby to some, but I have never heard sweeter music than the muffled report of duck guns on a distant marsh, and I know that others share my feeling."

— Burton Spiller, "More Grouse Feathers," 1972

"If one were to present the sportsman with the death of the animal as a gift he would refuse it. What he is after is having to win it, to conquer the surly brute through his own effort and skill with all the extras that this carries with it: the immersion in the countryside, the healthfulness of the exercise, the distraction from his job."

— Jose Ortega y Gasset, "Meditations on Hunting," 1072

"Isn't there a time or two you can remember when somehow an animal you've hunted has done something to make you let him vanish in the woods? … Isn't there a bird or covey that somehow always manages to catch you with your gun on safe — even when you know it's there?

"I think we all know times that for almost certain we gave the hunt to the quarry."

— Gene Hill, "Mostly Tailfeathers," 1975

"'The best thing about hunting and fishing,' the Old Man said, 'is that you don't have to actually do it to enjoy it. You can go to bed every night thinking about how much fun you had twenty years ago, and it all comes back clear as moonlight.'"

— Robert Ruark, "The Old Man's Boy Grows Older," 1957

"We arose over ten thousand centuries ago from hunters who loped, with weapons in hand and animal flesh on their minds, across the yellow plains, and it may be every bit as long before the need to hunt is in any way quenched within us. When, and if, it ever is, it will probably mean that for better or worse we are no longer human but have become something quite different."

— Thomas McIntyre, "The Way of the Hunter," 1988

"The tradition of hunting, and the hunter's personal code, dictate that game be taken in the spirit of fair play. Admittedly, this is a nicety of no concern to the animal pursued. But it should have meaning for the hunter; for to achieve any measure of honest satisfaction from the sport, he must meet the game on a common, relatively equal ground. This means pitting the human skills of woodcraft and of natural science, as well as marksmanship, against the animal's strong and clever instincts for survival."

— Larry Koller, "The Treasury of Hunting," 1965

"There are those who say the kill doesn't matter. They are fools or liars. I can laugh at misses, pass up an easy shot when there is a reason, and come home skunked but happy. All of that doesn't matter. The kill matters. And the manner of the kill matters. All else is trivial, for nothing else is final.

— Robert Elman, "Seasons of the Hunter," 1985

To contact Keith Sutton, email him at catfishdude@sbcglobal.net.