A Look at Our Greatest Outdoor Writers
There is a number of what the outdoor community considers “classic” outdoor writers. These folks were knowledgeable fishermen and hunters, but more importantly, they were really talented writers. Some of their stories will make you cry, others will make you laugh, but they will all entertain you. They have been replaced by contemporaries that are carrying the torch held high, but those selected for this little article were prolific and are considered to have been the best at their craft. First additions of their books now bring premium prices, but their works have been reprinted and are usually easily available. Most of them were nationally famous, but I have saved what I consider the best for last. You likely have not heard of him, but you should. He is from Maine, and many consider him to be the best of the best. I do.
“Mr. Buck”, Theophilus Nash Buckingham is easily considered the most famous, and Dean of American outdoor writers. Born in 1880, until his death in 1971, he wrote about migrating birds and the Bobwhite during the time when their numbers were uncountable and bag limits were absurdly generous. It was a kind and gentle time in our history and the characters contained in his 9 books and many articles are people we would love to meet and share either a duck blind or a quail covert. He was a renowned shot and one of our first conservationists at a time when the sky was dark with birds and common wisdom believed it would always be thus. Nash was also one of the early field trial proponents and judges and his dog knowledge was legion. Probably his most famous works is “ De Shootinest Gent’man” a remarkable collection of short stories that will warm the heart and make you sorry you are here one hundred years too late to enjoy what the south had to offer.
George Bird Evans was born in Pennsylvania in 1906 and, with his famous Old Hemlock Setters, he coursed the bird coverts writing about the beauty of pursuing feathered game whether or not any were actually bagged. His 27 books are based on his shooting journals begun in 1934 until 1997 one year before his death. Although he lived a reclusive life as at the end of his days, his wonderful exploits are readily available to us all.
Born in 1902, Corey Ford has an unusual resume for an outdoor writer. He was a humorist, a screenwriter, and of course an outdoors man and writer. His thirty books and more than five hundred magazine articles are wonderfully crafted and reflect his many skills. Born in New York City, he ended his days in New Hampshire where he died in 1969. Many consider his short story, “The Road to Tinkhamtown” the finest outdoor story ever written. When you are finished reading it you will no doubt spend a number of minutes in silent reflection.
Born in 1900, Gordon MacQuarrie left us much too soon in 1956, because his famous semi-fictional organization, The Old Duck Hunters Association (ODHA) was still going strong! He was the first professional, full-time outdoor writer in America gaining a national audience from his post as Outdoor Writer at the Milwaukee Journal. His tales of trout fishing on the Brule River in Wisconsin, as well as his hunting exploits for both fur and feather are classic, enjoyable tales to be read over and over. Sit back with one of his books and imagine adventures we would all love to share, with characters bigger than life.
Burton L. Spiller could best be described as a story telling grouse hunter, who was born in Portland, Maine in 1886, and spent the last fifty years of his life in New Hampshire where he died in 1973. Often called the “Poet Laureate of Grouse Hunting” his “Grouse Feathers” books and his “Drummer in the Woods” are true classics. He was a very talented, God-fearing writer who named folks like H.G. “Tap” Tapply as his friend. Pick up any of his books and experience grouse hunting at its best in stories so enthralling and vivid that you can almost hear the flush and smell the leaves.
Robert Ruark first burst on the scene with his “Old Man and the Boy” series in Field and Stream which became fodder for several popular books about a boy learning the outdoor world of hunting and fishing in North Carolina from his grandfather. Warm-hearted, entertaining books, these led to others such as “Horn of the Hunter”, a story about an African Safari with famous professional hunter Harry Selby. His “Something of Value” is not only acclaimed as the best book on the Mau Mau uprising in Kenya, it is highly entertaining as well, as is his last work, “The Honey Badger”. Born in 1915 in North Carolina, Bob died in London in 1965 and his many readers regret his passing to this day. Reprints of his books allow you to join him as a youth in North Carolina exploring the woods and waters of a pristine outdoors, and his African knowledge will impress you.
Nine years after his birth in 1883, Archibald Rutledge shot his first, and until his death in 1973 he shot a total of 299 whitetail bucks(And he wrote 55 books!). Living here in Maine, we can’t imagine that, but even to this day bag limits in South Carolina are very generous and reflect their high density deer populations. The 100,000 acre Santee River delta is home to all sorts of critters, some of them downright nasty. Pick up “Those Were the Days” or any of his other books and be taken back to a time when things were simple, game was plentiful and everyone was outdoors.
Now we come to some real Mainers, and we begin with Gene Letourneau who lived in Waterville (He was born there in 1907, and died there in 1998.), and was an outdoor writer for over 65 years, starting at the Waterville Sentinel in 1929. His six day a week Sportsmen Say column appeared there as well as in Augusta and Portland. One of his books is about Midge, his Blackfield Setter and favorite hunting dog, and another,” Sportsmen Say”, is a compilation of his newspaper articles. A network of sportsmen all around Maine kept Gene informed about local happenings, fish and game conditions, and interesting stories. The best of this “news” found its way into his columns. Not one to sit behind his desk, Gene was always afield, and it was on a snowy day in Embden that I found him following hounds after a Bobcat in the late 1950’s. Gene was the real deal.
Now we come to a writer considered by many to be the best. I agree. If you hunt and fish in Maine, these stories written by Rev. Dr. Arthur R. Macdougall, Jr. will truly captivate you. Born in 1896, he accepted a call as the Pastor of the Congregational Church in Bingham in 1923 (he passed away there at age 87, years later), immediately after his graduation from the Bangor Theological Seminary. Although he wrote several books of poetry, and one outdoor book “Doc Blakesly, Angler”, he really hit his stride with a fictitious Maine guide he called Dud Dean. The books that featured Dud came after he made his appearance in Field and Stream and they became instant hits for good reason. The characters reflected reality in actions, appearance and speech, and all of the places mentioned were very real. Some of the stories are hilarious, others sad, and through it all you sense the wonder of the Maine outdoors, written in a way not duplicated by any other. When I knew him as the pastor in Bingham, he conducted a fisherman’s service early Sunday morning so as to not interfere with the serious business of trout fishing. “Come in your waders” he would say, “and I’ll get you out in time to catch fish.” Mak, as he was called, would be found fishing with Dud in his stories and speaking in the first person, and gradually Dud would spin a yarn in his own words. And what wonderful yarns they were! One about the lady slippers near Enchanted Pond, another about the big trout at Stand Up Rips at the Folks, yet another about the patch buck near Bingham, or about the huge fish lost in Moosehead Lake, or perhaps about the discovery of big fish in Pierce Pond. The Kennebec River is prominently featured in most of his books, as are many other locations known to those who frequent the geography surrounding Bingham. If you want to read some of the most entertaining stories about Maine outdoors ever written, you simply cannot do better than reading about Dud Dean as presented by Mak! As you would often say Mak, “tight lines.”