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10 Great Outdoor Stories

Hunting and fishing could be the perfect backdrop for a great story. We asked editors to tell us their picks for the best outdoor fiction. The list includes the standards and surprises like a German opera. See if you agree with these choices.
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The only criteria was the story had to be fictional. We didn't specify what the medium could be, which explains some of the quirkier picks. Some of these are tear jerkers, others are great instruction for introducing a youngster to the outdoors. The one common thread is they were all expertly composed.






- Colin Moore's Picks


- Doug Howlett's Picks

- Jim Carmichel's Picks


- Will Snyder's Picks




Colin Moore's Picks




The Old Man and the Boy

by Robert Ruark.

Every youngster who has ever aspired to becoming an accomplished outdoorsman probably has read this captivating book. Regardless of one's age, however, the topics and characters can be appreciated by anyone who enjoys hunting and fishing. The grandfather is an authentic representation of the type of mentor that many Baby Boomers grew up with, and who most modern-day youth can only hope they'll know.



A River Runs Through It

by Norman Maclean

"In our family, there was no clear line between religion and fly fishing." So begins this famous tribute to flyfishing, written by an author with a gift for lyric language. Though the story line essentially is about a family's tragedy, Maclean's ability to capture the flavor of the outdoors and the soul of flyfishing makes it resonate across genres. It ends with a lovely sadness, reminding us all that life and death run together in an eternal river.


The Yearling

by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings

This tale of a boy growing up in the central Florida frontier at the turn of the last century and the yearling deer that he befriends is a parable about the hard choices that we sometimes have to make between the things that we love and the things that we need. A Florida that once was and never will be again is the backdrop for the novel, and a pioneer family's various adventures and struggles to survive at the edge of the wilderness make captivating reading.



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Doug Howlett's Picks

The Old Man and the Sea

by Ernest Hemingway

You don't have to be an avid angler to appreciate this classic Hemingway tale of man's epic struggle against nature in the form of an aged, lone fisherman battling a giant marlin off the coast of Cuba. After enduring 84 days without a single catch, the main character, Santiago, hooks the huge fish, which wears him down and drags him and his boat farther out to sea. After three days adrift, a bloodied and exhausted Santiago finally pulls the great catch up to the side of his boat, but is unable to bring it aboard because of its size. In typical Hemingway fashion, Santiago's victory is short-lived and sharks ultimately reduce the catch to little more than bones. Nevertheless, upon his wearied return, he is vindicated among his peers who recognize that the angler they believed was cursed is indeed a great fisherman. If you somehow missed this Pulitzer-prized winning novella in school, do yourself a favor and pick up this reminder of how great outdoor writing used to-and should still-read.




Deep Enough for Ivorybills

byames Kilgo

James Kilgo was a university professor and avid birder, who grew up in South Carolina's Pee Dee region during the 1940s and '50s. Though well acquainted as a kid with the wild piney forests and brem-choked lakes of the region, it wasn't until he was an adult that a student got Kilgo interested in hunting. The late author's "outsider coming in" perspective is a unique one among outdoor literature, and this collection of short stories captures both the wonder of discovery and inevitable questioning that each person encounters as they are indoctrinated into the fraternal life and traditions of the sportsman. Kilgo's prose boasts the same strong sense of place, friendships, family and faith characteristic of great southern literature and of great sporting literature in particular.


The Road to Tinkhamtown

by Corey Ford

Considered by many to be one of the best outdoor tales ever written, The Road to Tinkhamtown is a short story that captures a secret glimpse of one grouse hunter's vision-and eventual entry-into the hereafter. It is told from the point of view of Frank, who has suffered a long illness and on his deathbed begins to recount his first hunt at a secret grouse cover he and his now-deceased bird dog, Shad, discovered. Remembrance and reality become intertwined as a bed-ridden Frank finally passes away. At his bedside are his doctor and anguished sister who are puzzled at his final words: "Tinkamtown." First published in Field & Stream where Ford was a regular contributor, The Road to Tinkhamtown is now available in a collection of his short stories titled, "The Corey Ford Sporting Treasury."


Where the Red Fern Grows

by Wilson Rawls

Dogs have always served as central characters in a variety of great outdoor books, and Wilson Rawls classic tale of a young boy and his two coonhounds is perhaps among the most touching. The story centers on a poor, young boy, Billy, who desperately yearns for a pair of coonhounds with which to go hunting. Struggling to gather up enough money by working a number of odd jobs, Billy finally obtains two dogs, Old Dan and Little Ann. The book follows their lives from pups to champion coon dogs, and ultimately, to their tragic deaths.


Surprisingly, Where the Red Fern Grows almost never made it to print. The author, who grew up poor and without a formal education was embarrassed by his failed dreams of becoming a writer due to his poor spelling and lack of punctuation. Prior to getting married, he burned the manuscript among others so his soon-to-be wife wouldn't see them. She later learned of his act and convinced him to rewrite one of his stories. Legend has it that Rawls then rewrote Where the Red Fern Grows in almost three weeks of virtual nonstop writing. His wife loved it and the two began working on getting the tale published. Although the book was a classroom favorite in the '70s and '80s, you don't have to be a kid to enjoy this read.


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Jim Carmichel's Pick



Der Freischutz

by Carl Maria von Weber

Naming my favorite piece of hunting fiction turns out to be not as simple as it sounds. Of course a few well-known authors of fiction come to mind and we constantly see references to their work. This repetition makes me wonder if it's because there is only a skimpy selection of really good hunting fiction. Observers of a similar cynical mindset might likewise question if supposedly nonfiction hunting stories are merely the creations of an author's imagination.




Do we judge "good" hunting fiction merely as an entertaining yarn mixed with adventure, danger, conflict, endurance and a good shot in the last paragraph, or should hunting fiction, like classical fiction, be judged by its adaptation of universal themes? In this respect let's consider one of my favorite works of hunting fiction, which is actually not a yarn at all but grand opera; DER FREISCHUTZ, by von Weber. In DER FREISCHUTZ, meaning the Free Shooter in German, or more loosely translated, the Good Marksman, the plot involves a series of shooting contests between local hunters and marksmen. In true romantic fashion the grand prize is the hand of a desirable maiden, as well as an important position. Without getting into the twists and turns of events, one of the contestants is so desperate to win that he makes a pact with the devil in classic Faustian fashion. This is a familiar theme of the human condition and one wonders how many of us might similarly risk our souls to bag a great trophy. In DER FREISCHUTZ the desperate contestant's contract with the devil allows him to make seven magic bullets, six of which will hit where they are aimed but one will hit where the devil commands. But which bullet is it? Now there is what I call a plot to be reckoned with.



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Will Snyder's Picks




The Bear

by William Faulkner

How could a reader not find relevance in Faulkner's novella today? The legendary bear at the center of the story is meant to represent Nature, pure and simple. Its death represents man's destruction of the wilderness. Faulkner often wrote about his concern that man was losing touch with the natural world. Our desire for development would one day leave us spiritually void as we forget out place in the wild, he would argue. With hunters complaining endlessly about the shrinking parcels of secluded country, this story seems especially important. Of course, it is written by Faulkner, so it can be a tough read.




The Sea Wolf

by Jack London

London knows adventure, and he also knows how to frame a story where good and evil aren't readily apparent. Though you might disagree with my choice to classify seal hunting as a traditional outdoor pursuit, I think it's more important to get London on our list instead of worrying about the finer points.




Much like time in the woods or in a stream help us to become stronger men, so did the character Van Weyden's time on the seal-hunting ship Ghost. Born an aristocrat, Van Weydon has little contact with reality until he is shipwrecked and then rescued by Captain Wolf Larsen. Aboard the boat Van Weyden learns the hard lessons under the merciless eye of Larsen. Though the situations are uncomfortable and the suffering great, Van Weyden emerges a better man in the story, learning to take durance and a good shot in the last paragraph, or should hunting fiction, like classical fiction, be judged by its adaptation of universal themes? In this respect let's consider one of my favorite works of hunting fiction, which is actually not a yarn at all but grand opera; DER FREISCHUTZ, by von Weber. In DER FREISCHUTZ, meaning the Free Shooter in German, or more loosely translated, the Good Marksman, the plot involves a series of shooting contests between local hunters and marksmen. In true romantic fashion the grand prize is the hand of a desirable maiden, as well as an important position. Without getting into the twists and turns of events, one of the contestants is so desperate to win that he makes a pact with the devil in classic Faustian fashion. This is a familiar theme of the human condition and one wonders how many of us might similarly risk our souls to bag a great trophy. In DER FREISCHUTZ the desperate contestant's contract with the devil allows him to make seven magic bullets, six of which will hit where they are aimed but one will hit where the devil commands. But which bullet is it? Now there is what I call a plot to be reckoned with.



[pagebreak]






Will Snyder's Picks




The Bear

by William Faulkner

How could a reader not find relevance in Faulkner's novella today? The legendary bear at the center of the story is meant to represent Nature, pure and simple. Its death represents man's destruction of the wilderness. Faulkner often wrote about his concern that man was losing touch with the natural world. Our desire for development would one day leave us spiritually void as we forget out place in the wild, he would argue. With hunters complaining endlessly about the shrinking parcels of secluded country, this story seems especially important. Of course, it is written by Faulkner, so it can be a tough read.




The Sea Wolf

by Jack London

London knows adventure, and he also knows how to frame a story where good and evil aren't readily apparent. Though you might disagree with my choice to classify seal hunting as a traditional outdoor pursuit, I think it's more important to get London on our list instead of worrying about the finer points.




Much like time in the woods or in a stream help us to become stronger men, so did the character Van Weyden's time on the seal-hunting ship Ghost. Born an aristocrat, Van Weydon has little contact with reality until he is shipwrecked and then rescued by Captain Wolf Larsen. Aboard the boat Van Weyden learns the hard lessons under the merciless eye of Larsen. Though the situations are uncomfortable and the suffering great, Van Weyden emerges a better man in the story, learning to take

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