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Tuesday, January 27, 2004

TR's Hunting Trips of a Ranchman

One of the books I received this Christmas was Theodore Roosevelt's Hunting Trips of a Ranchman. This book was published in 1885 long before TR's presidency and includes his experiences hunting game in the Dakota and Wyoming territories when he owned a cattle ranch (that subsequently went under after the blizzard of 1886). The book proceeds from fowl to deer (white and black tail) to antelope, bighorn sheep, elk, buffalo, and finally bear with a chapter devoted to each one. TR dutifully goes through techniques for how to best hunt the various kinds of game from the selection of weapon to how to use or not use a horse when in pursuit to the typical behaviors of the animals when spotted or cornered. What I enjoyed most about the book was his vivid descriptions of the animals themselves, as well as the plains and mountains of the west from over 100 years ago. TR was a very good descriptive writer and many of his descriptions of camp life and "still hunting" deer and other game really make you feel like you were there. There is also a good dose of self deprecation in the tone that makes you believe the tales he tells.

Also interesting are TR's interspersed views on the Indians (terrible shots), the passing of the buffalo (sad but inevitable), sheep (the stupidest animal there is) and other topics. What also comes out is TR's zest for life and his ability to enjoy circumstances that to almost anyone else would seem unbearable. In one instance he recounts a buffalo hunting trip where he was variously thrown from his horse headlong, gashed in the head with his own rifle when a buffalo charged him and scared his horse, had his horse sunk in quicksand which took an entire morning to extricate with another horse, was rained on for 2 days, went without fresh water for a day, not finding any buffalo for 3 days with only soggy biscuits to eat, and having his horse run away in the middle in the night dragging the saddle for half a mile. Of course to TR this was all part of the sport and when he finally got his buffalo he was satisfied and it he makes you believe it was all worth it. Most people, including me, would have long given up before then.

Not being a hunter I'm sure there are other subleties I missed and would have likely enjoyed the book more if I could relate a little better. I certainly recommend the book to any hunter, lover of nature, and those interested in the old west.

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