There are a number of approaches to be taken in writing a successful hunting book: biographical hunting books, books on hunting history, adventure, and philosophy, to name a few. David Carpenter, in A Hunter’s Confession, uses all of these strategies to create a delightful and thoughtful hunting critique. In doing so, he addresses two of the questions [End Page 358] most frequently asked by hunters and non-hunters alike. First, is there such a thing as “ethical hunting”? Second, what is the future of hunting in the modern United States and Canada?
Hunting means different things to different people. But let’s face it, at its core it is the act of killing. Perhaps because of this fact, many, perhaps most hunters experience a slight hesitation, a little ambivalence about pulling the trigger. Carpenter visits this theme of ambivalence often as he traces his own personal evolution as a hunter. He begins with the accidental BB gun squirrel death of his youth, for which his mother sends him away with a shovel and an admonishment for killing without the purpose of providing food. As he ages, hunting is there at every turn in his life. In youth, it provides intensity and adrenalin; in early adulthood, during the 1960s and ’70s, a place to return to restore order from chaos. In middle age, it is a topic to write about and master. However, at every stage, the reader can feel a growing disconnect from the “kill” as opposed to the love of the outdoors and the relief of being in the wild. Carpenter’s final resolution of this ambivalence in his own life provides an effective conclusion to the book.
In the same way that hunting followed Carpenter through his life, it has also followed mankind along its historical path. This book provides a very readable history of hunting. Hunting is an activity considerable older than the written word, and Carpenter dedicates time to following primitive hunters, exploring the profound relationship they maintain with their prey. He notes the earliest reference to sport hunting, conducted from the cab of a chariot. He follows hunters across North America, past the stinking and lamentable gut piles of the northern plains bison. He joins the trophy hunting elite, the hard-pressed homesteaders, and finally the modern hunters with their mixed record of ethics. In telling this story, he includes ideas expressed by writers such as Ernest Hemingway, Aldo Leopold, William Faulkner, and Teddy Roosevelt. The use of these literary figures provides some excellent avenues for further reading. Carpenter understands that many hunters place themselves within a historical heritage to understand their own role within an ancient tradition. The point in that heritage where we now find ourselves is central to this book.
David Carpenter hopes that hunting has a future. If it does, it will need to continue to change, to address some need, some purpose useful to modern man. In A Hunter’s Confession, the reader may be able to glimpse that future.
One last point about this worthwhile outdoors book: maybe we do not need to overanalyze hunting. Maybe it is just plain enjoyable. If that is the case, then A Hunter’s Confession is worth reading just for the humor, adventure, and the recipes.
From one hunter to another, read this book. [End Page 359]