Six classic reads for Pennsylvania outdoors types
Call me old-fashioned, but there’s something special about paging through timeless literary works, especially when they capture a unique moment in history through an outdoor lens.
One of the coolest projects I’ve done as a freelance writer was to compile the book “Pennsylvania Deer Hunting Through the Pages of Game News” for the Pennsylvania Game Commission several years ago.
The collection of published stories tells a delineated timeline of Pennsylvania’s rich deer hunting heritage from the 1950s through present day, based on common themes for each decade. It was an amazing experience thumbing through the hardbound anthologies of past Game News issues to make the selections, and I was especially captivated by the older tales from generations before my time.
That project inspired me to read even more classic hunting-themed books, and I was not disappointed by the various masterpieces of past outdoor writers I’ve encountered along the way. Most authors are no longer with us, but their written words are still as enchanting as when they first went to press.
Here are six “oldies but goodies” from at least 50 years ago that I have enjoyed and would recommend to anyone who loves the outdoors as much as the classic tales that transform these experiences into print.
Pioneer Life; or Thirty Years a Hunter – Philip Tome — 1854
First published in 1854, this memoir follows the life of Philip Tome, whose family settled in Lycoming County’s Pine Creek Valley near Slate Run, Pa.
The almost outlandish accounts of candle lighting deer from dugout canoes at night, traversing rattlesnake infested rock outcroppings and even roping live elk for profitable public exhibitions tells of a completely different lifestyle than we know today.
Its fascinating content makes up for the subtle mistakes in print quality from this earliest piece of literature.
Outdoor Pastimes of an American Hunter – Theodore Roosevelt — 1905
This book from the Theodore Roosevelt Classics Library of Hunting and Outdoor Adventure has been reprinted several times since its “presidential publishing inauguration” in October of 1905. This book, and several others like it in the collection, feature first-person accounts of our larger-than-life 26th president’s diverse hunting escapades.
From hunting cougars with hounds, chasing wolves, and hunting elk to a chapter on the Commander-in-Chief’s favorite books on big game hunting, this book is an easy read that simultaneously captures an intimate account of Roosevelt’s genuine passion for the outdoors.
Pennsylvania Deer and their Horns – Henry Shoemaker — 1915
Told in original style and prose, this book is a little tougher to read, but it is extremely fascinating as it captures the Kalbus-era of modern whitetail conservation in the state and features the various well-known hunting experts of the time. Shoemaker also references different strands of deer (big and little) that allegedly co-habited Pennsylvania during its earliest days of regulated hunting.
Survival – 23 True Sportsmen’s Adventures – Ben East — 1967
Longtime readers of Outdoor Life may recognize the name Ben East, who served as the magazine’s Field Editor for decades. One of East’s specialties was tracking down survival victims who nearly perished during unexpected mishaps afield. He made an art out of transforming their harrowing true-life accounts into exciting features worth reading. This book is a compilation of some of his most compelling tales.
Gone for the Day — Ned Smith — 1971
Anyone who loves Game News as much as I do probably already knows the legacy Ned Smith left behind. Author, illustrator, naturalist and sportsman, Ned captured the outdoors through not only his words, but in his detailed artwork that graced more of the magazine’s covers than any other artist.
Smith also wrote a monthly column from 1966-69, which was presented as a field diary of his day-to-day encounters in the fields and forests of his home state. Gone for the Day is the complete collection of the four-year run of this beloved column.
The Eastern Trail – L. James Bashline (editor) — 1972
Smith also provided illustrations for The Eastern Trail, which was edited by his good friend Jim Bashline. This book reveals works from many well-known Pennsylvania outdoor writers of the time and was designed as the ultimate guide to outdoor pursuits in the eastern half of the United States.
The collection features sections on big game hunting, upland game hunting, small game hunting, fishing, and camping by popular names such as Bob Bell, Roger Latham, Keith Schuyler, Alvin R. Grove, and Don Lewis. It is an engaging and inspiring book written by some of Pennsylvania’s titans of outdoor writing who laid the groundwork for excellence that still stands today.
If readers can manage to get their hands on any of these classic reads, they will be both rewarded and delighted by the vividly entertaining words found within their covers.