About the Author
Ernest Hemingway did more to influence the style of English prose than any other writer of his time. Publication of The Sun Also Rises and A Farewell to Arms immediately established him as one of the greatest literary lights of the 20th century. His classic novella The Old Man and the Sea won the Pulitzer Prize in 1953. Hemingway was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1954. He died in 1961.
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Hemingway on Hunting Introduction
In the summer of 1934, Hemingway wrote to a friend: “. . . outside of writing I have two well developed talents; for sea fishing where there is a current and migratory fish and shooting with a rifle on targets at unknown ranges where the vital spots are not marked but have to be understood to be hit. . . .” Hunting remained for Ernest Hemingway a favorite pastime when he was not writing and was a subject that he wrote about often throughout the course of his life. This book brings together for the first time the author’s many fine short stories, selections from books, essays, and even excerpts from letters, that illuminate the art of hunting and the pleasures of being in the outdoors through recollections and carefully crafted tales of hunts in North America, Europe, and Africa. It has been an especial pleasure for me to compile this rich collection of my grandfather’s works on hunting because of my own love of the outdoors, a sentiment that my grandfather fostered in his three sons and which my father, Gregory, and my uncles, Patrick and Jack, engendered in me from childhood.
Hunting has been a defining characteristic of human behavior for over two million years. The magnificent cave paintings at Lascaux in France, among our earliest artistic representations, celebrate the hunt and its bounty. Beyond its fundamental function as a means of providing food and clothing, hunting is ritualized by many cultures and the sanctity of taking a life is acknowledged as a natural part of the cycle of life. It has been recorded that the Bushmen of the Kalahari, for example, always celebrate the success of an eland hunt with ritual dances. In ancient Greek mythology, the hunting and successful killing of stags and wild boars were distinguished as heroic acts of valor that marked the completion of a significant rite of passage. For the Greeks, the hunt was sacred to the goddess Artemis, and foremost among hunters was the hero Orion, who as a constellation shines brightly in the night sky, a harbinger of hunting season. Hunting constituted a social class in ancient Egypt, where the sport was reserved for rulers and their nobles; likewise, the kings of Assyria and later Persia were also partial to the chase, as is shown by hunting scenes depicted on the walls of their temples and palaces. In the first, second, and third centuries, the Romans turned hunting wild animals into a spectacle, importing all manner of big game from Africa for mock hunts in the Coliseum and other amphitheaters throughout the empire. The distinction between hunting for food and hunting for sport, however, was made early on, and from the latter a code of behavior developed for the hunter. By the Middle Ages in Europe, codes of behavior demanded that a hunter track down and kill any animal he may have wounded.
Hunting game with firearms, which began in Europe as early as the sixteenth century, enabled the hunter to kill game at greater distances and in larger numbers. The extreme consequence of this innovation was that by the nineteenth century, overhunting of areas around the globe had led to the tragic extinction of a number of species, notably the passenger pigeon in America, and the virtual extermination of others, such as the American bison. The concept of game conservation soon developed, especially in Africa, where conservationists recognized the need for stewardship in order to preserve wildlife and its natural habitat for future generations. Of course, the need for wildlife conservation is not simply a result of overhunting, as has been pointed out by many specialists, including Norman Carr, one of the first game wardens in Africa and an avid hunter and naturalist with whom I apprenticed in the Luangwa Valley, Zambia. Norman often said that even more important than managing wildlife—animals usually can look after themselves—it is important that there is sufficient habitat for the complete range of all the species to live in harmony with one another. As all of the world’s landscapes become increasingly fragmented by human activity, the need for wildlife and habitat conservation remains acute.
Hunters are at the forefront of wildlife conservation in America, where hunting continues to have great appeal despite ever increasing urbanization and suburbanization. However, the act of killing is, I believe, a deeply personal matter about which every individual has strong views. Hemingway offered his own insight in his treatise on bullfighting, Death in the Afternoon: “Killing cleanly and in a way which gives you aesthetic pleasure and pride has always been one of the greatest enjoyments of a part of the human race. Because the other part, which does not enjoy killing, has always been more articulate and has furnished most of the good writers we have had a very few statements of the true enjoyment of killing. One of its greatest pleasures, aside from the purely aesthetic ones, such as wing shooting and the ones of pride, such as difficult game stalking, where it is the disproportionately increased importance of the fraction of a moment that it takes for the shot that furnishes the emotion, is the feeling of rebellion against death which comes from its administering. Once you accept the rule of death thou shalt not kill is an easily and naturally obeyed commandment. But when a man is still in rebellion against death he has a pleasure in taking to himself one of the Godlike attributes; that of giving it. This is one of the most profound feelings in those men who enjoy killing. These things are done in pride and pride, of course, is a Christian sin, and a pagan virtue.” Hemingway, like the old man talking to Robert Jordan in For Whom the Bell Tolls, specifically refers to the killing of animals, not human beings, which, of course, is another matter entirely. The clarity and conviction evident in the above statement arises from an extraordinary combination of qualities: Hemingway’s lifelong love and pursuit of hunting, and his carefully developed talent for writing as true as he could.
Born in 1899 in Oak Park, Illinois, the eldest son in a sporting family, Ernest Miller Hemingway grew up with the outdoors close at hand. His father, Clarence Edmonds Hemingway, loved to hunt and fish. From early on, he took the young boy along with him hunting near their summer cabin, Windemere, on Walloon Lake in northern Michigan, and on outings in the fields flushing snipe north of Chicago. In 1902, when Hemingway was only two years old, his mother, Grace Hall Hemingway, reported that her son “. . . loves to play the sportsman. He straps on an old powder flask and shot pouch and half an old musket over his shoulder. He calls different shaped pieces of wood—respectively—‘my blunderbuss,’ ‘my shotgun,’ ‘my rifle,’ ‘my Winchester,’ ‘my pistol,’ etc., and delights in shooting imaginary wolves, bears, lions, buffalo, etc.” By the time he was three, Hemingway had learned to load, cock, and shoot a gun by himself, and at four he was trekking as much as seven miles on hunting expeditions with his father, carrying his own gun over his shoulder. One wonders at such an early tutelage! In an anecdote in one of Grace’s scrapbooks, she relates how the little hunter and provider shot a duck for their dinner, but with tongue in cheek added that Papa (Clarence) shot at the same time. Nonetheless, young Ernest continued to work at his marksmanship, later joining the rifle club in high school, where he recorded a consistent score of 112 out of 150, shooting a rifle prone at a twenty-yard range—all in spite of a defective left eye that was later to keep him from enlisting in the army.
Clarence Hemingway, a fine wing shot and a member of the Chicago Sharpshooters Association, taught his son how to shoot with a shotgun at an early age. In fact, all of the children, the girls included, worked up to shooting by themselves with their father’s first and favorite shotgun, a 12-gauge, lever-action Winchester that shot a very close pattern. Once a week on Sundays during the summer months at Windemere Cottage, Clarence Hemingway would organize for his family shotgun target shooting with a hand trap and clay pigeons. Ernest received his first gun, a 20-gauge, single-barrel shotgun, from his grandfather, Anson Hemingway, on his tenth birthday, and Ernest celebrated his eleventh birthday at Windemere among friends and family with a barbecue followed by a shotgun shooting competition. There were also hunting trips in southern Illinois with his father on his uncle Frank Hines’s farm, where the young boy shot pigeons and quail, and hunted raccoon and possum at night with dogs. Clarence taught him gun care and safety, how to dress a kill, and even how to make bullets from an old Civil War mold that his father, Anson, had given him.
Throughout his childhood Hemingway heard about the deeds of pioneers of the Old West and soldiers of the Civil War, especially from his grandfather Anson. The elder Hemingway had come West in a covered wagon when he himself was a boy and had later fought in the Civil War as a volunteer in the Illinois infantry regiment. Ernest’s father told of his own hunting exploits as a young man, tracking and shooting bear in the Great Smoky Mountains of North Carolina. But for any young boy growing up in the first two decades of the twentieth century, it was Theodore Roosevelt—western rancher and huntsman, President of the United States, and later African hunter and South American explorer—who inspired the imagination and fueled the desire to explore and hunt in the great outdoors. Young Hemingway identified with much of Teddy Roosevelt’s hunting prowess, enthusiasm, and determination. In 1910, when Roosevelt came to Oak Park on a whistle-stop tour after his African safari of the previous year, Ernest, in his own little khaki safari outfit, was standing alongside his grandfather Anson, cheering on the great African hunter and rough rider of San Juan Hill. More than any other individual in his time, Roosevelt opened the African frontier to the imagination of America’s youths. The fresh scent of a new frontier and the thrill of the hunt, both with their overwhelming sense of valor and excitement, would captivate Hemingway for the rest of his life.
Clarence Hemingway educated his boy about nature and taught him the fundamentals of scientific observation. He frequently read to Ernest from natural history books filled with colorful illustrations. At a young age, Ernest joined the Agassiz naturalist club, of which his father was a leading member. As part of his early instruction, young Hemingway would accompany his father to the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago to see the zoological specimens, especially the incredibly lifelike displays of animals that were an innovation of the master taxidermist Carl Akeley. In particular, the great Hall of African Mammals, with its sealed glass cases enclosing gazelles, wildebeest, rhino, cheetah, leopard, and kudu, would have impressed the boy, as frequent trips to the Roosevelt Hall of African Mammals at the American Museum of Natural History with my father did me in my childhood. Clarence was himself an amateur taxidermist and maintained a small collection of specimens of his own; some of his creations can still be seen at the Ernest Hemingway Foundation of Oak Park. He taught Ernest how to skin and prepare an animal.
Lessons learned in our youth often make a lasting impression. Early on, Clarence Hemingway taught his son the hunter’s code—no killing solely for killing’s sake. Although Clarence believed that wild animals and birds had been put on this earth to be hunted, he insisted that any animal killed must be eaten and that nothing should be wasted. When Ernest strayed from this principle and shot a porcupine with his friend Harold Sampson in the woods near Walloon Lake during the summer of 1913, his father insisted that the boys eat its leathery flesh. On another occasion, while hunting on the North Prairie near Oak Park, Ernest accidentally triggered his 20-gauge shotgun and barely missed his companion, Lewis Clarahan, a chilling reminder of the need for care when handling a firearm. Perhaps the most significant shooting incident of Ernest’s youth, however, occurred in the summer of 1915. While out with his sister Sunny, exploring a remote area of Walloon Lake called the “Cracken,” Ernest poached a great blue heron, intending to add it to his father’s collection of bird specimens. The son of the game warden, who lived on the lake, heard the shot and confiscated the bird. Later, the warden himself came by Windemere Cottage looking for Ernest, who fled and lay low for a while. The incident was resolved when Ernest turned himself in to a judge in Boyne City and paid the $15 fine. Hemingway never forgot this brush with the law, and he used the incident as the focus of his unfinished short story “The Last Good Country.”
Northern Michigan and the Upper Peninsula, which even today retain their natural beauty, were remote and wild territories in Hemingway’s youth. He knew the local Native Americans, the Ojibwa, who clung to their traditions, and old-timer fur trappers, whose way of life was rapidly vanishing. Some of his earliest fiction, such as the “Judgement of Manitou,” a dark tale about two frontier trappers framed in the mysticism of Indian folklore, draws on these early impressions. Many of the Nick Adams stories were inspired by Hemingway’s experiences hunting, fishing, and exploring in northern Michigan.
After returning, in 1919, from the Italian front of World War I, where he was wounded as a Red Cross volunteer, Hemingway spent much time up in Michigan, where for the first time he had the opportunity to hunt during the fall. When he moved to Paris as a foreign correspondent for The Toronto Star in the winter of 1921 with his new bride, Hadley Richardson Hemingway, he eagerly took to hunting in Europe and wrote his dad about his experiences. Even on assignment, he managed to work in some shooting. While covering the Greco-Turkish war in 1922, he shot quail in the open prairies of Thrace, bagging twenty-two birds in a single day. One of his very last journalistic pieces written for The Toronto Star was “Game Shooting in Europe,” a matter-of-fact presentation of the fine big-game hunting and bird shooting that could be had in various parts of Europe. He describes the many Parisian hunters with their shotguns slung over their shoulders leaving Paris for a weekend in the country, something he himself did a number of times, notably to shoot pheasant outside the city with his friend Ben Gallagher.
Hemingway hunted in nearly every place he ever lived. When he returned to the United States early in 1928 to live in Key West, Florida, with his second wife, my grandmother Pauline Pfeiffer Hemingway, he managed to find good bird shooting on the remote Marquesas Keys, some twenty-five miles south of Key West, shooting plover, cranes, and curlews. After their son Patrick was born that July in Kansas City, Ernest and Pauline took a trip to Yellowstone National Park and the Grand Teton Mountains, a first taste of what the West could offer. Upon their return to Florida, they decided to stay on for quail-hunting season with Pauline’s family in Piggot, Arkansas, where there was “swell shooting” in the woods and cornfields, something he looked forward to in the coming years. Around this time, Hemingway was nearly finished with his second novel, A Farewell to Arms, a love story loosely based on his early experiences in northern Italy during World War I. Its charming recollections of bird shooting in the chestnut woods of the Abruzzi, for birds whose meat was especially tasty because they fed on a particu...
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