|Book Review of "Outdoor Pastimes of an American Hunter" published
first in 1905
Theodore Roosevelt lived an amazing life. In fact, it could be said
that he lived more than one life including that of a rancher, politician,
soldier and explorer. TR as he was said to prefer to be called was a prolific
author, penning more than 20 books. I read one of these books recently,
Outdoor Pastimes of an American Hunter. This book includes several chapters
that were originally published elsewhere along with some written specifically
for this book.
The tales begin with a chapter entitled, With the Cougar Hounds which
recounts various hunts with dogs over many years. It was interesting to
read TR's analysis of cougar kills and habits and he spends quite of bit
of time explaining how many writers have spread much incorrect information
about cougars. It was also interesting to read the descriptions of the
many different types of dogs used, their personalities and styles such
as the fighting dogs that swarm the cougar when on the ground and prevent
treeing or running. He writes rather matter of factly, without any
embellishment or braggadocio about one incident with these fighting dogs
where he killed a cougar with a knife as "To shoot would have been quite
as dangerous for the dogs as for their quarry" (P. 41).
The second chapter, A Colorado Bear Hunt tells of a 1905 hunt where
he used one of the ".new model Springfield military rifles, a 30-40, with
a soft-nosed bullet-a very accurate and hard-hitting gun" (p. 76). On this
particular hunt the rifle surely a Krag, although the one picture with
the chapter doesn't show the gun clearly enough for positive identification,
gave good service accounting for not only bear, but several cats as well.
1905 was certainly a busy year for TR. In addition to being inaugurated
for his second term as president in March, he was an active participant
in the negotiation of an end to the Russo-Japanese war, for which he would
be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1906, the first American thus
honored. In addition to all of this he found time to go hunting in Colorado
as related above and to go hunting Coyotes in Oklahoma which is the subject
of the third chapter in this book, Wolf-Coursing. In this chapter
Roosevelt tells of a number of exciting chases where he and his various
companions tore across the planes on horseback following hounds in full
chase of coyotes.
In chapter 4, Hunting in the Cattle Country; TR begins with a very good
description of the Antelope and it's habitat. The hunts he tells of in
this chapter are mostly accounts from his years as a rancher in the Badlands
of the Dakota territories in about 1883-1884 and include antelope, deer
Chapter 5, A Shot at a Mountain Sheep tells of Roosevelt's 1893 sheep
hunt near his Dakota ranch as well as discussing the disappearance of many
species including the bison and others. It is interesting here to read
that in his opinion it was at that time impossible to clearly define clearly
all of the different deer species in North America. Clearly Roosevelt was
more than just a hunter, he was quite a good field naturalist who incidentally
collected many species for museums throughout his hunting career.
In addition Roosevelt wrote extensively about the various animals of
North America as is evidenced by chapters 6, 7 and 8, The Whitetail Deer,
The Mule-Deer or Rocky Mountain Blacktail, and The Wapiti or Round-Horned
Elk respectively. In these chapters he gives descriptions of each animal,
their habitat preferences and their distributions. He also relates his
understanding of each animal's distribution in North America at that time
and in past times. Interspersed with these descriptions are hunting stories
that punctuate the naturalistic discourse.
Roosevelt is well known as one of the most important figures in American
history when it comes to wildlife habitat preservation. This side of TR
is shown throughout this book, but best in chapter 9, Wilderness Reserves.
In this chapter Roosevelt decries the rapidly vanishing game and points
out the need for sensible game laws that preserve species as well as the
need for preserving habitat, opportunities for which were as he saw it
were slipping away as people settled more and more of the country. Any
student of conservation will of course be familiar with the camping trip
that TR took with John Muir and that is covered in this chapter as well.
Chapter 10, Books on Big Game demonstrated that as well as being an
ardent hunter, Roosevelt was also quite a consumer of books on the topics
of hunting and nature. He discusses many authors and many more books, including
many in which he pointed out error.
Chapter 11, the final chapter of this fine book is entitled, At Home
and is without a doubt the finest chapter as it is timeless in it's insight
into the deep appreciation a true hunter has for nature and animals, not
just the game animals but all even down to the smallest birds found nearby
to home.. Roosevelt encourages the enjoyment of nature as well as the development
of proficiency with the rifle and horsemanship which in addition to being
valuable to the individual as a hunter, are valuable to the nation as these
skills, and the hardiness coming from days spent in the field as, "Cavalrymen
and infantrymen.are easily developed out of men who are already soldiers
in the rough." (p. 395).
In the final pages of the book he tells of a 200 yard rifle range set
up at his home, Sagamore, in Oyster Bay and how they mostly shoot sporting
rifles with. However, just to make sure there is a black powder reference
in this review it should be noted that Roosevelt writes, ".for some purposes
an old 45-70 or 45-90, even with black powder, is as good as any modern
(p. 397). And on that I think we should all be able to agree!