Why We Read Old Books Part III

In the first two parts (Part I, Part II) of this series we discussed why someone might read an old book about outdoor activities for the purposes of entertainment and for historical enlightenment.  In this final part of the series I will seek to explain the value of reading these old books for their intended purpose—to instill in the reader some practical knowledge of how to hunt, fish, shoot accurately, etc.

When originally published, these books were written by the foremost authorities on sporting activities and many of the books are still regarded today as the standard by which other books on the subject are judged.  Still, we must admit that fifty or more years is a long time and face the possibility of out-datedness head on.

Many modern hunters will eschew these books as hopelessly out of date and not worth reading because so much has changed in the last half century—heck, many of these books are so old as to predate the .223 Remington and .308 Winchester.  There is some merit to this way of thinking, after all, many of the companies discussed in these books are no longer in business and many of the rifles, cartridges, and other technology which were used in the 1950’s are out of production and impossible or impractical to find nowadays.  Furthermore, given the advance in technology over the years, the techniques and technology may no longer be the most efficient way of taking game or fish.  All of these statements notwithstanding, these books are still of immense value to the modern sportsman.

It is simple to overcome the issue of out of date information regarding what rifles and cartridges are available on the marketplace.  First of all, many of the guns you will read about in these books still exist in a modern form—for example, the Winchester Model 70, 1894, or 1886—or they can be found on the used market relatively easily.

And if that is not comforting enough, you can always use a little creativity in following the advice found in the books.  If Townsend Whelen suggests a modified Mauser military rifle for hunting in the backwoods, you can take a look at the Ruger Model 77, which is based on the Mauser action and retains many of the original features such as the claw extractor and the angled recoil lug.

The same goes for cartridges.  You will find that many of the writers suggest cartridges that are still readily available in today’s sporting goods stores, such as the 30-30, .375 H&H Magnum, .338 Winchester, and the venerable .30-06 Springfield.  And just as with rifles, if someone suggests a hard to find cartridge you can always find a modern equivalent that will offer comparable ballistics.

For example, if someone recommends the .300 H&H Magnum—which is still available, but maybe not readily so—you can substitute the .300 Winchester Magnum, or if Elmer Keith recommends his 334 OKH wildcat cartridge—which probably never saw use by many people outside of Keith’s own circle—you can substitute the .338 Winchester Magnum and get equal or better performance.

The point is this; even if some of the rifles and cartridges referred to in these books seems archaic, there is always a way to bring the information into the present.  And given that the authors of these books were esteemed for their expertise on these subjects, it seems prudent to try our best to bring this information into the 21st Century.

Let us not also forget that some things don’t change when it comes to our preferred outdoor activities.  The best way to dress and pack out game hasn’t changed and likely never will until the day we all go into the wilderness in our own private helicopters.  The techniques for marksmanship which earned Col. Whelen and C. S. Landis national championships haven’t changed and anyone would be well served to follow their advice for hitting the bull’s-eye.  The laws of physics haven’t changed, and the tables for drop and wind drift of a .22 caliber bullet in Small Bore Rifle Shooting are still accurate to this day.

The best area to place your bullet, or look for game, or drop your lure also hasn’t changed.  While technology may have changed in the past fifty years, we can take comfort in the fact that the quarry has not.  If Edward Freeman made his hunting trips with a .38-55 Winchester Model 94 and dropped hundreds of deer in the Maine woods, you can be sure your .308 Winchester has the potency to take down a whitetail.  Hunters may have added camouflage, scent blockers, and range finders to their bag of tricks, but the animals have remained the same.

For all of the above reasons, classic sporting books still have a place in your library for their original intended purpose—to teach you how to bag your quarry or hit the bull’s-eye.  Good information is good information, regardless of when the words were put down on paper.  Much of the information in these books stands the test of time and requires nothing of you, other than to read it, for it to make your outdoor excursions more enjoyable and successful.  And whatever information has become outmoded due to advances of technology is easily transported into this century with just a modicum of creativity on the part of the reader.

And this is to say nothing of the man who prefers to take to the woods in the fashion of his father or grand-father and is steadfast in his commitment to tradition.  I know these people are out there.  People who wish to take the woods with wood stock and blued steel instead of synthetic and stainless; people who prefer wool, cotton, and leather to acrylic, polyester, and rayon; people who value patience and perseverance; and people whose foremost desire is to enjoy the outdoors and their time spent in it, rather than to simply get in, get their game, and get out.  For these sportsmen, books like this provide hours of enjoyment and a lifetime’s worth of valuable knowledge.

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