Everyone loves a story. But as outdoorsmen, we appreciate a good one more than most.
We'll let you get away with the yarn about the trout you took into the backing—even though the fish gains a pound with every retelling. We'll still act surprised that the buck you'd been chasing for ages suddenly appeared in the last minute of the last day—even though we already know the ending. We'll happily listen, and as soon you're finished, we'll tell one of our own.
A wonderful thing about hunting and fishing is how, if you spend enough time in the wild, stories will find you. We keep them, share them, and savor them when we can't be in the field. This month, between seasons, is one of those times. So we asked our best writers and wildlife photographers for the tales that they tell when they're sitting by the fire with other outdoorsmen. Most were inspired by a list of one word themes we provided them, because the best hunts and most memorable fish teach us something about who we are and how to live life. Other stories included show the small moments that capture the friendships, humor, and joy of the outdoors. All of the stories are wild and great. So find a comfortable chair. And escape.
by C.J. Chivers
Chris Ott knew the enraged grizzly was coming back to finish killing him. Knocked flat, half-scalped, blinded by his own blood rushing over his brow and down his face, he sifted facts from surprise. He could hear the bear crashing across the few yards of thicket that separated them, her hot mouth reddened with his blood... READ MORE
by David E. Petzal
Long, long ago I learned about the Code of the West, a hard and pitiless creed that governed the lives of cowboys, mountain men, trappers, and frontiersmen of all stripes. It stipulates among other things that you don’t draw against a stranger, beat your horse excessively, or burst into tears and quit if things aren’t going your way.
I subscribe wholeheartedly to the Code and got my chance to honor its precepts on an elk hunt that took place near Cody, Wyo., in the mid 1990s. Winchester sponsored the affair, transporting a gaggle of gun writers west to hunt antelope, mule deer, and elk. Of the dozen or so persons involved, however, I was one of only two to draw an elk tag, which placed a heavy obligation on me...READ MORE
by T. Edward Nickens
When the railcar doors screeched open the sound was like banshees screaming in the dark. I looked out the yawning maw of the cargo door and there it was: Nothing. Black dark. A million miles of it, give or take, unfurled beyond the railroad tracks and into the great roadless wilderness of northern Ontario. I’ve found a bunch of ways to get into wild country—hiking boots, jacked-up trucks, antique airplanes, more paddles than I can count—but getting to the back of beyond by railroad, with my canoe and gear stacked up in a freight car, has to be about the wildest...READ MORE
by Steve Rinella
Sometimes it’s difficult to anticipate sources of danger when you’re hunting in the backcountry. But on this sunny day, while hunting Coues deer in eastern Arizona, we never had any doubt that rattlesnakes were the things to be watching for. I was hunting with the crew that films my TV show, Meat Eater. The last few days had been cold and wet. Now that it was warming up, our cameraman, Mo Fallon, commented that every rattlesnake in the neighborhood would be coming out of the ground. He also mentioned that this area was known for green Mojave rattlesnakes, a breed whose venom includes a rare neurotoxin that can make their bites 10 times more dangerous than typical rattlers...READ MORE
by Phil Bourjaily
Let’s be honest: I can blow a duck call until help arrives and that’s about it. But in one small corner of North Dakota, I am a legend.
Years ago, Winchester invited me and 29 other writers to Bismarck for the introduction of a new semiauto shotgun. Every morning, they split us into threes and fours and scattered us across the state to hunt with guides and locals. One foggy morning found three of us spread out along a brushy fenceline shooting Canada geese. Our guides were four carpet layers who loved to hunt honkers but for whatever reason never shot ducks. In fact, these guys had never even heard a duck call...READ MORE
by Bill Heavey
Paula Smith is anything but lazy. When parts of her area we overrun with Canada geese a few years ago, she would occasionally grab one, wring its neck, stuff it in her backpack, and take it home on the bus. That didn't go so smoothly one day, when the goose in her bag decided to pull a Lazarus act. READ MORE
by Bob Marshall
We came across the three Swiss hikers on the second leg of our 12-day backpacking fishing trip along the Highline Trail in Wyoming’s Bridger Wilderness. We were heading in as they were heading out. It was Wednesday, Sept. 19, 2001. So a thought occurred to me. “How long have you been in?” I asked.
The tallest of the three men answered in German-accented English. “Ten days,” he said. “We see no one else.”
Quickly I counted backward and came to Sept. 9—two days before 9/11. Two days before airliners flew into the World Trade Center towers, before the word horror took on new meaning, and before everything I thought about the future had to be amended...READ MORE
by John Merwin
Each side of the river was deeply rutted by bear paths. My guide told me that if a bear came along, we should wade across the river. So when a bear came ambling down our side, we waded across to avoid it. When another came down that side, we waded again. After a while, we saw a bear on each bank, so we waded to the middle of the river as they went by. Eventually, I was concentrating on a pod of rainbows close to the river’s edge and happened to look up into the biggest pair of brown eyes imaginable... READ MORE
by Scott Bestul
The skull looks a century old, even though it was pulled from an Iowa creek bed just six winters ago. The rack is stained orange by mud and black by water. There’s a deep muskrat chew in the fourth tine on the left. The bones of the face are like ocher rawhide. The teeth bring to mind an old river rat I knew—a man who slept with a chaw of Red Man in his mouth. When I tip the skull, sand, grit, and little white beads of bone rattle in the cavities and spill on my shirt. I put this buck—probably the only net Boone and Crockett typical I’ll ever encounter—in that creek bed, and the knowledge of it has gnawed at me since...READ MORE
by Mike Toth
Boy, are we pumped. Georgia gobblers! On private land! Tom picks me up at 3:30 a.m. on the opener a week later, and we get to the property way before sunup. We walk in, get settled, and start calling in the predawn. For about an hour we have a flock around us, but nothing comes close. We decide to walk back to the truck for coffee and to plan the rest of the morning. We’re heading up the slope to the road when I see a thin man wearing a pressed khaki uniform taking a leak at the edge of the woods. “Warden,” I tell Tom. We stop, look at each other, shrug, and walk toward him. After all, we’re not doing anything wrong. If only I had known...READ MORE
by Keith McCafferty
For the tourists who buy conch shells in the crushed-coral lot of the Southernmost Hotel, where U.S. 1 runs out of land after its 2,000-mile descent of the eastern seaboard, Key West is a party town—the end of the road in the sense that senior prom is the end of high school. It is a place where letting go begins with a beer in the Half Shell Raw Bar, pauses to take in the sunset at Mallory Square, then finds its stride in a neon careen down Duval Street to Sloppy Joe’s, where Hemingway told tales and hitched his pants with anchor rope. Anything might happen from here on out. Something surely will...READ MORE
by Tim Romano
Last summer I traveled to Alaska and fished out of Bristol Bay Lodge. We were a couple of miles from the Bering Sea on an unnamed river at a remote spur camp, chasing silver salmon. I wanted to check the species off my bucket list. We worked really hard all day for the silvers, and we each caught one. That was a special fish for me. Our guide, Tyler, was filleting my fish when he told me to get out the camera. He wouldn’t say why—only that he had a surprise...READ MORE
by Dusan Smetana
We were in South Dakota, hunting pheasants and Hungarian partridge. The sky was overcast, and as the afternoon wore on we saw prairie lightning in the distance. Black clouds roiled toward us across darkening plains. Sheets of rain were slanting low and electricity hung in the air. “Time to get back,” one of my friends said. I gauged the movement of the clouds and sun, and the photographer-dictator in me came out. “No, not possible!” I shouted. “We’re staying!”...READ MORE
by Will Ryan
I loved to smoke. Even now, long after stopping, I like standing next to people who do, and are. You know those grainy World War II movies, when the patrol would take a break and the lieutenant would say, “smoke ‘em, if you got ‘em”? Well, I had ‘em, and I did. As I approached 30, the pressure to quit increased, particularly from various other human sources in my life. My canned response was that I needed to experience personally one of smoking’s hazards – then I’d be motivated...READ MORE
by Thomas McIntyre
The yellow gravel road turned on itself, switching back up the escarpment. Rotting snow began to bank along the sides, the melt running down. The Land Cruiser, shiny black at first light in the town and in the village where the pavement still ran and we stopped for eight-treasure tea, was now dusted yellow and, as the road grew wet, was becoming mud spattered. It climbed the road steeply, engine revving, and you could hear the wet crunch of gravel under the tires. Finally, at the top of the plateau, where the March sky in western China was sharp blue—the dazzling sunlight through the tissue-thin air and off the crumbling white snow striking the eyes like pinpricks—was a green sign with white numerals, showing over 4,500 meters of elevation. I motioned to the driver to stop, and I got out with the interpreter so we could take a picture. The old man stayed in the vehicle...READ MORE
by Dave Hurteau
The day my grandfather died he said he was going fishing, but he only made it as far as the bathroom. It was the best he could do.
I was supposed to go out with him. “C’mon, Friend!”
That’s what he called me. Like this: “Friend! Get me a beer!” and “Friend! Come hill my potatoes!” He also called me “No Friend.” Like this: “No Friend! What’sa matter with you? You got a screw loose?”
Anyway, I knew he wouldn’t make it. But I suspected he wanted once more to drive his putt-putting red Omni to the Dyke Road—a gravel lane where he’d lately been pulling to a stop in the middle of the road above the culvert, opening the car door, and casting from the driver’s seat into the pool below... READ MORE
by Anthony Licata
My instinct was telling me not to pull the trigger, but the guide was hissing shoot, and I could feel the eyes of seven guys behind me, surely asking what was taking me so long.
I was five minutes into an elk hunt in eastern Oregon. The plan was for two guides in two trucks to drop the hunters off where we could hike and glass, looking for elk moving through the country. But as soon as we pulled onto the ranch, David, the guide, barked, “Get out!” In seconds I was on shooting sticks, the crosshairs of my scope wobbling over the chest of a bull standing in dark timber 280 yards up a steep hill.
“He’s a good bull,” David said. “Shoot.”
Here’s the thing: I didn’t care if it was a record- book bull; I didn’t want to shoot...READ MORE
by Donald M. Jones
I spent nine hours photographing this bull in western Canada, and he never once showed any sign of aggression. The next day, though, the day I got this shot, he turned the switch. This was him charging me the first time. I took a few shots before I turned around and ran like hell. I spotted this partially fallen tree and figured that if I could put the trunk between us, he’d stop...READ MORE