May 07, 2013
Outdoor Writing: The Whole Truth
By David E. Petzal
In my post of April 29, Happy Myles pointed out that African PH Alexander Lake, whose books I recommended, may have been a little creative with his facts. This is quite possible. Peter Barrett, who was Field & Stream’s Executive Editor and an experienced Africa hand, said the same thing. “Lake drew a long bow,” was how Peter put it.
I think that Lake was a typical writer of his time, not an exception. Having read just about all the bound volumes of Outdoor Life, Field & Stream, and Sports Afield that F&S used to have in its library, going all the way back to the First World War, I think that outdoor writing is a lot more honest now.
There are several reasons. Fifty years ago and more, people expected a certain amount of BS in their yarns. If you look at the number of mens’ “real adventure” magazines that were around in the 40s and 50s and 60s, and which were pure nonsense, it could not be otherwise. This extended into hunting and fishing as well. If an Alaska guide wrote that his client killed a Dall sheep at 600 yards with a single shot from a .250 Savage with a tang sight, people were inclined to believe it, because how many of them had been to Alaska, or seen a Dall sheep, or made a 600-yard shot?
Years ago, a now-deceased gun writer who was a fine amateur boxer in college before World War II and served in the Marines during The Last War We Won told me that he had sparred with Joe Louis when Louis was touring military camps in the Pacific, and how Louis had knocked him out with a jab. It was a great story, except that long after I heard it, a boxing historian pointed out that Louis had not toured Asia until years after the war was over. Today if I heard that tale, I could check up on it in a matter of seconds, which in fact I just did.
These days we’re far less tolerant of being lied to about anything, for any reason, no matter how innocuous, because we’re lied to all the time about everything. When was the last time someone from the government, or from a corporation, or the military, or from the news media, said something and you flat-out believed it?
Truth is pretty much necessary in outdoor writing because travel is so easy, and because so many people have been so many places, and because there is so much information on everything. If you make things up people will catch you at it, and you will have to do something else to make money.
Also, Field & Stream readers in particular seem to be unusually alert (as well as good looking, well educated, highly skillful, and well bred) and do not let mistakes go by. I take a certain perverse pride that in the 30-plus years I’ve been writing regularly for the magazine I have yet to make a single error that was not caught. If you know they’ll nail you every time, you tend to be careful whether you want to or not.