F&S Classics: Oh, ****!
A hunter’s and angler’s guide to profanity—because knowing how to curse well is an artform
To celebrate the 125th anniversary of Field & Stream, we’re going to share some of our favorite stories from the history of the magazine. Every day for the rest of the year, we’ll republish a new F&S Classic on the website. Today’s entry, Oh, ****! by David E. Petzal, was published in November 2003. You can find the complete F&S Classics series here .
Profanity is as much a part of hunting and fishing as Vienna sausage and wet toilet paper. It is a manifestation of the freedom afforded by the outdoors. If you want to say **** or ******* because it describes your gun or your dog or the deer or fish that just escaped, you may do so.
Through its long and glorious history, Field & Stream has had a strict antiprofanity policy, save for the occasional darn or drat. But now, in the 21st century, the restraints are at last coming off, and I can freely address some of the questions on its use that readers have sent in over the years.
Is Profanity a Sign of Poor Character?
Emphatically no. In 1971, I was invited to hunt in Montana by an outdoor writer with whom I had become acquainted. Since I had never been West before and was anxious to impress people as a man of taste and refinement, I showed up at his cabin in slacks, a sports jacket, and a tie. His wife, Priscilla, took one look at me and said, “Holy ****, Norman, what the **** have you brought in here?” Their Lab, Chief, bit me in the leg.
Priscilla could have said, “I’m very glad to meet you, but your mode of attire is ludicrous, and it is painfully obvious to even the most casual observer that you are badly out of place in a rustic setting like this.” But that would have taken much longer, and it wouldn’t have had nearly the same effect. As for Chief, I learned that I was lucky he only bit me in the leg. His usual form of greeting required people to take their trousers to the cleaners. Chief was, in the words of the doggy set, a “knee ******.”
Norman called Priscilla “The Duchess” because of her lack of refinement, but she was, and is, one of the most generous souls I’ve ever met, and a multitude of people owe her for a thousand acts of kindness. She simply let it out when cursing expressed what she felt.
Are There Times When You Shouldn’t Curse, Even When It’s Proper To?
Yes. Years ago, a member of a club I belong to missed a clay bird, and that cost him a major shooting championship. This fellow was not only a superb shot and a to-the-death competitor, but he was a gentleman, and instead of calling the unbroken bird a miserable ******* or a low-rent *********** he simply said, “Oh dear, that’s going to be very costly.”
Onlookers were hushed and awestruck, and I’m told that a few actually wept. In that moment he passed into legend.
Is Profanity Truly the Tool of the Ignorant, the Half-Bright, and the Uneducated?
No, and as evidence, I give you two great Field & Stream editors, Warren Page and Gene Hill. Both were Harvard graduates, and Page taught English at a very exclusive prep school. If there were two more literate, well-educated, and eloquent men, I don’t know who they might be, and both of them cursed with imagination, passion, and intensity.
Hill’s observations on the eventual disposition of some of his guns and rods were particularly fascinating, although anatomically impossible. But most of his conversation was so lewd, grotesque, and blasphemous that I cannot reproduce it here, even using asterisks for his choicer words.
To Page, the F word was mother’s milk, and he used it as all parts of speech. The first time he invited me to go shooting with him, I showed up with a ferocious-kicking rifle. Page, who hated recoil, looked at it and said, “What the **** are you going to do with that? That ******* gun is gonna kill you.”
On the third shot, the scope went an inch into my eyebrow, and as the blood poured down my shirt, he positively danced with joy. “I told you that ******* gun was gonna kill you.”
What Do You Regard as Good Hunting and Fishing Profanity?
It should be imaginative and should be used much as one uses spice in cooking. Applied sparingly, and with creativity, it makes conversation memorable. Once, in Illinois, I shot a pheasant that had not even leveled off in flight and hit him with every pellet in the shell and probably the wad, too.
“Wow,” said the fellow I was with, “you drove **** and shot from his ******* to his brain.”
Which was infinitely more descriptive than “Golly, you sure took that bird fast.”
Where Can I Learn How to Curse Artistically?
In the armed forces, or in any hunting camp in the South. The redneck peckerwoods in the services, and in Dixie (often the very same redneck peckerwoods) have elevated profanity to something near poetry.
In basic training, I heard a drill sergeant inform a private that “Your footlocker smells like a cold wind coming off a pile of wet wolf ****.”
When I went to Fort Knox, Kentucky, I was warned that “We got mosquitoes so big down here they can **** a turkey standing flat-footed.”
As a ******* civilian again, on a deer hunt in South Carolina that took place in a weeklong downpour, I heard an aged Secessionist warn a youngster who had not brought his poncho that, “Boy, you gonna git soaked. It’s rainin’ hard as a tall cow ****** on a flat rock.”
Later, when the kid came in drenched and hypothermic, he was told, “Gawud dayum, son, you shakin’ jes’ lak a dog ******* peach pits.”
Could Shakespeare (whose works are filled with profanity) have said it better? Hayull, no.
On a quail hunt in Texas, I listened to a fellow Yankee bragging to his host about his new cowboy hat. The Texan looked at it squinty-eyed for a minute and said:
“Ah do believe ah’d lak to buy me two o’ them. [long, long pause] One to **** in, and t’other to cover it up with.”
That was the last we saw of the hat.
Do You See a Bright Future for Hunting and Fishing Profanity?
I believe that outdoor profanity is a growth industry. As long as dogs break points and hunters miss deer and trout snap tippets, there will be men and women who will stand tall and protest against uncaring fate using every word available to them.
Who the **** knows?