The hunting story follows human language back to the very beginning. And luckily for us bibliophiles, there are now hunting books, apps like Audible, and a Kindle to tell it.
Hunters know that stories abound the world over — and most spin plenty of their own tall tales. It’s easy to search the web and find a whole swath of hunting books sitting atop the charts. And those books about hunting are often entertaining, educational, and important.
But it turns out there are plenty of books that tell hunting stories without entirely branding them as such. Perhaps it’s a lauded gourmand recapping his life with bird dogs and expensive bottles of wine. Or perhaps it’s a series of outdoorsmen and women telling near-death stories that will both shock and educate you as you head afield.
It could also be a 1984 expedition into the Arctic, where a writer walks among natives — both wildlife and human — to learn the ways of their northern world. Or it could simply just be a collection of classic tried-and-true hunting stories, collected into one place for all to enjoy.
I gathered up a few of my favorites that walk the line and tell the tales. Among these best hunting books, I hope you find a few new favorites.
Best Hunting Books
‘Campfire Stories: Close Calls‘ by Steven Rinella & Contributors
My favorite hunting book of 2021 wasn’t a hunting book per se, but a hunting-adjacent audiobook experience put out by the MeatEater team in tandem with Audible. Inspired by a brown bear attack while filming a MeatEater episode, Rinella invites contributors with near-death stories that chill and entertain.
Stories range from bear attacks to backcountry falls to one particular harrowing escape from hypothermia. The quality of this audiobook experience is akin to listening to a really highly produced podcast in chunks from different folks on different topics. It’s a fun listen.
And I seriously doubt you’ll be able to drop one of these stories in the middle to listen to later. Once you’re in it, you’re in it.
‘The Hunter’s Game: Poachers and Conservationists in Twentieth-Century America‘ by Louis S. Warren
If you enjoy nerding out on conservation history like I do, “The Hunter’s Game” will take your understanding of American hunting culture to a new level. Historian Louis S. Warren weaves narratives that, though dense at times, are unlike any I’ve heard in the usual storytelling of American conservation lore.
The struggles of socioeconomic factors against a rising tide of sport hunters changed not only the face of wildlife management but also how Americans view wildlife in the broader scheme of things. And the stories he focuses on in Pennsylvania, New Mexico, and Montana shed a more complicated light on what it means to be a conservationist in modern-day America.
In my opinion, this is a must-read for all hunters and wildlife enthusiasts alike.
‘The Last Wild Road: Adventures and Essays from a Sporting Life‘ by T. Edward Nickens
T. Edward Nickens is one of the most prolific hunting writers among us, and his longtime effort as a journalist and editor-at-large at Field & Stream is reflected in this 2021 collection of stories.
Funny, poignant, and occasionally heartbreaking, Nickens’ stories run the gamut. But they always meet on the side of human connection in hunting, where consciousness meets the outdoors in fresh and sometimes surprising ways.
A personal favorite involves a trip to Pennsylvania, where Nickens meets and communes with a pair of brothers who lost their father in a hunting accident many years prior. What happens? You’ll have to read to find out.
‘Traplines: Coming Home to Sawtooth Valley‘ by John Rember
I picked up “Traplines” off a bookshelf in the back of the Polebridge Mercantile outside of Glacier National Park. That weekend, it became a fast favorite.
Author John Rember tells the tale of his life spent in Idaho’s Sawtooth Valley. And he masterfully (and hilariously) weaves in the history of Sawtooth Valley, the plight of the salmon, learning to hunt with his father, and more.
I love this book. I reread it every year at least once, and it deserves a place on that coveted bookshelf.
‘American Serengeti: The Last Big Animals of the Great Plains‘ by Dan Flores
If you’ve ever flown over middle America and stared down at the neverending grid of corn and suburbia, wondering what this place looked like before we plastered “for sale” signs and white picket fences all over it, this is the book to pick up.
Flores is a masterful writer and storyteller, and he delves into the wild history of the great plains. And, more specifically, he parcels out how the wildlife that makes its home there has fared through the colonization of the plains.
If hunting a bison or a pronghorn is on your list, get this book in your hands to better understand their plight.
‘That Wild Country: An Epic Journey through the Past, Present, and Future of America’s Public Lands‘ by Mark Kenyon
The latest literary installment from the MeatEater crew is Mark Kenyon’s “That Wild Country.” Kenyon is a renowned figure in the current landscape of whitetail hunting, and he’s one of the most successful podcasters in the outdoor genre with his podcast Wired To Hunt. But aside from his regular gig in the hunting media world, he’s also an outdoor writer.
He enters the literary game with a book that celebrates his experiences on public lands while also delving into the history, politics, and possible future of our natural resources. The book is present, personal, and educational, and the reader will find it to be quite apt for the current moment whether they’re a hunter or an angler.
It’s also a great buy if you own a Kindle, offering free access with Kindle Unlimited or a $2 fee without.
‘Great American Hunting Stories,’ Edited by Lamar Underwood
I like essay collections, and this one is particularly cool. It includes a lot of writing by big names in history like Theodore Roosevelt, Zane Grey, and William T. Hornaday.
This collection spans the globe, from getting charged by lions in the African bush to bird hunting in the American South. This collection is ready for readin’ by a roaring fireplace.
‘Beyond Fair Chase: The Ethic and Tradition of Hunting‘ by Jim Posewitz
This small but mighty book is a beginner’s foray into the ethics of hunting. Often given out as part of course material for hunter education courses, “Beyond Fair Chase” opens the reader up to the basic foundation of what it means to be an ethical hunter.
And the book has now been in circulation for 27 years, with more than 2 million copies sold. At just $6, it’s affordable and makes for a great gift for the new or coming-of-age hunter. It’s not just a dry read on ethics, either. Posewitz fits in hunting stories and anecdotes throughout as examples of how to be a fair-chase hunter.
It’s also a great book for longtime hunters to revisit, offering a platform to expand on one’s own personal notions of fair chase while contemplating the reasons we all head out in the field in the first place.
‘H Is for Hawk‘ by Helen McDonald
This is a beautiful book about an interspecies relationship with a primordial hunter. McDonald weaves her way through mortality and relationships while training and hunting with a goshawk.
The writing within this book is both stunning and crisp, and it won, oh, about a billion awards. If you haven’t read it, it’s a killer read, and both the paperback and Kindle versions are under $6 each.
‘Off to the Side: A Memoir‘ by Jim Harrison
If you haven’t read Harrison by this point in your life, shame on you. And if I’d left him out of this list, the shame would be on me.
Harrison is a personal favorite writer of mine for both prose and poetry. And his memoir is fun, elegant, and delightfully twisted in a way that leaves you wishing you were tableside, stories rolling, a fire roaring, a glass of good wine in hand, with bird dogs sleeping at your feet.
He takes on a variety of his personal obsessions throughout. And, to be frank, I’d give this an R-rated review if it was a movie. He does dedicate an entire section to strippers. But he also dedicates an entire portion of the book to his own sporting tradition. And it’s pretty darn spectacular.
This book is a bit of an underdog, and you likely haven’t heard of it. But I love it.
Ron Mills is the old West as it lives in this moment, and this book is a gift from that tradition. His life on Montana’s Rocky Mountain Front is full of “campfire and horse sweat,” as the lauded writer Hal Herring puts it in the foreword. And Mills is certainly and definitively not a writer.
But that’s what makes this book so charming and deliriously fun. These are campfire stories, written down. They’re colloquial and cozy, and they’re full of grizzlies, floods, hypothermia, hunting, and much more. He covers the gamut of his life, and it’s just a kick in the Wranglers. Promise.
‘Arctic Dreams‘ by Barry Lopez
I’ve loved this book for years. My copy is old, it’s ragged, and the edges of the pages are in that tired state of use that shows a certain kind of love for the writing.
“Arctic Dreams” hit the shelves in 1984, yet the book feels crisp, new, and prescient when it comes to the climate issues the Arctic faces today. Lopez digs deep — 496 pages deep — into the life, wildlife, hunting traditions, and cultural world of the Arctic Circle.
Frankly, it’s a spectacular, deliberate, and stunning literary opus that — in my very important opinion — is a perfect example of the highest echelon of writing. Can’t say much more. And y’all, it’s free to read on your Kindle if you have an Amazon Prime membership.
‘A Hunter’s Heart: Honest Essays on Blood Sport,’ Edited by David Petersen
I list this book almost entirely because of the inclusion of my all-time favorite hunting essay “The Heart of the Game” by Tom McGuane. But, of course, it holds a swath of other great writers including President Jimmy Carter, Rick Bass, Terry Tempest Williams, and Ed Abbey.
I’d be doing it an injustice if I didn’t mention that the collection itself is impressive. But McGaune’s essay is particularly perfect. I found it over a decade ago in the collection “The Best of Outside: The First 20 Years.” It categorically changed my former non-hunter views on what hunting could be. And, really, it was the lead-in to my own journey as a sportswoman today.
You can read McGuane’s full essay here, but it’s worth putting it on your shelf. And if you’re putting it there, you’re certainly not making a mistake by having it live in this particular collection of hunting writing.
‘The Mindful Carnivore: A Vegetarian’s Hunt for Sustenance‘ by Tovar Cerulli
I love this book for one primary reason: It’s a clear-cut outlier in the world of the traditional hunting story.
Cerulli documents his life as both a vegetarian and an eventual vegan. This book goes through the ins and outs of how our food relates back to the life cycle. It takes the reader through Cerulli’s deeply personal journey of deciding to put his own meat on the table through hunting.
This is the kind of book anyone and everyone can read and understand from an eating perspective. And voices like this have the power to change the public’s relationship with hunting.