From the first cave man who drew pictures on a rock wall, to the last hunter to tag a buck this season, every hunter has stories to tell.
First buck. Biggest buck. Hardest gobbler. Coldest day. Longest shot. They all make us what we are as hunters. What anthropologists call oral history is not just something from the past—it still lives today. Oral history probably started with hunters, and it will stay alive until the last hunter dies.
Outdoor writers turn oral history into written history, giving the how-to and the why-to of hunting based on field experience. They tell what has worked. But countless it-just-so-happened stories we love telling over and over are also born from experience, and they’re important to our traditions. Whether they’re funny, or emotional, or sentimental, they’re always precious to us.
That was as true in the days of Archibald Rutledge and Jack O’Connor as it is among today’s outdoor writers. Stories are popular because we identify with them. Whether they’re funny tales told by Colonel Tom Kelly and Pat McManus, or true adventures told by grandpas and uncles, stories make up our history. Even if they’re someone else’s stories, they’re our stories.
That’s what makes the stories of Harvey Bauer so compelling. Bauer’s “The Old Man, Whispers Heard” should find a place under the Christmas tree in every home where a hunter lives. Though his stories are autobiographical, YOU have lived them. As a kid who came to be known as “Bumper,” he spent lots of time with his granddad, and learned the ways of rural America—hard work, hand-me-downs, love, integrity, and so much more.
If you’re old enough to have used plastic bread bags over your socks to compensate for leaky boots, you’ll recall many of the everyday sacrifices people made to get by in mid-twentieth century rural America. If you’re young enough to think high-tech scent control sprays are a new thing, picture wrapping yourself in a heavy, smelly wool horse blanket to keep your scent from compromising your hunt. Bumper Bauer tells all in a way that doesn’t just pay homage to the old ways when people had to be resourceful—he also gives any privileged young person plenty to think about. “The Old Man, Whispers Heard” is a book that connects the X-Box generation to the generation for whom “Winchester” was what Christmas dreams were made of.
Not many kids today get BB guns, but it was once a rite of passage for any kid in a hunting family. The only electronic thing kids did back then was tuning in to the Saturday morning TV cowboy serials—still talked about among today’s Social Security crowd. Those fond memories make a difference in how kids see the world, and they’re worth sharing.
Bumper Bauer is both a serious deer hunter and a self-confessed “turkeyholic,” and devotes whole sections to those pursuits. But sixty years ago, when small game was a big deal, every kid shot rabbits and squirrels with single-shot scatter guns and rimfire rifles before tackling big game with the old .30-30 Winchester centerfire. Small game hunting honed the skills and the mindset to transform a tenderfoot twelve-year old into an advanced big game hunter by his late teens.
Video now gives us new creative ways to tell our stories, and that’s good, but maybe it’s also good that we didn’t have video back in the ’50s and ’60s. Video can bring the viewer into the hunt, but not into the personal relationship the storyteller has with his listener. And video will never replace old stories told over and over with reflection, nuance, humor, and personality. That’s why “The Old Man, Whispers Heard” is an important book, and that’s why I recommend it for old-timers as well as their grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
Bauer goes by the moniker “Spinner of Tales,” but he’s not just a storyteller. He’s an excellent wildlife photographer too, so visit his website at www.spinneroftalesphotography.com. Go there for an address, and send a check for $14.50 to get your copy of “The Old Man, Whispers Heard.”
When “The Everyday Hunter” isn’t hunting, he’s thinking about hunting, writing about hunting, talking about hunting, dreaming about hunting, or wishing he were hunting. Contact him at EverydayHunter@gmail.com, and read more of his thoughts about hunting at www.jamestowngazette.com.