Excerpts from the Old Man & the Boy
Robert Ruark’s The Old Man & the Boy is perhaps the all time classic hunting book ever written. The book tells the story of a grandfather and a grandson’s adventures in the outdoors. The grandfather instills the finest of ethics in the youngster at every opportunity. Though the book was written over 50 years ago, the Old Man’s wisdom will never grow old. Here’s a few quotes of the Old Man. If you haven’t read this book you are cheating yourself for not doing so.
The Old Man knows pretty near close to everything, and mostly he ain’t painful with it. What I mean is he went to Africa once when he was a kid, and he shot a tiger or two out in India, or so he says, and he was in a whole lot of wars here and yonder. But he can still tell you why the quail sleep at night in a tight circle or why the turkeys always fly uphill.
The Old Man ain’t much to look at on the hoof. He’s got big ears that flap out and a scubby mustache with light yellow tobacco stains on it. He smokes a crook stem pipe and he shoots an old pump gun that looks about as battered as he does. The thing I like most about the Old Man is he is willing to talk about what he knows, and he never talks down to a kid.
…”Hunting,” the Old Man said, “is the noblest sport yet devised by the hand of man. There were mighty hunters in the Bible, and all the caves where the cave men lived are full of carvings of assorted game the head of the house drug home. If you hunt to eat, or hunt for sport for something fine, something that will make you proud, and make you remember every single detail of the day you found him and shot him, that is good too. But if there’s one thing I despise is a killer, some blood crazed idiot that just goes around bam-bamming at everything he sees. A man that takes pleasure in death just for death’s sake is rotten somewhere inside, an you’ll find him doing things later on in life that’ll prove it.”
…”A gentleman starts down at his boots and works up to his hat. A gentleman is, first of all, polite. A gentleman never talks down to nobody, or even to anybody that says ‘anybody’ instead of ‘nobody.’ A gentleman ain’t greedy. A gentleman don’t holler at anybody else’s dogs. A gentleman pays his score as he goes. He don’t take what he can’t put back, and if he borrows, he borrows from banks. He never troubles his friends with his troubles.”
…”A sportsman, is a gentleman first. But a sportsman, basically, is a man who kills what he needs, whether it’s fish or bird or animal, or what he wants for a special reason, but he never kills anything just to kill it. And he tries to preserve the very same thing that he kills a little of from time to time. The books call this conservation. It’s the same reason why we don’t shoot that tame covey of quail down to less’n ten birds.”
…This little bobwhite, the Old Man told me, was a gentleman, and you had to approach him as gentleman to gentleman. You had to cherish him and look after him and make him very important in his own right, because there weren’t many of him around and he was worthy of respectful shooting. The way you handled quail sort of kicked back on you. …The little fellow doesn’t weigh but about six ounces but every ounce of him is pure class. He’s smart as a whip, and every time you go up against him you’re proving something about yourself.
…The quail is a member of the family, the Old Man said again. He expects to get fed, like any other member of the family. So you plant him some field peas or some lespedeza or something, and you have to leave it there for him to eat. You plant it close to a place where he can fly in. A bobwhite is pretty well set in his habits. He will walk off from where he roosted, but he likes to fly home. It is a damned shame, the Old Man said, that the human race wouldn’t take a tip from this.
“…any time a boy is ready to learn about guns is the time he’s ready, no matter how young he is, and you can’t start too young to be careful. What you got in your hands is a dangerous weapon. It can kill you, or kill me, or kill a dog. You always got to remember that when a gun is loaded it makes a potential killer out of the man that’s handling it. Don’t you ever forget it!”
…”The older you get, the carefuller you’ll be. When you’re as old as I am, you’ll be so scared of a firearm that every young man you know will call you a damned old maid. But damned old maids don’t shoot the heads off their friends in duck blinds or fire blind into a bush where a deer walked in and then go pick up their best buddy with a hole in his chest.”
…”I ain’t got to tell you that I am going to die”, the Old Man said. “You would know it. You’ve had the best of me, and you’re on your own from now on. You’ll go to college next year, and you’ll be a man, with all a man’s problems, and there won’t be no old man around to steer you. I raised you as best I could an now you’re the old man, because I’m tired and I think I’ll leave.” My eyes blurted to tears, and I said all the things young people say in the presence of death. “Leave it. Leave it,” the Old Man said. “Like I always told you, if there was a way to beat it, I would have heard about it. It’ll even happen to you, unlikely as it seems.” “But how, when, why?” I said, for lack of anything better. “I promise you,” he said, “on my word of honor, I won’t die on the opening day of bird season.” He kept his promise.
Excerpts from Robert Ruark’s classic, The Old Man and the Boy
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