As I mentioned in a previous post, the Upland Equation blog contributors have already and will continue to share book reviews on various sporting books we read. Most recently, Walter did a great review of John Hightower’s book, Pheasant Hunting, which is one of the Borzoi Books for Sportsmen published by Alfred A. Knopf.
In this book review, I will address another Borzoi Book, entitled Upland Game Shooting by H.L. Betten which was first published in 1940. I will start by proclaiming that this book is a classic which should be in every sportsman’s library. Betten can easily hang with the likes of Burton Spiller, Ray Holland (who Betten was personal friends with), George Bird Evans, William Harnden Foster, and Corey Ford. However, with the exception of Ray Holland and Corey Ford, Betten was more traveled than most of these other gentlemen and hunted upland game birds throughout the United States. In Upland Game Shooting, Betten writes about hunting most of the North American upland game species, including those of the west. Thus, for a western bird hunter, his writing hits close to home and still rings true today. My favorite chapters are on the Dusky Grouse and the Sharp-tailed Grouse.
As with Burton Spiller’s books, Lynn Bogue Hunt, one of the foremost outdoor artists of his time, was the illustrator and the book contains numerous beautiful black and white drawings as well as nine spectacular color plates depicting the pursuit of the different game birds addressed in the respective chapters. The gorgeous artwork is just the icing on the cake.
Not only is Betten knowledgeable about the birds that we love so dearly, but he also writes extensively about the history and lore of our great sport. Below are a few examples of some of the intriguing facts that he relays:
1. The renowned author Mark Twain (Samuel Clemmons) was a bird hunter, but according to Betten’s uncle, was a “punk shot” and could not hit valley quail to save his life.
2. Although not much of a bird hunter, George Washington publicly confessed his love of hunting woodcock.
3. The Cocker Spaniel was bread in Europe to root woodcock out of the thick cover. The term “cocker” actually comes from the woodcock’s common name, the “cock-o’-the woods.”
4. Betten writes about the hunting the first opening day of the first pheasant season in the Willamette Valley of Oregon. He was actually there! For those who don’t know, this was the very first hunting season ever for pheasants in the United States.
These are just a few of the gems shared in Betten’s book.
To sum it up, Betten’s love for the game birds and the great sport that we treasure comes through on every page. For example, of the glorious autumn surroundings one sees when chasing sharptails, he wrote:
As the season advances and temperatures fall, the prairie sharp-tail becomes semi-migratory. That is to say the birds develope a strong inclination to leave the comparatively bare plains and to take to brushy coulees, rolling hills and tree “claims” instead. But even in late September, they will be found in such resorts. . . . It was the fringe of such terrain that Harvey and I hunted. At that time, too, deciduous growths are in the sere and colorful leaf and I’m telling you such a stage setting enhances the sport marvelously. I don’t want to preach or ram personal doctrines down your throat. But if you find nothing inspirational in such scenes, . . . turn to some other other recreation and don’t clutter up this field in a cold-blooded, meat-hunting way! Sharp-tails are not plentiful enough to be wasted like that.
I feel the exact same way. Summing up his upland shooting life, Betten stated:
When one has engaged actively in field sports for almost six decades, countless sporting adventures come to mind. Naturally, out of the many only a few can be mentioned in a book of these dimensions. Also, but a limited number of the hundreds of the hundreds of fine sportsmen it has been my privilege to meet in this beautiful old world, of the countless sterling gun dogs it has been my pleasure to know. Together they have afforded many a grand day afield; if the Great Architect had given me little else in the way of joy, life was still worth living on their account alone.
Clearly, Betten understood that hunting buddies, bird dogs, beautiful surroundings, and memories all contribute significantly to a hunter’s happiness.
Betten concludes the introduction to his book with the following wish to the reader:
Finally, to all good sportmen who love field sports, fine guns, and the companionship of man’s best friend, my sincerest wishes for long future enjoyment of that grand recreation, Upland Game Shooting.
Obviously, he was talking of our grand sport, but this also equally applies to his great book. The two truly go hand in hand. As I said earlier, this book is a real classic.