By Mark Kenyon
I’m a hardcore hunter and a serious book worm. Yes, these two labels can be applied to the same person, and for that reason I believe I’m uniquely qualified to put together this “ultimate recommended reading list for hunters.” I read dozens of books every year, if not more, related to hunting and I’ve seen plenty of good books, a few great ones and a handful of awful reads too. Today, after filtering through all the texts I’ve read over the years, I’m attempting to compile the most comprehensive list of recommended books for hunters ever created.
With that said, a brief disclaimer. As many of you know, I’m based in the Midwest and am first and foremost a deer hunter. With this being the case, a large number of my recommendations (especially the how-tos) are skewed towards deer hunting materials. Don’t worry though, as there are dozens of books included in this selection that are plenty applicable to non-deer hunters too.
I hope you’ll take some time to browse through the recommendations below and order a few for yourself, a friend or a family member who loves to hunt or at least wants to learn more about this fascinating pursuit.
(FYI – for each category I’ve bolded one or two selections that I view as must-reads. Secondly, I know there are plenty of other great hunting books out there that I haven’t covered. If you have any other suggestions, please share them with us in the comments section!)
Meat Eater by Steven Rinella: Rinella shares a selection of stories from his life that speak to his growth as a hunter, the development of a hunting ethic, the reasons why he chooses to be a hunter and much more. There’s plenty in these stories that will encourage introspection, but you’ll just as likely find yourself laughing or enthusiastically flipping to the next page in anticipation for what might come next. An absolutely terrific book and in my opinion, a must-read for all hunters. (But so are his other two books!)
If You Didn’t Bring Jerky, What Did I Just Eat? by Bill Heavey: If you’ve ever read a Field & Stream magazine, you’ve probably seen Heavey’s hilarious back page column. In “If You Didn’t Bring Jerky”, Bill’s best stories are compiled into one non-stop laugh inducing collection that will be enjoyed by anyone who loves to hunt and fish.
American Buffalo by Steven Rinella: Another of my favorite books of all time, in American Buffalo, Steven Rinella recounts his own incredible hunt for a buffalo in Alaska, alongside the narrative of the tragic history of buffalo in America. It’s simultaneously a fascinating look at one of North America’s most iconic mammals and a thrilling tale of the hunt. If you haven’t read this one yet, get on it.
The Best American Hunting Stories edited by Anthony Licata: This collection, compiled by Field & Stream’s Anthony Licata, showcases some of the most entertaining and thoughtful modern hunting stories ever told. Essays from authors such as Rick Bass, Bill Heavey and Steven Rinella are included. Highly recommend this one for someone who likes to read their hunting in bite sized chunks, one story at a time.
The Scavenger’s Guide to Haute Cuisine by Steven Rinella: Rinella shares his journey to hunt, fish and gather all the materials needed to host a forty-five course feast inspired by a famous 1903 French cook book. This book is rife with great story telling, laughable gaffes, and exciting hunts.
A Thousand Deer – Rick Bass: A really terrifically written collection of stories by Rick Bass, detailing a number of his experiences hunting deer across Texas and Montana. These are both stories of hunting and of life. Beautifully written.
Whitetail Nation by Pete Bodo: Whitetail Nation is the story of Pete Bodo’s quest to kill his first truly “big buck”, along with a fascinating look at whitetail hunting culture and history across the country. Funny, interesting, exciting, thought provoking – everything I look for in a good hunting related read.
Wild Men, Wild Alaska by Rocky McElveen: In “Wild Men, Wild Alaska”, Rocky McElveen recounts some of the most exciting and unbelievable stories he’s lived as an Alaskan hunting and fishing guide. If you’ve ever dreamed of heading to America’s “last frontier”, this book will be an instant favorite. Great adventure reading.
Alaska and Me by Billy Molls: Along the same lines as “Wild Men, Wild Alaska”, “Alaska and Me” features the stories of Alaskan guide Billy Mols as he takes hunters out onto the Alaskan tundra in search of caribou, moose and grizzlies. A fun read for any Alaskan dreamer.
Elkheart by David Petersen: David Petersen has become one of my favorite outdoor/hunting writers, and this book is a perfect example of why. In Elkheart, David shares a series of short stories about his adventures in the wilds of Colorado hunting and learning about elk. Richly written and full of strong opinions and thought provoking questions, Elkheart and all of Petersen’s elk related books are great reads, whether you hunt elk or not.
Hunting Trips of a Ranchman & The Wilderness Hunter by Theodore Roosevelt: President Theodore Roosevelt’s hunting adventures from his time out in the Dakotas and beyond are timeless. When reading this book you’ll enjoy a brief escape back in time and insights into the background and hunting experiences of one of our most influential hunters and conservationists.
Hunting Ethics, Morals & Culture
A Hunter’s Heart collected by David Petersen: Speaking of David Petersen, A Hunter’s Heart is a collection of essays and short stories from a number of well respected writers on the topic of hunting. I believe this book should be mandatory reading for anyone interested in hunting. These stories explore all aspects of hunting; morals, ethics, policies, social norms, arguments for and against, and everything in between. I challenge anyone to read this book and come away from it unchanged. This book will make you think about hunting and your part in the process as a hunter in ways you’ve never thought through before. Must read material.
The Mindful Carnivore by Tovar Cerulli: Tovar, at one time a vegan, regales his journey that lead him to eventually become an avid hunter. This is a wonderfully told story of one man’s struggle to grapple with acquiring food, dealing death and sustaining life. Another really excellent read for any and all hunters.
Bloodties by Ted Kerasote: Kerasote explores our relationship as humans with animals and the hunt. Ted explores various aspect of hunting and the cultures surrounding it, such as sustenance hunting in Greenland, “trophy hunting” in Siberia, and elk hunters in Wyoming. A very thoughtfully written exploration of this very deep and nuanced topic. Another real “thinker” of a book that would be a great read for anyone interested in diving more into the “why’s” of hunting across the world.
Heartsblood by David Petersen: Another deep look into the spirituality, culture and history of hunting across time. Petersen presents some wonderful explanations for why so many of us feel the pull to hunt, and shares numerous “defenses” for our way of life. At the same time, he shares a number of critiques for certain aspects of hunting. Regardless of whether you agree with everything Petersen has to say, you’ll be sure to walk away from this book with new insights, questions to ponder and understandings related to the hunting way of life.
A Quiet Place of Violence by Allen Morris Jones: Jones uses his story of a season hunting across the Missouri Breaks as a backdrop for a journey of self-discovery and exploration of ethics in hunting. At times a bit heavy, but overall a very interesting read for anyone exploring the deeper aspects of the hunt.
In Defense of Hunting by James A. Swan: A well regarded case for hunting in America and its value to our culture and people. I’m still in the process of reading this one, but a good read for sure.
Meditations on Hunting by Jose Ortega y Gasset: One of the most iconic and commonly quoted classic literary works related to hunting, “Meditations” explores the philosophy and ethics of the hunt from a perspective that still rings true many, many decades later.
Deerland by Al Cambronne: As described by fellow blogger and hunter Tovar Cerulli, “Deerland is an inquisitive and eye-opening tour through the history, science, politics, economics, and cultural quirks of our uniquely American relationship with the white-tailed deer.”
Heart and Blood: Living With Deer In America by Richard Nelson: Another in-depth look at a deer in America and our cultural relationships with these amazing creatures. Beautifully written and packed with fascinating stories of exploration and discovery, Heart and Blood is a terrific read for those with an interest in high quality literature.
Sand County Almanac by Aldo Leopold: One of the most important and well regarded pieces of literature related to the conservation movement, Sand County Almanac should be required reading for anyone that partakes in hunting, fishing or enjoying the wonders of the great outdoors. Leopold’s land ethic is explained with a series of beautiful stories and essays that will entertain, intrigue and in some cases despair.
Theodore Roosevelt – Hunter-Conservationist by R.L. Wilson: For those interested in one of the forefathers of the modern conservation movement, this is a super interesting read. Essentially a biography of Roosevelt’s hunting and shooting related endeavors, this is a big, photo filled book that makes for a great coffee table book and some enjoyable reading.
Last Stand by Michael Punke: This was a fascinating read about the near extinction of the buffalo and the hunter-conservationists that fought to stop it, and in the process developed our current hunting and conservation ethics.
American Serengeti by Dan Flores: One of the most interesting reads I’ve enjoyed in a long time. This book takes an in-depth look back at the large mammals that roamed the American Great Plains pre-European contact, their natural history, and how eventually our ancestors for the most part hunted/slaughtered them to near-extinction. It’s a somber reminder of what happens when we hunt without restraint and ethics and an important lesson for all current hunters.
Gut It – Cut It – Cook It by Al Cambronne & Eric Fromm: The best resource I’ve seen yet for those interested in butchering their own deer. This book covers every single detail you need to know, along with illustrations of every step. It’s really a must-have for anyone getting started butchering whitetails.
Buck, Buck, Moose – Hank Shaw: An absolutely terrific venison cookbook, probably my favorite to-date. You can’t go wrong with Hank.
The Wild Chef by Jonathan Miles: Field & Stream’s wild game cook book, this is a beautifully put together cook book featuring some really excellent recipes.
Hunt, Gather, Cook by Hank Shaw: I actually don’t own this book, but will be correcting this soon. Still, I’m recommending this book given my experiences with Hank’s recipes and articles featured on his website honest-food.net. Really tremendous insights regarding hunting, fishing and cooking – and the recipes are second to none. This book features both recipes and his own thoughts on all you need to know to get back to the land.
The Complete Guide to Hunting, Butchering, and Cooking Wild Game: Volume 1: Big Game by Steven Rinella: An incredibly thorough examination of all sorts of hunting tactics, butchering methods and cooking ideas. Just about everything you need to know to get out hunting and making great meat.
Mapping Trophy Bucks by Brad Herndon: An essential read for anyone looking to increase their encounters with mature bucks, especially if you hunt in an area with hills, ridges and other topography. This book details, with maps and illustrations, exactly how to use terrain features to better understand where deer will move and how to hunt them in those locations.
Precision Bowhunting by John & Chris Eberhart: A must-read for anyone that hunts in areas with high levels of hunting pressure (ie Michigan, Pennsylvania, New York, etc). This book impacted my hunting philosophy probably more than any other, and really sets a strong foundation for anyone looking to kill mature bucks in tough to hunt areas. What’s neat about this book is that it walks you through each month of the year, and what you should be doing to increase your odds of tagging the oldest buck in your area. In my opinion, a must-read.
Big Buck Secrets by Steve Bartylla: In Big Buck Secrets, Steve outlines many of his most important tactics for scouting and hunting mature bucks. But what made this book particularly enjoyable was his use of very specific examples. Every chapter, and almost every specific tactic, used a different story and/or deer to illustrate the scenario and exactly how Steve was able to use whatever tactic was being discussed to have success.
Whitetails From Ground To Gun by Craig & Neil Dougherty: A terrific book examining the two most important parts of the equation for killing mature deer on your own property – how to best improve your property for mature bucks, and then how to properly hunt that property once it holds mature deer. Topics covered include how to rate potential properties for purchase, tips for actually buying hunting ground, habitat improvement tips, and finally foundational concepts for properly hunting your property in a way to hold big bucks and have encounters with them.
Deer Cameras: The Science of Scouting compiled by the QDMA: Everything, and I truly mean everything, you could ever need to know about buying, setting-up and using trail cameras to better manage, scout and hunt local whitetails.
Bowhunting Whitetails The Eberhart Way by John & Chris Eberhart: Another great read from John & Chris Eberhart detailing in even greater detail some of their favorite tactics for hunting mature bucks in heavily pressured areas.
Trophy Terrain – Creeks & Ditches by Bill Winke: This is a short read, but packed with quality information on utilizing terrain features such as creeks and ditches to locate deer funneling locations for stand sites. Included with the book is a short DVD illustrating the concepts discussed.
Whitetail Access by Chris Eberhart: Another of my favorites, in Whitetail Access Chris regales his four month road trip chasing big whitetails across the country, and details his hunting strategies along the way. An exciting story with plenty of lessons to learn along the way – highly, highly recommend this one.
Mature Buck Success By Design by Jeff Sturgis: Jeff Sturgis gives an in-depth look at specific ways to improve your chances at growing and killing mature bucks.
Stand-Hunting: Real World Tactics for Today’s Trophy Whitetails by Steve Bartylla: Steve Bartylla has become one of my favorite “whitetail experts” to learn from, and this book details some of his key concepts for targeting big bucks. Great advice on choosing and hunting the right stand sites.
Hunting Trophy Whitetails in the Real World by Don Higgins: Don Higgins details his best practices for targeting “trophy deer” in real world situations (aka not fenced or heavily managed large ranches or outfitter properties). Some really great concepts and advice that have helped mold my hunting mindset today.
The Freelance Bowhunter by Bernie Barringer: If you’re interested in traveling out of state to hunt big, mature bucks – this is the book for you. Bernie is an experienced “traveling bowhunter” and this book runs through everything you need to know to plan and execute a successful out-of-state big buck hunt.
Giant Whitetails: A Lifetime of Lessons by Mark & Terry Drury: This one’s a really fun read, as Mark & Terry Drury share a handful of their favorite hunting stories and then use those tales to illustrate important concepts and lessons that have helped them become two of the most successful big buck hunters in the country.
Whitetail Wisdom by Dan Schmidt: A great read from Deer & Deer Hunting editor Dan Schmidt as he lays out some of his keys to success for hunting whitetails.
How-To: Habitat Management
Grow Em’ Right by Craig & Neil Dougherty: One of the first books I’d recommend for anyone looking to improve their property for whitetails. “Grow Em Right” walks through everything from creating cover with a chain-saw, to food plots and natural forage improvements. I view this book as required reading for anyone looking to develop a foundation of knowledge about habitat improvement.
Whitetail Success By Design by Jeff Sturgis: The second book I’d recommend you read if you’re looking to really get into habitat management is “Whitetail Success By Design”. Jeff presents a method for improving habitat that develops systems that work together to mindfully impact where deer feed and bed, as well as how they move between these areas. A great read.
White-Tailed Deer Management and Habitat Improvement by Steve Bartylla: Another solid offering from Bartylla, in this book he covers lots of examples of how he’s improved properties for deer, including helpful diagrams and stories.
Quality Food Plots compiled by the QDMA: If you’re interested in planting food plots for deer, you need to own this book, no ifs, ands, or buts about it. Quality Food Plots is the most comprehensive, high quality resource on all things food plotting, no questions asked.
Food Plot Success By Design by Jeff Sturgis: Another great read from Jeff Sturgis, this book takes Jeff’s same system based approach and applies it in detail to strategic implementations of food plots. If you’re ready to move to food plotting 201, this book is for you.
How-To: Other Species
Backcountry Bowhunting by Cameron Hanes: Anyone looking to get into hunting big game out west or up north, especially in mountain country, needs to read this book. Cameron Hanes, one of the most well known mountain hunters in the world, details his philosophy and tactics for chasing big game in the backcountry. An inspiring and informative book for anyone looking to head to the mountains.
Elk Hunting The West by Mike Eastman: The most comprehensive book I’ve found for aspiring elk hunters, Eastman covers all the basics of understanding elk behavior, locating elk, and tactics for setting up on them. If I had to choose just one book to read before heading out elk hunting, this is the one I’d choose.
Bowhunting Modern Elk by Patrick Meitin: Coming in narrowly behind Eastman’s book, as a recommended elk hunting resource, is “Bowhunting Modern Elk”. Meitin details some great tips for hunting elk in high pressure public areas that many of us will encounter on our first elk hunts. Sound advice and interestingly written.
I know there are plenty of other great hunting books out there that I haven’t covered, so I’m hoping you can help me fill the gaps. Please leave your other suggestions in the comments section below!