Guns and hunting can be rather polarizing issues these days. When I admit to people (and I carefully weigh which people I admit this to before I say anything) that my entire family, children included, goes shooting sporting clays together in the summer, the reaction I get is often very telling. Somehow, the fact that I cheerfully hand my 10 year old a shotgun and let him blast away at clay disks brands us as rednecks. (That his grandfather, father, aunt, uncle, mother, older brother, and older sister also trot off to the range of a Sunday probably just compounds most listeners' opinions.) We're actually far from what I would define as a redneck but I guess if you base it solely on gun use, we can be lumped into that less than appealing class. Although we all shoot recreationally, not a one of us has ever been hunting. For me personally, I'm squeamish so hunting will forever be out for me. As a matter of fact, when I was a very successful pint-sized fisherman, my dad declared that whoever caught the fish would get to eat it. That pretty much ended my stellar fishing career. I liked the sitting with a line in the water thing but not the cleaning and gore portion of fishing. I haven't eaten fish since. I imagine that hunting would affect me similarly and I like meat too much to want to forego it because I am uncomfortable with the gutting and the dressing of the critter. I don't mind knowing it was once a living, breathing animal, I just don't want to make the personal acquaintance of its innards before cooking and eating it. Craig Heimbuch, in his memoir And Now We Shall Do Manly Things: Discovering My Manhood Through the Great (and Not-So-Great) American Hunt looks at hunting and his year learning to hunt in a far different way than my blood averse self does though. He looks at it as a way to connect with the other men in his family, to give him a sense of belonging, to make him stronger, and to help him define himself as a man, a husband, and a father.
Heimbuch is a writer, and specifically a journalist, in a family of outdoorsmen. He's more comfortable behind a desk looking at a computer screen than tramping a field with a gun slung over his shoulder. So he's a bit surprised when in his early thirties his father gives him the gift of a shotgun. Even more surprisingly, Heimbuch takes the gun and decides that perhaps he will use it to learn to hunt like the rest of the men in his extended family. He'll close the divide, the disconnect between himself and them. He'll use this gift to spur him to be more active and less passive in his life, to face life head on, to change himself just enough that he feels like a man. And so he sets out on a year long journey to become a hunter and to learn about the hunting culture in the US.
From his childhood and the fear he felt the first time he fired a gun to his lifelong obsession with L.L. Bean clothing and gear, from his hunter's education class and the other shooting classes he takes to a pheasant hunt on the family farm, Heimbuch shares his past, his personal life, his marriage and children, his financial worries, his successes and failures and all the things that made him into the man whose his father unexpectedly handed him his favorite 12-gauge over-under Winchester shotgun one afternoon. As much as this memoir is the tale of learning to hunt and viewing the gun culture from the inside, it is also rife with Heimbuch's self-reflection and a true desire to change and define himself as a man. He looks at hunters and gun owners as individuals, acknowledging the scary, fringe element but also giving equal time to the average, everyday people who just happen to hunt or shoot. There's humor here but there's also seriousness. It's very definitely a personal journey of discovery but is a fascinating, well-researched, and very balanced glimpse into the world of the recreational hunter as well.
For more information about Craig Heimbuch and the book visit the publisher's page, his blog or follow him on Twitter. Follow the rest of the blog tour or look at the amazon reviews for others' thoughts and opinions on the book.Thanks to Trish from TLC Book Tours and the publisher for sending me a copy of this book to review.