Most hunters don’t keep journals, but they should. Paul Vang stresses this point in his new book, “Sweeter than Candy, A Hunter’s Journal”, and he sets an example by sharing with us some of his more memorable hunting experiences. For active hunters, our days in the field seem to blend together over time, with only the most memorable coming back to us years down the road. Often it’s a specific object, event or area that triggers our memories and brings us back to those days. But for those who keep pictures and written records of their hunts, the memories can be recalled instantly while sitting by the fire on a cold winter night. The experiences are relived and the memories burned deeper into our minds.
Not only is it fun to look back on our own hunting forays, it’s often as enjoyable to read about the experiences of others. That’s where Paul Vang’s stories come in to play. After retiring from government service, Paul began a second career as an outdoor writer in Montana. He’s an avid hunter with a distinct passion for hunting upland birds and waterfowl with Labrador retrievers. Also a gifted writer, Vang has written numerous newspaper columns and articles about his hunts and hunting in general.
“Sweeter than Candy” is a collection of 28 Paul Vang hunting stories. In most cases, Paul hunts for birds in the prairies, farmlands, marshes and forests of Montana and the Dakotas. It’s a rare time when a dog isn’t by his side. Most stories describe what I would consider the average bird hunting outing for the average American who hunts like Paul. We’re not talking spectacular shots, heroic hikes or monstrous trophies. Vang describes real experiences by a real hunter. He is reflective and humble, and frames his stories around unique hunting related topics and observations. To me, this kind of writing is refreshing to read.
The stories are concise and quick to read, which makes it a great book to take on the road or read during short periods of free time in an otherwise busy schedule. This isn’t a book with pages of descriptive writing. Vang makes it short and sweet, telling you what you need to know to understand the story without wasting your time. But the writing isn’t hurried. It’s relaxed and reflective. For me, the one drawback to Paul’s writing style is the constant shift between past and present tense within the stories. I sometimes found it difficult to stay focused on a story with the verb tenses continually shifting. Overall, though, this was a minor blip that didn’t keep me from enjoying the stories.
In case you’re wondering, Candy is the name of one of Paul’s past hunting companions, a Labrador retriever. Alix is another. Paul has a very close relationship with his hunting dogs, and effectively describes the bond most hunters have with their dogs.
The stories in “Sweeter than Candy” also describe modern hunting in the West better than anything I’ve read recently. The modern Montana hunter is truly at the mercy of private landowners allowing access to their ranches for hunting. Though relatively open access was the norm in past years, it’s becoming more of an exception today, as more ranchers sell their spreads to outside interests who have no desire to allow the public to enter. In his stories, Vang recalls hunting several places in the past that are now closed to hunting. This is a common theme that worries me as a young hunter concerned about the future of the sport.
Other stories in the book cover a variety of topics, including stalking ducks in spring ponds during mid-winter, hunting the upland forests for ruffed grouse, and chasing pheasants all over farm country. Sometimes he strikes out, other times everything seems to fall into place. Though it’s tough to single out a favorite among all of these stories, mine would have to be a short piece entitled “The Annual Report”. In it, the chairman of the board (husband) presents the company’s annual report to the CEO (wife) and stockholder (hunting dog). Among the items discussed are number of days in the field, shooting performance, percent birds retrieved, and a line item in the budget to help improve shooting performance the following fiscal year. It’s hilarious!
Overall, I greatly enjoyed reading Paul Vang’s “Sweeter than Candy, A Hunter’s Journal” and highly recommend it. It’ll help pass the time until the next bird season, and hopefully motivate you to start keeping a record of your own hunting experiences. The book can be purchased on Amazon.com in print or Kindle edition (link below), or from Paul’s website, writingoutdoors.com.