Robert C. Ruark Jr.
If you enjoy reading adventures on hunting and legendary hunters, like I do the name Robert Ruark will eventually cross your path. I had seen the cover for Ruark’s (as he is referred to by his fans) “Horn of the Hunter”his account of his Safaris in Africa. I had even read many quotes by him that reflected on hunting and fishing and the meaning it had to him, but I had never found Ruark. I have always enjoyed the company of a good book. Papa Hemingway once said “ There is no friend as loyal as a book” and while I tend to think a labrador,boykin or some other gunning dog would be more loyal I understand Hemingway’s meaning.The joy of reading was instilled upon me at an early age just like a love of hunting and the outdoors. In my reading adventures I have fought massive blue marlin in the waters of Cuba with an old man in a tiny boat,I have strolled the South Carolina pines with Rutledge, and survived the long grass in Africa with Capstick. I still had yet to add any of Ruark’s work to my shelves. In doing some reading for Fowl Weather & Co. I came across a quote by Ruark that would set me on a course to find Ruark.
“The best thing about hunting and fishing ,‘ the Old Man said , is that you don’t have to actually do it to enjoy it.You can go to bed every night thinking about how much fun you had twenty years ago, and it all comes back clear as moonlight” - The Old Man and the Boy.
How often as Sportsmen(and I use the term to cover women & men) have we reflected on our past times in the field and the memories that we made. It does not matter how long ago that duck hunt or quail hunt was, all you have to do is reflect on the hunt or catching that fish and you are right back in those woods, marsh, or stream. I remember the first duck I killed, hunting with my dad and good family friend I can see the duck flying and and hear the echo of the shotgun and my dad handing me my hen wood duck.The memory is clear and replays in my mind often and I am transported back to that moment in time. After reading that quote, I wanted to read the works of Ruark and find out who he was.
Robert Chester Ruark Jr. was born December 29, 1915 in Wilmington, North Carolina. When one North Carolinian finds another one there’s an instant connection, even if you’ve never met the person, you feel a bond. It was both a shock and surprise to learn that not only was Ruark from North Carolina, but he grew up and spent time in the same part of the state I had. The depression had an effect on Ruark’s family as it did on many families of that time period, but Ruark was still able to attend the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill after graduating from New Hanover High School at age 12. He would go on to graduate from college in 1935 with a degree in journalism. Rurak would go on to work at two newspapers in North Carolina the Hamlet News Messenger and the Sanford Herald. Over the next several years Ruark’s life would take several different paths. He worked in Washington, D.C as an account for the Works Progress Administration or WPA, he enlisted in the Navy as a seaman and also worked at the Washington Post and the Star. He would end up settling at Washington Daily News and in 1938 marry Virginia Webb, who was an interior decorator from an upper class Washington Family. Like so many others WWII came calling and Ruark joined the Navy as a gunnery officer and later became a press censor in the Pacific. In 1945 he would return to the Washington Daily News, with a syndicated column that would make him a household name and the astonishing payout of $40,000 a year! In 1950 Robert Ruark would realize a childhood dream and at the urging of his Doctor to take time off, he traveled on his first safari to Africa. Ruark’s time in Africa would not only allow him to write one of his most famous books “Horn of the Hunter” but he would also seal Harry Selby's faith as a sought after Professional Hunter and he would be booked up years in advance with hunters wanting to enjoy the same hunts that Ruark did. While “Horn of the Hunter”might be Ruark’s most sought after work on his adventures in the dark continent, it was his the collection of stories first published in Field and Stream and later as a book in 1957 that would turn Robert Ruark into a legend. The book was the “Old Man and The Boy” and it was collection of stories and life lessons from time spent with his grandfather Capt. Edward Adkins, a retired river pilot. North Carolina is a sportsmen’s paradise and growing up in Brunswick county gave Robert Ruark the opportunity to take in all the hunting and fishing that North Carolina had to offer.
Robert Ruark and Harry Selby
In my search for Ruark, I purchased Horn of the Hunter and of course The Old Man and The Boy. Before I began reading I flipped the book over and read a review by the Herald Tribune, that said “Filled with homespun humor and salty common sense. This is a book savored slowly, and kept and cherished” I had no way of knowing just how true those words would be once I started reading. Ruark recounts the wisdom and knowledge bestowed upon him by his grandfather. Line after line and chapter after chapter you get a sense an understanding of the world around you that is some how missing today. One of the first quotes to really captured my attention is when his grandfather is teaching him about respect when it comes to hunting a covey of quail and how you should treat the quail.
“ This little bobwhite, the Old Man told me, was a gentleman and you had to approach hims as a 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.”
Ruark’s grandfather also thought him that hunting was more than killing just for killings sake.
..."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."
It’s all about respecting the game we hunt and how we treat the game no matter if it’s the smallest bobwhite quail or a big bull elephant in Africa. Our respect for the game is a reflection of who we are as sportsmen and as conservationist . The Old Man and The Boy goes onto not only offer insight into what it means to be a hunter, but also what it means to be a man. Ruark’s grandfather teaches the young boy a wealth of knowledge and values that will prepare him in life and Ruark reflects back often to how those lessons impacted him.
“A boy has got to grow up to be a man some day. You can delay the process, but you can’t protect the boy from manhood forever. The best and easiest way is to expose the boy to people who are already men, good and bad, drunk and sober, lazy and industrious. It is really, after all, up to the boy, when all is said and done, and there are a lot of boys who never get to be men, and a lot of men who never quit being boys.”
Illustrations by Walter Dower, depict scenes in " The Old Man and The Boy"
.."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."
Ruark’s grandfather knew that while classroom education was important, education can be found in the outdoors among the marsh grass and pine forests of North Carolina, there is a lot that we can learn from the natural world if we just slow down and take the time.
“Fishing gives a man some time to think.”
With Ruarks 100th Birthday approaching, that I want to take a moment and honor one of the greatest sporting authors and North Carolinas greatest sons. The last thing I wanted to do was rush reading “ The Old Man and The Boy” as the quote from the Herald Tribune says, the book should be savored slowly and thats what I intend on doing. I like to enjoy good book as you would a good meal. Being from the south myself food is apart of our culture and cretainly not taken a backseat in Ruark’s work. It’s refreshing to read an author refer to eating fatback or grits,like Ruark does when speaking from memories of his childhood. Southern cuisine plays an important role and helps to move the story along. One can almost taste the oysters, fried quail and venison.
In finding Ruark, I not only found an author that will rank among my favorites, but I have also found a part of myself. My love of hunting, the outdoors and how to be a man were lessons passed down to me from my father. In reading Ruark’s works I was able to reflect on the memories made afield with my dad and the wisdom he shared with me. Like Ruark I to hope to one day travel to Africa and go on Safari,but no matter if I am hunting Kudu in Africa or Swan hunting a wheat field at Lake Mattamuskeet the lessons I learned as a boy will stay with me.
Robert C. Ruark Jr. passed away in a London hospital in 1956 at the age of 49. He lived his life to the fullest and left behind his mark in literature and the sporting world. Ruark’s works were left to The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. They are now housed in the Wilson Library. Robert Ruark is buried in Spain a country he called home for many years. From one Carolina boy to another, …thank you