Experiencing hunts all over the Southern Hemisphere is a great achievement, but being able to tell the stories with insight, subtlety and a truly engaging style is even rarer. Plenty of us hunt but few of us are storytellers. Books like Peter Ryan’s Wild South come along only occasionally, and it is a welcome addition to the hunting library.
The last hunting book I enjoyed this much was Steve Rinella’s American Buffalo of 2009. It captured the philosophy and spirit of hunting by telling the extended story of one hunt, while Peter Ryan does exactly the same thing in exploring the details of many hunts, fishing trips and related experiences. Peter also detours into reflections on topics ranging from gun dogs to stock woods.
Peter has hunted and fished all his life, and in a loose way the book follows that life but Peter has managed to make it less a story of what he has done and more a story of what it is to hunt and fish, to hold a fine rifle in your hands, to become a team with a young gun dog and grow with it. Certainly there’s a lot of Peter’s personal history in Wild South – how he had the chance to become a professional in Africa; the time he tore into a rich trophy collector who didn’t seem to ‘get’ what hunting was really about – but as you cruise through the book you never feel you’re reading the boasts of someone who wants you to know he’s been there and done that.
Luckily, Peter has done a lot. The hunting of birds and animals in his home country of New Zealand, in Australia, Africa, South America and elsewhere is matched with plenty of fishing in an equally impressive range of environments. His passion for all of it shines through and you can’t finish Wild South without deciding you want to do some of it too. I’ve never been into gun dogs, for example, but Peter’s got me wondering why.
Beautiful wood in rifle stocks, though – who can resist? “You can gaze into good timber like staring into a fire,” the self-confessed sentimentalist writes. “To me walnut is a swirl of autumn leaves, shot through with glimmers of dark nights and good whisky.” Peter applies similarly evocative descriptions to every subject he broaches, including the many hunts he takes you on.
You’ll finish Wild South with insights into African hunting camps that you won’t find in other books, new clues about deer hunting and maybe some historical understanding you hadn’t connected to your own hunting. It's that kind of book, one that entertains while quietly expanding your knowledge.
You’ll finish it with a smile on your face. Wild South is beautifully written and reading it is almost like doing a long and complex stalk where your quarry leads you on a meandering route. The stalk is successful, ending with satisfaction and reflection.
Wild South also contains some lovely images in colour and black and white, and you can see many of them in the video below.
I thoroughly enjoyed Peter Ryan’s book and am sure you will too.
Wild South is available in paper or Kindle. For more details and purchasing information, see Peter Ryan’s website.