I remember watching Ed Zern walk down the hall at the offices of Field & Stream, resplendent in a three-piece houndstooth-checked suit, to hand in his Exit Laughing column. I remember talking to A.J. McClane, who graciously assented to my request to deliver a short how-to sidebar for an article he had submitted on bonefishing in the Bahamas. And I remember standing nervously next to Gene Hill, who smiled benignly as I pummeled him with questions about shotguns. As a young editor at this magazine, I stood in awe of these men. To me, they were giants, as were other legends such as Bill Tarrant, Peter Barrett, Ted Trueblood, and Norman Strung. And, sadly, they’re all gone.
Lately, I’ve received letters from longtime readers lamenting the loss of the writers named above as well as such larger-than-life talents as Corey Ford and Robert Ruark. The letter writers usually conclude by stating that the current stable of writers at Field & Stream can’t hold a candle to all those who went before.
Though I will be the first to admit we’ve lost some towering oaks, I refuse to accept the notion that Field & Stream doesn’t have a great roster. Look at our masthead. You’ll see John Barsness, Joe Doggett, Bill Heavey, Ted Leeson, Keith McCafferty, Jerome B. Robinson, and William G. Tapply-great storytellers all. And then there is David E. Petzal, who remains in a class by himself.
So, why don’t modern writers seem to cast the long shadows of those of an earlier age? Two reasons. First, we live in a different world. Back then, big-name outdoor writers had little in the way of competition. Today, a multitude of regional and national hunting and fishing magazines, cable TV shows, video games, and the like competes for your attention. It’s harder for a writer to get the kind of traction that makes him a megastar, but that doesn’t mean he is any less talented. Second, most of our great old writers achieved godlike status only after they were dead. When they were alive they were just very good, popular writers.
This month, I’d like to draw your attention to Out There (page 59), written by Jim Dean. Jim, a North Carolinian, joined our masthead last year. Though you may not instantly recognize the name, I guarantee you will not come away unmoved by the subject of his column: “Grandpa’s Gifts.” This is great writing, with a terrific message. And it’s as well written as anything that has ever appeared in Field & Stream. So, let’s celebrate what we have now. Field & Stream is a great magazine with great writing. These are the good old days.