Book Review #1: Blood on my Hands by Gerry Cox

Gerry Cox — the “G” is pronounced hard as in his ancestor Gerhard — was an administrator at Cornell until recently. In his previous life he was an English professor, who back in the 70’s at least once wrote for the scholarly journal English Literary Renaissance, where I was an editor.  He is also a third generation bird hunter, a big game hunter,  and, most unusually for an academic, a custom rifle maker who once made me an early 20th Century sporter on an SMLE action. As is perhaps obvious, he is also a friend of mine. But that’s not my reason for recommending his book.

Below, Gerry left, John Besse right, in John’s shop in Mag looking a Scott sidelock, once mine, now G’s; SMLE in the style of Empire .

Many of the remaining northeastern hunters started with whitetail deer, and have never progressed beyond the lore of that species. Gerry started late, shooting an antelope in southeast Wyoming after a lifetime of bird hunting. Before his experience, he shared the attitude of many – dare I say it? – upper class northeastern hunters. Bird shooting was socially acceptable; but there was something “wrong” with hunting large mammals– something not spoken of,  that was potent and hard to think about, never mind discuss. Easier to dismiss those who hunted big mammals as “poachers” or meat hunters, the last a pejorative…

This odd diffidence might exist because hunting large mammals was far more important to the evolution of our roving restless species than mere foraging, at least to what our species would become.* And because our larger quarry seemed– is-– more like us, killing and eating big sentient beasts is both more satisfying and more frightening– more “serious”.

In his own words: … I was unprepared for what I actually experienced. After field dressing the antelope, I looked down at my hands and said aloud in shock, “I have blood on my hands.” I didn’t have a clue what I meant: the spoken words simply came out of my mouth. I only knew that this recognition involved something altogether outside my previous bird shooting experiences, something mysteriously important/ I dreamed about blood again and again that night. I felt compelled to learn what this meant.

His quest led him to read every justification of hunting, every philosophical animal rights work, and a fair amount of biology and anthropology. Some of the more symbolic or poetic works seemed to hold far more truth than the “rational” and theoretically objective ones. He reads accounts of aboriginal tribes and discovers why “killing beautiful animals” may not be a sin. He teases the reader with a title like “Putting Animals in Their Place”, finding that their place is not where any of the defenders or enemies of hunting think they are. He discusses altered and enhanced states of mind in history and in the present. He combines the insights of these chapters to show us “ways” for us to see ourselves as interesting animals among other animals; then adds the insights of evolutionary biologists to the mix to show how science weaves still more threads into the pattern.

His penultimate chapter is not a simple synthesis (if there is anything simple about his synthesis!). It is called “After the Kill: Making Meat, Feasting, and Story Telling”. In this one he argues that the last sleepy farewells as the hunters and their families leave the table are as much a part of the hunt — I almost want to capitalize the word Hunt– as the stalk or the kill; it is one whole drama. With the next and last chapter, he brings his account to a close; necessary, but I am still at the table, swapping stories and savoring the last of the vodka.

This has been a hard review to write because I have been reading this book since the first drafts. What could I say that would be new? How about that our friend John Besse, the best amateur gunsmith I know a hunter and backwoodsman with a bias towards the scientific rather than the poetic, has read it twice?

Or I could just give you my very considered blurb: “Gerard Cox has always been a bird hunter. But when he saw the blood on his hands from his first antelope, he was so moved that he began his inquiry into the nature and realities of this “serious business” of hunting large mammals, so close to and yet so different from us. His resulting thoughts build into a volume rich in anecdote (and not without humor), covering everything from the esthetics of animals, through altered states of consciousness, to celebrating the pleasures of feasting with friends. A unique union of the philosophical and the earthily real, it will end up on your permanent bookshelf somewhere between Thomas McGuane and Ortega y Gasset. it is that good.”

Blood on My Hands is now available from Amazon in hardback, paper, and Kindle form, under his real name, Gerard H Cox. I would go for one of the dead trees editions; the cover is nice too.

 *Gerry has a discussion of how having female hunters expands our vision– biology is not destiny but human nature DOES exist– my not Gerry’s point.

Seasons 2: Big game & harvest

With a little help from my friends– Carlos, Brad, Jim. I am not doing big game these days except in a group, hard in NM if you don’t pay top dollar. Which is why I may move my meat hunts north if health permits…

All animals here provided feasts including long- gone lion– see Don Thomas and/ or David Quammen.

And after thought I added locally grown free range pigs, Mark’s, still on the hoof, out in front, and a suckling from a previous Thanksgiving. Big game season for me is FOOD first…


Jack calls the last “Contemporary Norman Rockwell”.

Another teaser

I will find out more. But this possible state record was taken about ten miles away, just north of Lee Henderson’s ranch where we hunt. The terrain in the middle photos is low down (well, only 6500 feet) and already rugged; similar rocky conditions prevail right up to the peak. Stay tuned…

We saw sheep, though no big rams, the day these were taken

The mountain is on the horizon behind the cholla in this photo taken on Lee’s, and on the horizon in the one taken looking north from the Magdalena range, with Lee’s ranch spread out between. Don’t let perspective fool you– it is over 9000 feet in elevation. Right click for larger on any…

Rifle quiz

Pure fun for scholars of guns and readers of travel and adventure tales: how many things can you find in common on these little carbines? Oh, I will add one invisible addition for the bolt:

The first question is for tecchies; the second for readers and travelers: how many books and writers and scientists and… whatever– can you list that mention or who used either?

Jesuit “Final Exam”

This was sent by the biographer of the late legendary Jesuit adventurer, mountaineer, hunter, and my sometime mentor Father Anderson Bakewell, S J, who found it in an 80’s Jesuit newsletter among his effects. It has been around in various iterations, but I wonder, given the rifle , if he were also involved in its creation. His was the only sloth bear in Rowland Ward’s top ten guided by “self” and he was the youngest member of Tilman’s Everest crew, whose pioneering south route was finally accomplished by Hillary– among a lot of other things.

It is also his birthday– happy birthday, Andy, and many thanks to Anne Winter.

INSTRUCTIONS: Read each question carefully. Answer all questions. Time limit: four hours. Begin immediately.

HISTORY: Describe the history of the papacy from its origins to the present day, concentrating especially, but not exclusively, on its social, political, economic, religious, and philosophical impact on Europe, Asia, America, and Africa. Be brief, concise, and specific.

MEDICINE: You have been provided with a razor blade, a piece of gauze, and a bottle of Scotch. Remove your appendix. Do not suture until your work has been inspected. You have fifteen minutes.

PUBLIC SPEAKING: Storming the classroom are 2500 riot-crazed aborigines. Calm them. You may use any ancient language except Latin or Greek.

BIOLOGY: Create life. Estimate the differences in subsequent human culture if this form of life had developed 500 million years earlier, with special attention to its probable effect on the English parliamentary system. Prove your thesis.

MUSIC: Write a piano concerto. Orchestrate and perform it with flute and drum. (You will find a piano under your seat).

PSYCHOLOGY: Estimate the sociological problems which might accompany the end of the world. Construct an experiment to test your theory.

ENGINEERING: The disassembled parts of a high-powered rifle have been placed in a box on your desk. You will also find an instruction manual, printed in Swahili. In ten minutes a hungry Bengal tiger will be admitted to the room. Take whatever action you feel appropriate. Be prepared to justify your decision.

ECONOMICS: Develop a realistic plan for refinancing the national debt. Trace the possible effects of your plan in the following areas: cubism, the Donatist controversy, the wave theory of light. Outline a method for preventing these effects. Criticize this method from all possible points of view, as demonstrated in your answer to the last question.

POLITICAL SCIENCE: There is a red telephone on the desk beside you. Start World War III. Report at length on its socio-political effects, if any.

EPISTEMOLOGY: Take a position for or against the truth. Prove the validity of your position.

PHYSICS: Explain the nature of matter. Include in your answer an evaluation of the impact of the development of mathematics on science.

PHILOSOPHY: Sketch the development of human thought; estimate its significance. Compare with the development of any other kind of thought.

Father B with subarctic bison and .416 Rigby Rifle for Heavy Game