Pete Bodo is an accomplished writer who has worked for the New York Times and co-wrote autobiographies with Pete Sampras and Patrick McEnroe.
Bodo lives in what he calls “the epicenter of liberal New York, the upper West Side.”
And he has written a book about deer hunting.
That’s right. Deer hunting. By a guy from — gulp — New York City.
Now that we’ve got the shocking disclaimer out of the way, do yourself a favor: Run to your local bookstore. Buy a copy of “Whitetail Nation, My Season In Pursuit of the Monster Buck,” (306 pages, $25, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt available at www.amazon.com). Then sit back and enjoy the ride.
Yes, Bodo lives in New York. But that doesn’t mean he doesn’t know his way around the deer woods — he has been an avid outdoorsman for much of his life.
And the man can tell a story. Not that he ever really expected to tell the story that’s the basis of “Whitetail Nation.”
“I hadn’t really hoped to write a deer-hunting book, per se,” Bodo said Wednesday in a telephone interview. “I had just always rued the fact that in today’s publishing world and our society and culture, there’s no place for an old-fashioned deer-hunting book because of the general queasiness about hunting, the controversy about guns and all that other stuff.”
A Houghton Mifflin editor who grew up in a hunting family was willing to consider a project. She and Bodo began discussing ideas. “Whitetail Nation” was born.
“We said, ‘We’ve got to come up with some way to make this an appealing book, to bring people into it,’” Bodo said. “And one of the ways to do that is to sort of have a quest.”
Bodo found a quest, and during 2008, he traveled from New York to Texas and Montana, looking to bag a monster buck. On that journey, he met a lot of interesting people, and at least one who’s so annoying, you’ll eagerly flip ahead, hoping that the lout finally gets what’s coming to him.
Bodo said making the transition from avid deer hunter to a hunter whose single focus was shooting a trophy deer was a bit unnerving. That’s not what drives Bodo, you see.
“It wasn’t a hard shift of my thinking to do it, but one thing I didn’t want to do and certainly don’t want to do for any reader is position myself as any kind of trophy hunter, the big buck whisperer. That’s certainly not the case,” Bodo said.
Bodo’s reflections ring true, perhaps none more so than when he explains why he decided to buy a shiny new deer rifle to take with him on the quest.
“I bought the Weatherby .257 Mag Mark V for the same reason some middle-aged men buy a canary yellow Corvette convertible,” Bodo writes in one particularly humorous passage. “Because it’s sexy, and I’m not.”
Bodo doesn’t make it to Maine during his quest, but he does spend some time in a small Montana town with a sign you might expect to see here in the Pine Tree State.
“The sign welcoming me to Rudyard on Route 2 said: ‘Welcome to Rudyard, 596 nice people and one old sorehead,’” Bodo wrote.
While Bodo’s quest provides the book’s motivation, the people he meets and shares time with provide the depth. Bodo hunts with some interesting characters who help show that deer hunters aren’t cookie-cutter characters in a one-size-fits-all tableau. Rather, they are unique individuals who share a common passion: The whitetail deer.
Structurally, the book provides something for everyone; it’s not simply a story of one man’s trips into the woods. Instead, Bodo periodically inserts some in-depth material that serves as a virtual primer to the deer hunting game.
Readers learn about bullets and ballistics. They find out what makes antlers grow, and why hunters value those big racks. And they receive an in-depth tutorial on deer behavior and mating rituals.
Bodo said including that extra information, which often serves as a bridge between hunting tales, seemed natural.
“I didn’t want the book to be targeted specifically to deer hunters, but I have no illusions, if that audience doesn’t buy my book, I’m screwed,” Bodo said. “But I really hoped that someone who may be somewhat interested in guns, a little bit interested in hunting, could read this and say, ‘This is pretty interesting stuff.’”
On that count, Bodo certainly succeeds. And as to whether he enjoys similar success on his quest to bag a monster buck?
Well, I’ll let you read the book to find out for yourself.
One thing I’ll guarantee: You’ll enjoy sharing the journey with Bodo, no matter how things turn out.