The Hunter Elite

Manly Sport, Hunting Narratives, and American Conservation, 1880–1925

Tara Kathleen Kelly

At the end of the nineteenth century, Theodore Roosevelt, T. S. Van Dyke, and other elite men began describing their big-game hunting as “manly sport with the rifle.” They also began writing about their experiences, publishing hundreds of narratives of hunting and adventure in the popular press (and creating a new literary genre in the process). But why did so many of these big-game hunters publish? What was writing actually doing for them, and what did it do for readers? In exploring these questions, The Hunter Elite reveals new connections among hunting narratives, publishing, and the American conservation movement.

Beginning in the 1880s these prolific hunter-writers told readers that big-game hunting was a test of self-restraint and “manly virtues,” and that it was not about violence. They also opposed their sportsmanlike hunting to the slaughtering of game by British imperialists, even as they hunted across North America and throughout the British Empire. Their references to Americanism and manliness appealed to traditional values, but they used very modern publishing technologies to sell their stories, and by 1900 they were reaching hundreds of thousands of readers every month. When hunter-writers took up conservation as a cause, they used that reach to rally popular support for the national parks and for legislation that restricted hunting in the US, Canada, and Newfoundland. The Hunter Elite is the first book to explore both the international nature of American hunting during this period and the essential contributions of hunting narratives and the publishing industry to the North American conservation movement.

“An impressive and provocative study that makes several notable contributions to the historiography. . . . The Hunter Elite will be of interest to historians studying hunting, publishing, and conservation during the Progressive Era, as well as scholars of gender, leisure, media, and environmental politics.

—H-Net Reviews

“Anyone interested in this topic should read Kelly’s lively, well-researched, and thoughtful book.

—American Historical Review
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About the Author

Tara Kathleen Kelly is an independent scholar with a PhD in American history from Johns Hopkins University.