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.

“Kelly delves deeply into an impressive array of stories published by sportsmen-writers at the turn of the twentieth century. She offers an eye-opening explanation for sport hunters' influential positions at the forefront of the conservation movement.

—Annals of Iowa

“Through a deep and engaging analysis, Tara Kathleen Kelly’s The Hunter Elite provides a refreshing perspective on the critical role that sportsmen and their hunting narratives played in the development of the early environmental movement. This is a valuable study of this important moment in American history.”

—Greg Dehler, author of The Most Defiant Devil: William Temple Hornaday and His Controversial Crusade to Save American Wildlife

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About the Author

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