Back when the Upland Equations Blog was first started back in 2008, I wrote a post entitled: “A Call to Arms (Pens) for Western Authors,” (Here is the LINK) in which I lamented the lack of great literature on upland bird hunting in the West. In that post, I shared some of the few good books I had found on the subject and pled for other western writers to step up and enrich the field (pun intended).
I recently had the opportunity to review Paul F. Vang's (“Paul”) book, Sweeter than Candy: A Hunter’s Journal, which was published in 2011. I am truly glad I had the opportunity. Now, by no means, do I attribute this new great book to my plea to western writers in Upland Equations years back. Nonetheless, this book sure fits the bill of what I had in mind when I wrote that post.
By way of background information, Paul retired from working for the Social Security Administration and now hails from Butte, Montana, where he is a freelance writer writing a weekly outdoor newspaper column. In addition, Paul writes regularly for his blog, Writing Outdoors. Here is the link: http://writingoutdoors.com/. Be sure and check it out!
With Paul being a regular outdoor writer, Paul’s book covers everything from fly fishing, to bird hunting, to deer hunting, but the major focus is on hunting with his bird dogs. The bulk of the stories take place in North Dakota and Montana. For the most part, Paul’s adventures (and yes, despite his disclaimer in the introduction, he’s had plenty) span from 1970 to the present. Paul shares numerous excellent stories of hunting with his Labrador Retrievers, Sam, Alix, Candy (from whom the book gets its name) and Flicka. Together they hunted ruffed grouse, blue grouse, sharptails, pheasants, Huns, and they also did some jump shooting for ducks. I’m not a waterfowl hunter, but still thoroughly enjoyed Paul’s description of this form of hunting as it seemed more like the rough shooting I prefer as an upland hunter.
Before you pointing dog lovers turn your noses up at the use of Labs for upland game, please note that for the variety of hunting that the west provides, the Lab is the quintessential Jack-Of-All-Trades and gets the job done just fine. Paul’s Lab Candy did it all and pointed birds too! While I do not personally own a Lab, I am a big fan of the breed. Paul’s book reminded me of a statement made by Worth Mathewson in Best Birds: Upland & Shore: “Gene Hill got it right when he wrote something along the lines of when are people going to admit that the Lab is the best breed of all.” Paul’s book is tribute to the versatility of this great breed.
This is my good friend Matt's Lab, Darby, who like Candy, does it all, including pointing. She learned that from the pointers she's hunted with.
As I read Sweeter than Candy, I was continually struck by how much I related personally to Paul’s stories. For example, like me, Paul shoots a Ruger Red Label 20 Gauge Over and Under which he could not shoot worth a darn at first, but later learned to love. Like me, Paul writes of his love of camping, forest grouse hunting in the morning, and fly fishing in the afternoons in sweet September, my favorite month of the year. Like my dog Dusty, Paul writes of his dog Candy blowing out her ACL, getting it repaired, only to have the other ACL go out on her other leg. Like me, Paul struggles with shooting those little gray speedsters the Hungarian Partridge. Like me, Paul has streaks of phenomenal shooting and bouts when he can’t hit the broad side of a barn. In the chapter, “The Slump,” Paul nailed it when he wrote: “Hunting is such a psychological sport. If things are going well, I’m bursting with confidence and self-esteem and can do no wrong. But, when in a slump, nothing seems to work.” Boy, that is the story of my schizophrenic wingshooting career. My point is not to focus so much on myself as to show you that anyone who has spent days afield with bird dogs should be able to find numerous experiences in the book that resonate with them. Paul has definitely been there and done that. The way Paul writes makes you feel like you are in the uplands with an old friend. For me, that is the ultimate goal for an outdoor writer: To transport your reader to the field or stream. Mission accomplished Paul!
To sum it up, my honest opinion is that Paul’s book is great. It’s a celebration of everything that I love about the great outdoors and hunting with bird dogs in the West. It belongs right up there at the top of the list of literature on upland bird hunting in the west. I highly recommend it.
If you’d like to purchase a copy of Paul’s book, here’s a link to his website: http://writingoutdoors.com/.