I have to admit that my first meeting with Patrick McManus was a bit of disappointment.
When I sat next to him at an Outdoor Writers Association of America (OWAA) conference years ago, I expected to be entertained. He was, after all, the humor writer who was my hero. I laughed my way through many of his books and always looked forward to reading his column in Outdoor Life magazine.
To meet him and just chat with him for a while would be the ultimate, I thought. But there we were, talking about fishing and hunting like I would with a friend, but not one funny yarn.
I was disappointed…but only for a moment. Then it hit me. It must be hard to be a humor writer and live up to everyone’s expectations. Fans such as me expect you to tell funny stories at every turn, to always be entertaining. But that’s unrealistic.
When I look back, I learned a lot about McManus, who passed away this week at age 84, in our short conversation. He wasn’t full of himself; he was just an average guy who loved fishing and hunting and had a talent for relating that passion through humor.
In a way, that’s what I loved about his writing. Some outdoor writers let their egos get in the way of their storytelling. They’re so busy promoting themselves as the greatest outdoorsman since Daniel Boone that it gets tiresome, at least to me.
But McManus wasn’t like that. He poked fun at himself and his life through fictional characters such as Rancid Crabtree, a colorful backwoods guy who never bathed; Crazy Eddie Muldoon, his childhood best friend, and his aptly named dog, Strange.
A lot of his stories were based on his own life, growing up in Sandpoint, Idaho. He grew up in virtual poverty, but he considered himself rich in life experiences. He wandered the outdoors from the time he was just a little guy, and he ran into some colorful characters along the way. Those characters would later become centerpieces of his writing.
A sample of some of his wit and wisdom:
- “An elk that is shot dead within 15 feet of your hunting vehicle will still pull himself together enough to gallop to the very bottom of the steepest canyon within five miles. This is known as an elk’s revenge.”
- “He grouped his last five shots right in the center of the bull’s-eye. Then I showed him the technique of scattering shots randomly around the target because, as I know, you never know when the deer might jump just as you pull the trigger.”
- “Surprisingly, many anglers are ashamed to admit they fish with live bait. You’ll run into one of those so-called purists and ask him what he’s using and he’ll say, ‘A number 32 Royal Coachman on a three-ounce leader.’ Then he’ll get a bite, snap his line out of water, and there will be a worm on his hook. ‘That’s the problem with these tiny flies,’ he’ll say. ‘You keep catching worms on them.’ ”
- “Strange is the only dog I knew who could belch at will. It was his idea of comedy. If my mother had some friends over for a game of pinochle, Strange would slip into the house and slouch over to the ladies. Then he would emit a loud belch. Apparently, he mistook the shudders of revulsion for a form of applause, because he would sit on his haunches, grinning up at the group.”
- “I have gone through a number of hunting dogs, or they have gone through me or at least my bank account, and I have come to the conclusion that the perfect hunting dog s one that belongs to someone else.”
I could go on and on, but you get the idea. McManus wrote humor columns for more than three decades for the outdoors magazines Field & Stream and Outdoor Life. His columns were later included in books with colorful names such as “They shoot Canoes, Don’t They?” and “The Night the Bear Ate Goombaw.”
He sold more than five million of his books, and he was represented on the New York Times best seller lists.
I am going to miss him. But at least I still have some of his books in my library to re-read from time to time.