Portrait of Thomas McGuane.
Portrait of Thomas McGuane. (Photo: Russell Chatham)

The Hunt Is On

Our former editor on Thomas McGuane's almost cinematic contemplation of hunting

Portrait of Thomas McGuane.
Terry McDonell

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We were working on the startup of Outside at the Rolling Stone offices in San Francisco. I had landed my first real editing job by promising that I would get interesting young novelists to write about the natural world. Tom McGuane was at the top of the list, but when I called him Livingston, Montana, he said: “You probably don't want anything about hunting.” He was right, but I said hunting would be fine, wonderful really. I figured that whatever he wrote would be literary and ambituous, and just getting him in the inaugural issue would send the right signals.

The problem was that hunting was looked on as animal murder by most of my new colleagues, was well as by the readership that had been identified as the ideal demographic for Outside. But none of that mattered when Tom filed “The Heart of the Game” (September 1977), an almost cinematic contemplation of hunting, spinning with Tom's uncanny language and surprising specifics that snuck up on you in an achingly deep way. The piece ended with Tom dressing out a buck he had hung over a rafter in his woodshed with a lariat, and thinking: This is either the beginning or the end of everything. I didn't change a comma, top to bottom, and I knew Outside's first readers would love it. They did.

(Adapted from McDonell's 2016 book, The Accidental Life.)

—Terry McDonell, Editor, 1977-1978

From Outside Magazine, October 2017 Lead Photo: Russell Chatham