Why All Hunters Need to Read Jack O’Connor

Why All Hunters Need to Read Jack O’Connor

“There is no half way. After his first exposure, a man is either a sheep hunter or he isn’t. He either falls under the spell of sheep hunting and sheep country or he won’t be caught dead on another sheep mountain.”

—Jack O’Connor, “The Bighorn”

Serving as the Shooting Editor of Outdoor Life magazine for 31 years and having authored many books on hunting and firearms, Jack O’Connor boasts an impressive resume. However, the sheer volume of his writing isn't what makes him a great writer.

The first time I read O’Connor, I was hooked. I felt as if I was right behind him, watching my every step over his shoulder as he stalked his quarry. Each time I pick up one of his books, I learn something that makes me better in the field. Every hunter can benefit from reading a bit of Jack O’Connor.

Humble Beginnings

Humble Beginnings

Jack O’Connor was raised in the desert Southwest, born in a small border town in Arizona when it was still a territory and quite wild. Growing up in the desert, he developed a deep fondness for the arid environment and the game that inhabited it. He attended the University of Arizona and the University of Missouri, receiving a Master's degree in English and Journalism in 1927. Following this, he became the first professor of journalism at the University of Arizona.

His love for writing and the outdoors soon connected as he landed a job at Outdoor Life magazine as their Shooting Editor. His writings quickly became some of the most iconic in the 20th-century hunting world, capturing readers with vivid details that transported them into the mountainous landscapes he often described.

What Makes a Jack O’Connor Story

“By that time it was mid-afternoon, but I tied my scabbard on a saddle, stuck my old .270 in it, and Santiago and I took off. It was late in December then and a storm was brewing. Great white clouds with gray bellies were blowing in from the gulf on a chill wind, and when they passed over the sun the gray desert was suddenly drab and cold.” —Jack O’Connor, Santiago and the Lady Hunter

O’Connor had a way of describing landscapes that was both simple and detailed, striking the perfect balance between too many words and not enough. He could depict vegetation and topography so that even if you had never set foot in that type of country, you understood exactly what it looked like.

His interpretation of how animals move through a landscape was also unique. He compared North American Mountain Goats to miniature white bison clinging to impossibly steep cliffs or described herds of pronghorn running through sage country like a group of barn swallows flying in sync. Again, readers could instantly connect with what he was saying, even without firsthand experience with the animals.

As a Shooting Editor, he also had a way of explaining his rifle and bullet choices without pushing them on the reader. While he loved calibers like the .30-06, .270 Winchester, 7x57 Mauser, and 7mm Remington Magnum, he never told anyone they were wrong for choosing something else. He preached shot placement over everything.

He was humble in his writings, not shying away from admitting when he missed or made a bad shot, giving his stories a sense of realism rarely seen in today's social media world. He also had a unique sense of humor that often set the scene of being on a hunt with your buddies.

The Original Influencer

Today, many of our gear decisions are influenced by product reviews from trusted outdoor influencers. In O’Connor’s era, magazines were the main source of information on new gear. This was long before SEO writing techniques compromised creativity. Readers hung on every word of their favorite outdoor writers, and O’Connor was one of the most influential in that realm.

While many influencers of the era took strong stances on things like caliber and bullet preferences, Jack took a unique approach. He suggested that caliber wasn’t as important as most people made it out to be and that shot placement and bullet construction were much more critical.

He would share his likes and dislikes about gear but never took a hard and fast stance on whether a caliber was the best. He related his experiences and left it at that. He was honest, and that’s what people liked. Despite having a great relationship with Winchester and their Model 70 rifle, when they took a cost-cutting approach to redesign the legendary Model 70, O’Connor called them out. How many influencers would do that today?


His Wife Eleanor - The Lady Hunter

“Following my usual custom when I am on a trip with my wife, I crawled out of my sleeping bag, built a fire, and put coffee on. Then I fried bacon, scrambled eggs, made toast, and took my wife’s breakfast into her as she lay in the sack.” —Jack O’Connor, Santiago and the Lady Hunter

I resonate with O’Connor’s stories in countless ways, but what connects me most is how much he hunted with his wife. She joined him on many adventures and has taken nearly as much game as he has.

My wife and I have been on countless hunts together. When we lived in Montana, we had one season where we logged 28 nights in our old canvas wall tent, chasing everything from sharp-tailed grouse to antelope and elk. That season peaked for me when I got a call from her on my way home from work, telling me she had just shot a buck and needed my help.

Most of the time, Eleanor had her own tags, and other times she went along to shoot game birds while Jack was out hunting. According to Jack, she was an excellent shot. In his writings, he never spoke negatively of her, only praising her outdoor skills and ability to get the job done on her own. I like to think that Abigail and I make as good of a hunting pair as Jack and Eleanor O’Connor.

Pick up a book

Pick Up a Book!

I used Jack O’Connor’s book The Hunting Rifle as my guideline when I built my personal hunting rifle. I called it “my sheep rifle,” knowing full well that I might never get to hunt sheep. Well, the time came, and I drew a ewe tag. I turned right back to O’Connor’s writings to help me learn about an animal I was completely unfamiliar with.

Whether you are a new hunter or someone with years of experience, we all can benefit from reading a little Jack O’Connor now and then. While there aren’t any books of his still in print to my knowledge, I highly recommend checking eBay for one of his many hunting and/or firearms books.

Jack O’Connor's legacy as a writer and outdoorsman remains unparalleled. His ability to transport readers into the wild, his balanced and humble approach to sharing knowledge, and his genuine passion for the outdoors make his works timeless. Every hunter, whether novice or seasoned, can find value in O’Connor’s writings. So, pick up one of his books and let his words guide you into the wilderness.

Written by Kurt Martonik

Kurt is a researcher at Spartan Forge and avid outdoorsman. He flew as Boom Operator in the USAF for just shy of 7 years and following his service attended gunsmithing school at the Colorado School of Trades. After graduating there he moved to Montana and was a stockmaker/gunsmith for C. Sharps Arms. He currently resides in his home state of Pennsylvania and operates his gunsmithing shop, Highland Custom LLC on the side.