For Your Reading Pleasure…

Lt. Col. J.K. Stanford was a prolific, highly entertaining, and extremely knowledgeable writer on both shooting and ornithology. He published 27 books in all.

by Terry Wieland

August 1 has come and gone and suddenly, fall doesn’t seem so far away, if one can ignore the 111-degree temperatures I encountered passing through Claremore, Oklahoma, last week, en route home from Texas.

That was a bit of a strange trip, departing from rain-soaked Missouri, where it either dribbled or poured for eight days straight in late July, to rain-starved San Antonio, where they have not seen rain since May and the Guadalupe River consists of stagnant puddles going nowhere except upwards in evaporation.

These disparate climatic conditions suggest that bird populations this year could vary widely, with some down because of drought and others down because of flooding.  Presumably, though, a few areas are close to normal, and initial reports of pheasant numbers from southwest Minnesota suggest things are looking pretty good there.

Around this time, I usually start reading wingshooting books to get me in the mood, and among the best ever are those of J.K. Stanford, an English shooter and ornithologist who was also a wonderful writer on both topics.  His list of books published is extensive—27 in all—and those of a sporting nature include both non-fiction and, very unusually, novels and novellas.

Stanford himself was straight out of central casting:  Born 1892, Rugby School, then St. John’s College, Oxford.  During the Great War, he served in the Suffolk Regiment and then the Tank Corps, was wounded, mentioned in dispatches, and awarded the Military Cross (second only to the Victoria Cross.)  Between the wars, he was in the Indian Civil Service in Burma, where he spent endless hours bird-watching in the Irrawaddy Delta, and added an Order of the British Empire (OBE) in 1931, for services during the Burma Rebellion.

Stanford rejoined the army in 1941, and ended the Second World War as a lieutenant-colonel.  He died in 1971.

Undoubtedly, Stanford’s best-known work is The Twelfth & After, a novella that first saw the light in 1944 and, remarkably, has never been out of print since.  Originally The Twelfth, it was lengthened in a later edition, adding a couple of chapters and “& After” to the title.  It’s a novella about a stereotype British Army colonel, who lives for shooting, having a seizure in his club after lunch, and being reincarnated as a red grouse on a highland moor the day before the Glorious Twelfth, when the season opens.  The book is part fable, part fantasy, and could only have been written by a bird-loving shooter who could see both sides and imagine the impossible.

Disney-esque?  Not at all.