Peter Popieniuck is a lucky sportsman. Not just in the fish and wildlife he has harvested, but in the adventures he’s enjoyed from Maine to Africa. His autobiography is timely, given the recent unfortunate incidents with big game hunters who killed African lions. For the record, Peter killed no lions.
Peter’s book, My Naked Safari – from Maine to Africa – Adventures of an Amateur Sportsman, published by North Country Press, is a very good read.
Peter’s story is of special interest to Mainers because many of his adventures were with Maine guides, and his favorite place on earth seems to be his camp on Lower Richardson Pond, just west of Rangeley. His hunting trip to Africa is certainly an amazing story, but I most enjoyed his trips to places I’ve been myself, most especially the Leaf River in northern Quebec.
The Leaf is my favorite place to fish for brook trout – with the exception of Maine, of course – but Peter was there to hunt Caribou with Carroll Ware, who with his wife Lila owns Fins and Furs Adventures in Skowhegan. I have been blessed to have visited Alain Tardiff’s Leaf River Lodge three times, twice with my friend Harry Vanderweide to tape episodes of Harry’s TV show. While I didn’t hunt Caribou, I did see thousands of them on my trips there, and Peter’s stories, including the wolf behind his camp, could have been my own.
Much of Peter’s deer hunting was done with Dan Davis of Corinna, who works for Northern Outdoors in The Forks, where Peter and his wife Molly loved to stay, as do Linda and I. My stories connect with Peter’s here at Northern Outdoors, because I know Dan and have written about him, and Kyle Hockmeyer, the son of Susie Hockmeyer, one of the owners of Northern Outdoors, was the camera man on one of my trips to the Leaf River with Harry. Small world!
Jim and Lori Geib of New Frontier Taxidermy in Solon preserved many of Peter’s animals, including some that he found killed alongside the road. You’ll laugh when you hear about Eddie, the Fisher.
This is most definitely not the traditional “I am the greatest hunter in the world” autobiography. In fact, while Peter enjoyed plenty of success, he also chronicles his many mistakes, missed shots, falls and foibles, with a great sense of humor and respect for our favorite sports. Take this explanation of deer hunting: “In the end, the measure of success or failure of a deer hunt isn’t measured in inches of antler or field-dressed pounds of venison. It’s judged by the smiles on faces, laughter that reaches an aching point, and the unselfish hospitality and generosity of friends.” Boy, did he get that right.
Some of Peter’s stories are touching, particularly those about his favorite hunting dog, Diesel. And yes, the dog’s name is a story in itself. Others are hilarious, including the time he lost his favorite fishing rod over the side of his boat on Lower Richardson Lake. It’s still there if you want to hunt for it!
The story of some of his bird hunts begins this way: “I’ve had a lot of fun being a terrible bird hunter.” He got better over time, and he even tells you the things he learned that made him a better hunter.
I particularly identified with one of Peter’s significant problems, in his chapter titled “Confessions of a Sportsman Hoarder.”
“I admit it,” he writes. “I’m a hoarder. Not the kind that has 163 non-neutered cats running around his home and only one litter box. And not the kind that saves 250,000 pounds of old newspapers to create an indoor replica of the Boston skyline. Not even the type that views their weekly visit to the local landfill as an opportunity to go shopping. No, I’m a sportsman hoarder. I hoard fishing tackle, hunting gear, and taxidermy. It’s a triple whammy. And I’m pretty sure I’m not alone with the affliction.”
No Peter, you are not! Guilty as charged. Although I’d have to confess that shopping at the dump is one of my afflictions, something I inherited from my Dad. When Linda and I were trying to reduce the clutter in one of our upstairs rooms, she inquired as to why I needed 15 fly fishing rods. I had to admit I don’t, but no, they are all staying. And she doesn’t know it, but I’ve got my eye on a new rod, the Tenkara, that would be perfect for my fishing adventures on the small brooks and streams in Baxter Park. Let’s hope Linda doesn’t discover all the boxes of spinning gear down in my workshop!
Carol and Lila summed up the book well, on the back cover: “Peter’s book is a funny, candid, sometimes touching account of his adventures (and misadventures). We have shared endless moments of successful and not so successful hunts with Peter Popieniuck. Cribbage games, trophies taken and missed, and above all else, the camaraderie that our relationship has provided have made for great memories.”
I have to thank Peter for sharing his memories and stories, which I thoroughly enjoyed. You will too.