The Essence of Hunting
by Gray N. Thornton, Executive Director, Dallas Safari Club
Key Note Presentation at the Trophy Workshop of the 54th CIC General Assembly in Belgrade
During the next two days we will have the opportunity to challenge ourselves and each other with questions, new ideas or in-fashion-again old ideas and ideals regarding trophy hunting, what constitutes a trophy and trophy recording systems and programs.
During his keynote presentation, my good friend Gerhard Damm initiated this challenge well with thought provoking statements, hypothesis, personal views as well as facts. Most of which I concur and share. During my presentation I too will ask some questions, will offer some answers and hope to provide not necessarily the North American perspective, but rather a perspective from a North American.
Why do we hunt?
For food -
Arguably unless you live in a subsistence society, hunting for food is no longer a necessity. However, in many places it still augments to a greater or lesser extent a family’s food source. At the lesser it allows us to enjoy a roebuck or pronghorn back strap, or whitetail or red stag tenderloin with family and friends, and gives us satisfaction as “a provider.” At the greater extent there are many 1st world families in Europe and North America that still today count on a hind, cow elk or moose in the freezer to provide if not the majority at least a significant amount of the family’s protein and meat for the year.
Rite of passage from boy to man/or self actualization -
“Hunting is a basic aspect of a boy’s initiation into manhood. It teaches him the intelligence, beauty and power of nature. The young man also learns at a deep emotional level his inseparable relationship with nature as well as his responsibility to fiercely protect it.”
Randall L. Eaton, Ph.D.
Hunting has been for years considered a rite of passage from boy to man. A boy, dreamed of the day he would receive that first .22 rifle or single shot .410 shotgun to hunt squirrel, rabbit and other small game. Now in the USA, women are one of the fastest growing segments of the hunting community. In Dallas Safari Club many if not most of our male members wives hunt or at least enjoy or support hunting. And many women join our association as hunters themselves. Our 2006- 2007 President, Barbara Franklin, was our first female president and without a doubt will not be our last.
To be outdoors -
“There are no words that can tell the hidden spirit of the wilderness that can reveal its mystery, its melancholy, and its charm. There is delight in the hardy life of the open, in long rides rifle in hand, in the thrill of the fight with dangerous game. Apart from this is the strong attraction of the silent places…unworn by man and changed only by the slow change of the ages through time everlasting.”
In North America the Mountain Man is revered as the ultimate outdoorsman and hunter – the epitome of self reliance…a man more like the Indians he lived amongst than the European settlers he left behind. He has been romanticized in books and movies as a man’s man. He served others as scouts, guides – a liaison or warrior. Most often penniless he hunted out of necessity, not because of privilege or nobility. Many North American hunters today identify with the self reliant, self provider spirit of the mountain man of the west or the pioneer of the plains – even if hunting is not required to provide food, clothing or shelter for one’s self or family.
To get back to simpler times -
Our 24/7 life styles of instant and expected immediate communication. Phones, faxes, emails, Blackberry devices which tether us to the “real world” and our daily business responsibilities – hunting allows us escape. Many of the “Traditions of hunting” - loden breeches, woolen shirts, horns, dogs, enamel coffee cups, wall tents and log cabins bring us back to simpler times. Hunters are often the last to embrace new technology for this very reason.
For achievement -
- Physical – Sheep hunting, tracking elephant, buffalo or Giant eland on foot
- A battle of wits – the perfect stalk or ambush or taking the “old wise one”
- For personal recognition – Record Books & Awards
- Competition - not versus the game pursued but between hunters
- For trophies – If they have the means, some who may not have earned trophies or awards in physical sport to “buy” them later in life by hunting
What makes a man (or women) a hunter?
- Nature or Nurture?
Nurture: Most studies show that a hunter “is made” by introduction to hunting from a family member
Nature: For many it is innate – in fact I would argue that we are all hunters
- Social – association with others who share
our views and interests. Hunting associations, clubs and organization provide a source for this need and can be positive influences (code of ethics, instruction and mission based action – conservation or education programs.) and also negative (competition, envy & ego) influences on the hunter.
How does this affect why and how we hunt?
the intrinsic values are passed down from father to son, uncle to niece, grandfather to granddaughter
Organizations can do the same and provide a vehicle to promote the conservation ethic and teach traditions – or can, through promoting the hunter and not the hunted, foster the exact opposite. Although as a CEO of a hunting organization which provides for my livelihood this statement may appear blasphemous but.
I firmly believe it is the hunting organizations themselves and the hunter recognition programs they create which remove the essence from hunting and replace it with competitive killing that pose the greatest threat to hunters and hunting today. Studies in the USA continue to show that despite the efforts by the anti-hunting and animal activist organizations, it is hunters themselves and their actions which provide the most influence on the non hunting majority. Recent polls show that while the majority of Americans approve of hunting, they do not approve of hunters. This fact ladies and gentlemen, I would like to change.
If individually and collectively the hunting organizations have fostered this condition and problem, then collectively and individually after honest dialogue, which I hope we develop at this international assembly, we can offer a long term solution.
Records Books and Awards Programs – the Achilles Heel of
In my now 17+ years as a professional in the conservation, hunting & sporting industry, I’ve heard repeated comments from association members of how there is too much emphasis on the Record Books and where each trophy places in those books. I wholeheartedly agree. But when are we really going to do something about this?
From PHs I heard the cry “too many clients only care about taking record book trophies” - but then the first marketing comment they make on a show floor to a prospective client is “I have XX entries in the book.” Some record books claim to recognize the animal but in fact the inclusion of the hunter and the outfitter, guide or PH make it more of a fundraising scheme and marketing tool – and frankly a damn good one at that – than the historical or regional database of species it claims to be.
To validate the claim that some record books and programs were about the animal and not the hunter I asked both the Boone & Crockett Club and SCI if they would accept “Anonymous Entries” where the specifics of the animal were listed but the hunter was listed as “Anonymous.”
The Boone & Crockett Club stated that they would not allow such entries…but their award programs give the award to the animal and consider the hunter the “owner”. That is why you can enter a “pick up” or a set of antler or horns you inherited or purchased.
SCI Record Book staff informed me that I could indeed enter a trophy and list “anonymous” in the section where I would list how my name should appear. I find this encouraging and plan to test this in the coming months and enter some animals as such. Maybe if more hunters would list themselves as anonymous the record keepers would get the point and deemphasize the hunter and emphasize the animal.
Records Books and Awards Programs – Create value for
I have read and have heard spoken numerous claims that listing a particular species in a book or requiring a unique species for a slam or award program creates a higher value for that species and in doing so, provides the conservation incentive. I believe that this can be true…but I also believe that over emphasis can create unnatural and even sometimes unsustainable demand. Now I’m not a scientist – I am a marketer – Dr. Peter Lindsey, Dr. Rolf Baldus, Dr. Laurence Frank, Dr. Craig Packer and others can provide a better insight into the conservation and community development benefits hunting unique spe- cies provide.
What determines a successful hunting experience?
Studies conducted in association with the International Hunter Education Association (Canada, Mexico and USA) have shown that most North American hunters typically pass through six defined “stages” of hunter development as they gain experience and skill. Some hunters do not pass through all six, while others who do, may not necessarily pass through all in the same order. While these are taught as typical stages of the North American hunter I feel they are universal and challenge each of you to reflect on what stage you are in.
Six Stages of the Hunter
The goal and priority in this stage is taking the shot or shots. The “nothing is falling unless the lead is flying” phase of the hunter. “I got three shots at a monster this morning” or “it was like WWIII in that dove field” could be the mantra back in hunting camp in this stage. While the ammunition manufacturers may appreciate this phase, patience, target practice and mentoring from more experienced hunters helps most moves through and out of it.
Limiting Out Stage
Success is not determined by the total outdoor experience but rather “getting my limit” or “filling my tag.” Age, maturity and hunting more often typically helps hunters move pass this stage.
Success is judged by quality and not quantity. The hunter becomes more selective and more focused on the size of the antlers or horns. Some hunters look to record books as a means to define their success. Animals which place high in the books are prized. Trophies which do not are ignored. Others create lists or use the various award programs and “slams” to establish hunting goals. In the extreme, they become “collectors” and although they may still very much enjoy the hunting experience, true success is measured in collecting all the species in a particular category or hunting priority list. This “collecting” phenomenon is not unique to hunting. Bird watchers have their lists, as do anglers, mountaineers and others.
Sadly however, for some the trophy is the only measure of success. The positive benefits of selectivity may turn to a myopic obsession with inches and points. Describing a hunt or animal taken is prefaced by “I took x top 10 animals” or “I took 7 gold medal and 3 silver medal species on my recent safari.” Listening to someone share a story when he is such obsessed sounds more like an accountant summarizing a chart of ac- counts – not a hunter sharing a story of adventure, challenge and true achievement around a campfire.
Hunting goals may become mere lists with success only occurring when a species is “checked off” the list. Taken to the extreme, such a collector may set aside personal and collective ethics, the principles of fair chase, game laws and the welfare of the habitat or species for the sake of “the list.” This in my opinion is the Achilles Heel of hunting – where Record Books, Lists, Slams and Awards precede the total hunting and outdoor experience as measures of success.
That said I consider myself somewhat of a collector…but not as a hunter. My favorite passion is fly fishing – in particular of late salt water fly fishing. And while I could not tell you how many species of big game I have taken, I can tell you with accuracy from “the list” I keep that I have caught and released 58 different species of fish to date on the fly. And I have a list of goals, places to go to achieve those goals and time frames listed to when I will. Why do I disdain the hunting collector and not the catch and release angling collector? It must be that in one case an animal has died to be checked off…and in the other, it is caught and gently released.
But if hunting is conservation, and best practice sustainable use policies are followed - if game laws, ethics and fair chase standards are not compromised then why is my fly fishing list less distasteful than the hunting or pinnacle of achievement list. I hope to be better able to answer that question after participating in the discussions these next two days.
The focus is on the how and the process not neces- sarily the end result. Or, if taking an animal or getting one’s limit is the goal, how it was taken is the true measure of success.
Hunters define themselves as single shot rifle, iron sights only, bow, handgun or black powder hunters – the method of hunting is the focus. Those categories can be defined even more specifically by hunters who become “traditional archers” only hunting with a long bow and wooden arrows – possibly even scorning compounds as bows with “training wheels” and carbon arrows as “like a pencil without the wood.” Debate in deer camp might be whether an in-line muzzleloader is really a black powder gun, or whether Pyrodex and pellets can be considered equal to “good’ole” FFG. Or whether that single shot, scoped, .375 JDJ “hand rifle” is really a handgun. Most of these debates are good natured and help sell magazines and keep outdoor writers gainfully employed. Others, as in any pursuit that is taken very seriously, can get heated and can be even life changing.
In this stage, success is measured by the total outdoor experience. The hunter may see success as taking a great photograph of a beautiful bird while sitting in a tree stand or enjoying a stunning sunrise while glassing from a ridge ascended before dawn. It can be enjoying that first cup of camp coffee before the hunt, or reliving the day by stories around a campfire at night. At this stage these can be the times most cherished and remembered. Appreciation for the habitat and wildlife that inhabit it become a priority. The companionship of fellow hunters or a fine bird dog, the perfect point or stalk define success – not when the trigger is pulled or an animal is taken.
Give Back Stage
The final stage is where the hunter focuses on “giving back” and introducing others to the sport and the outdoors. Passing on the values and traditions of hunting and ensuring the outdoor legacy becomes a priority. Sharing and providing instruction to young and new older hunters on safety, hunting ethics and responsibility often provide just as much if not more satisfaction to the “give back” stage hunter than personally going hunting. Conservation and habitat protection become even more of a focus and mission at this stage.
The Essence of Hunting – A Return to Core Values
“The essence of hunting is not measured in inches or points, but rather in the spirit of the chase and the noble nature of the game pursued.”
I wrote that statement in an article in late 2004 describing my first hunt with my father – a fly fishing, red stag and wine tour safari we did in New Zealand earlier that year. My father is not a hunter and while he may have endured my attempts at hunting as a boy with a long bow and two broad head tipped arrows pursuing wild boar near his home in California it was not until he was in his seventies and I in my forties that we hunted together.
We fly fished for trout for five days and then hunted red stag together prior to doing a wine tour…the highlight of the trip for my dad. As we hunted together for the first time, my dad became totally absorbed in this new experience. I shot a won- derful stag and my father felt a part of the hunt. For the first time in his life he knelt before a fallen game animal and we joined together in thanks and respectful reverence for the experience and life that enriched ours. We loaded the stag in a truck, brought him to the skinning shed and I assisted our guide in the cleaning and butchering. It was not until we were skinning the stag that our guide commented that he did not notice how many points the stag had and counted them – to us, it did not matter for the essence of hunting is not measured in inches or points, but rather in the spirit of the chase and the noble nature of the game pursued.
To affect change we must change our heart. The meetings we are having here and the discussions to follow may very well help facilitate this change. So do life experiences. I’d like to share a story of another hunting and life experience that may touch your heart as it touched mine.
A first safari in 1998
In November of 1998, I booked a short single species safari to coincide with the Professional Hunter Association of South Africa conference. The hunter was to be my mother, a non hunter, and her first hunt and trip to Africa.
We planned to hunt impala, my mother’s dream, at Emaweni in the Tugela Biosphere. Shortly after leaving the hunting camp the first morning our PH, Hans Vermaak, glassed a mountain reedbuck that he had seen before but had eluded previous clients. He proclaimed this a “top ten” mountain reedbuck and urged “Gray, you need to shoot that animal.” I declined replying that this was not my safari but was my mom’s, adding that I had shot a mountain reedbuck already. He responded “But it is a top ten animal…Sue, you need to shoot that.” My mom looked at me not knowing what to do since she was not there to hunt mountain reedbuck, but rather impala and I was the one paying for the “mini” safari. I encouraged her to have a go at the reedbuck so we left the vehicle and carefully stalked through tall grass to a position where she could take the shot from shooting sticks – her first shot at an animal. Hans placed the .270 rifle in the sticks and with his tracker, Patches, at their side, asked my mom if she could see the reedbuck. She confirmed “I can see hair and I think its back.” The grass was tall and almost covered the diminutive antelope. Hans confirmed she was viewing the buck in the scope and encouraged her as he watched and she took the shot. At the shot the reedbuck dropped instantly. As hunters, we all know that an instant collapse can be good or bad. In this case the shot was a bit high – all she could see in the grass – she had hit the spine. The buck was down but not dead. As we approached, concerned to not spoil my mom’s first hunting experience, I told my mom to stay back while Hans and I completed the task. My mom declined stating “I started this – I’ll finish it” and with our PH’s guidance, she chambered another round and quickly put a bullet behind the reedbuck’s shoulder.
Hans and Patches adorned her with the ceremonious first kill “blooding” and she proudly posed with her fellow hunters and her harvest for photos - ironically kneeling in impala dung as she did so.
Later that day, Hans would confirm that her ram was the “new SCI #9 mountain reedbuck.” To my mom this was a mere statistic she could care less about -after all this was not a number or place in the record book, but rather her first hunt, a life taken – a life respected and her first hunting trophy. Back at the Landcruiser, as we loaded the reedbuck, she paused and somewhat sad said to me, “well, I guess my safari is over” She was thrilled with her trophy but her African dream was to hunt impala. “It is not” I replied. “I can still hunt?” She asked. Hans confirmed; “Let’s go hunt impala Sue.”
One of my fondest memories of that safari was walking through the bush, Hans in the lead, Patches following, my mom and then me taking up the rear. Hans, who my mom considered “her own Robert Redford” from the movie “Out of Africa”, calmly commented and pointed “elephant dung” as we walked past some elephant spoor alongside the game trail. Patches looked down and acknowledged the statement as did my mom and then she stopped in her tracks…she looked at the elephant dung, then ahead towards Hans, then down at the rifle in her hands, and then back to me, and exclaimed in a hushed voice and glassy eye’s “I am hunting in Africa!”
Later than evening we caught up with a herd of impala. I followed a slight distance behind while my mom, Hans and Patches, made the stalk. The impala were in the trees high on a hill above them in rapidly fading light. Off the shooting sticks, Hans asked “Can you see the impala?” “Yes” My mom replied. “But what way is the head pointing?” “Head’s on the left Sue.” Bang! My mom made a perfect uphill shot and the ram fell. Patches offered to go up the hill to collect the ram for her but she would have nothing of it. I joined them and the four of us climbed the hill to my mom’s trophy. As she approached the downed ram she exclaimed how beautiful he was. She did not look at the horns, but rather the striking animal before her. She sat quietly by her ram and stroked the almost oil-sheen hide, and marveled at the black lines of color on its hind quarters and the stunning beauty of his face and features. It was a fine, old impala ram – her impala ram.
Hans, Patches, and I sat a distance away from her in respect and she quietly wept as she stroked the hide of her impala, caressing it as it was a beloved pet – tears of joy falling for the life she had taken to enrich hers.
We had both trophies mounted for her and she proudly displays what she affectionately calls “her boys” in her study along with photos and other African curios from her trip. Each Christmas she adorns “her boys” with ribbon and bows to celebrate the season and her safari memories.
My final memory from that safari was the morning we were to leave. My mom sat alone on a bench overlooking the Tugela River and vast expanse before her. I walked up to join her and enjoy the African morning. As I sat, she quietly whispered like Karen Blixen in the aforementioned movie “I had a farm in Africa…”
I could have quit hunting and been completely satisfied after that safari. Admittedly, I don’t hunt as much as I used to – I don’t need to. Through my mom’s eyes, I experienced the essence of hunting. Through her safari, I learned the noble nature of the game we pursue.