Hunting for Trophies
by Raymond Lee, President, Foundation for North American Wild Sheep (FNAWS) & International Sheep Hunters’ Association (ISHA)
Humans have pursued wild animals since the very dawn of man. Early hunters secured their food, clothing, and tools from the animals they harvested. Human social structures were formed around hunter/gatherer groups; with status within the group often determined by one’s success at acquiring food. As millennia passed, hunting continued to provide sustenance. However, due to changes in agricultural production, advances in food storage technology, and cultural changes in society, the life giving essence of hunting also changed. No longer was it absolutely necessary for a person to hunt for their immediate food. Hunting came to be considered as recreational, or a sporting activity. While there are still some passionate individuals who would say that they hunt to live – it is probably more accurate to say that they live to hunt. Many authors have written on man’s connections with wildlife through the challenges of the hunt.
A more modern form of hunting is that practiced by the conservation hunter. This is the person who uses hunting as a means to help support wildlife conservation and promote professional wildlife management. These hunters pay, sometimes huge fees, for the opportunity to pursue an animal – with the knowledge (hope) that some of the fee will go to help wildlife conservation efforts and to support the local community. Programs like this exist in North America, Africa, and Asia. For these programs to be successful there must be a reasonable return of money to the central government, to the state/provincial government, to the local community, and to wildlife conservation. A $50,000 hunt fee should certainly be able to provide a little something for each of these levels.
Rather than, or in addition to, the more common charitable gifts, these philanthropists make their donations to enhance wildlife. These donations can easily surpass $100,000 for a single hunting opportunity. These opportunities offer no guarantee of taking an animal. In fact, on a number of these hunts, the hunter/donor chooses not to harvest an animal. The North American model of wildlife management, where hunters pay to support wildlife conservation efforts, is augmented by these contributions. The Foundation for North American Wild Sheep, alone, has generated over $30,000,000 through this fundraising process. These funds have allowed the Foundation and its partners to increase wild sheep numbers in North America from fewer than 50,000 in 1975 to over 200,000 animals today. A significant benefit of these programs in the inclusion of the local community. Typically, locals are used to help guide hunters, locate game, and assist in the hunting camps. This gives the individuals involved with the hunts a job – thus greatly enhancing their self-respect and their respect for wildlife. This also leads to local efforts to manage and to protect their animals. Thus the hunting programs lead directly to local social benefits (such as health care and education) and to wildlife conservation benefits.
Since the earliest cave paintings, man has depicted the largest animal specimens in their art. This desire to take the largest animals is not directly related to food quantity, but to the challenge of acquisition. Taking a larger, older aged, presumably more wary animal has always been a challenge. And man has always liked challenges.
As hunting reached the recreational stage, seeking out older, larger animals became the more desired approach to hunting. Following the huge declines in wildlife populations, it was considered more sporting to pass over the young and the females and to take only a limited number of “trophies.” This change also led to the end of unregulated meat harvesting and to the initiation of the tenets of fair chase. In the United States this occurred in the end of the 19th Century and was heralded in by the formation of the Boone and Crockett Club in 1887. Subsequently groups like Safari Club International and the Foundation for North American Wild Sheep were organized by hunters who wanted to share their experiences with others, and to give back to the animals they so enjoyed pursuing.
As this practice of trophy hunting became more popular, it also became more competitive. It therefore became necessary to develop a method for assessing the “quality” of a trophy. The Boone and Crockett Club developed their first records book in 1932. They conducted their first scoring competition in 1947. In 1950, they combined the systems of Grancel Fitz and of James Clark into their new Official Scoring System.
Humans, being competitive by nature, developed a variety of scoring methods, with perhaps the most common being the Boone and Crockett system and the SCI system. The primary difference between the two is that the Boone and Crockett system rewards symmetry, while the Safari Club International system rewards gross size. These systems are both complex measuring systems to determine the total mass of the feature considered most admirable about the trophy, i.e., horns for sheep, antlers for deer, and skulls for bears. These scoring systems have proven helpful in wildlife management as declines in trophy quality may indicate over harvest, while increases would allow for greater levels of harvest. Decreases can also be affected by diet, climate, and disease – all factors of interest for the professional manager. The ability to compare scores by geographic area and through time is of value to many wildlife biologists studying environmental changes and their impacts.
As time has passed there have been more and more trophy books produced and a surfeit of hunting awards invented. Many of these trophy books are produced to stimulate interest in hunting, and to enrich the individuals producing the books. At this time, many individual states in the United States have their own trophy books, with many for individual groups of animals (the deer family represented by “Bucks and Bulls” being most common). Individual organizations also produce their own record books to promote their interests, such as the Mountain Hunter Record Book produced by the Guide and Outfitter Association of British Columbia. To be recognized in this book, you must have hunted with a member of the Association.
More modern awards promote the experience of the hunt and the contributions of the hunter over the mere harvesting of trophies. The International Sheep Hunters Association, for example, presents just 2 awards at their annual meeting. These awards are based on: (Super Slammer Award) the difficulty of the hunts, the weapon of choice, and the quality of the animals harvested – not necessarily the total number of sheep taken. It is a tribute to a person that shares the values of fair chase hunting, supports wildlife conservation, is a good ambassador for hunting, and has a sterling reputation in the sheep hunting fraternity; and (International Hunter Award) is based not only upon the recipients honoring the tenets of fair chase hunting, but it is for conducting themselves in a manner that does honor to both themselves and their country. The recipient is involved in conservation projects, promotes the benefits of hunting to political figures and government officials, and presents a pro-hunting image.
Various opinion polls of the general public demonstrate a tolerance for, and even some support for, recreational hunting. Trophy hunting, in its strictest sense, however, is not well supported. It will require hunters to send a stronger conservation message to allow for the continued practice of purely trophy hunting – where typically only the trophy parts are retained by the hunter for display and recognition, and the edible portion is left for others. The ethics of the conservation hunter will be very important to the future of hunting. As long as the public sees a conservation value from hunting and feels that hunters respect their game, hunting will continue to enjoy the support of the public. Hunting opportunities will likely cease when hunting practices are no longer consistent with public values.
The ultimate trophy animals – certainly the ones that garner the most interest and produce the most money - are wild sheep. China, for example, could be one of the greatest recipients of financial support from conservation hunters. There are numerous wild sheep species in this country – the very popular Argaliforms, comprised of the Asiatic bighorns (ammon types) and central Asiatic thin horns (polii forms). However, the on-again, off-again hunting policies have certainly had their impacts upon the popularity of China’s hunting programs. In addition, due to a disconnect with the public, China’s hunting programs were recently terminated. It will take convincing this public that sufficient biological information exists to support the harvest and that appropriate conservation values will be protected to restart hunting.
Perhaps the most modern, and least desired, outcome of trophy competitions is the “artificial” production of trophies. By manipulating diet, genetics, and activity, it is possible to produce unnatural sized animals. Growing trophies is anathema for conservation hunters. This sort of manipulation of trophies will certainly not stand up to public scrutiny, and should not be sanctioned by the hunting community.