Saturday, May 22, 2010

Where Have All the Hunters Gone? by Cal Pappas

Where Have All the Hunters Gone?
by Cal Pappas

Where have all the hunters gone?
Long time passing.
Where have all the hunters gone?
Long time ago.
Where have all the hunters gone?
Behind high fences every one.
When will they ever learn?
Oh, when will they ever learn?

The year was 2002. I booked a plains game hunt to South Africa after four trips to my beloved Zimbabwe. After a pleasant (but rather long) flight to Johannesburg and a greeting from my PH we drove to a ranch north of Pietersburg. The next day we were up bright and early and, as I stepped into the Land Rover, my PH said to me, “Cal, today I’ll drive you up to a nice waterbuck for you to shoot.” My reply was, “No. Let’s drive out a bit, find some tracks and follow the spoor on foot and then, if I see a good representative animal, I will shoot.”
My hunter looked at me as if gut-shot with surprise. Then he offered his hand and said, “You are the first American I have guided who wants to actually hunt.” His reply was an eye opener. Upon returning home I began a long look into all aspects of our sport (or activity) and what folks do to hunt less and kill more.

“It’s not the fault of the hunting industry over here,” my PH went on to say. “We only do what the clients want. If they are not happy they will go home and say so and we take a loss of revenue.” What he said was probably true. I remember on my second hunt in the Save Conservancy (1997) and hearing a doctor say how he shot his kudu at night as it was transfixed on the vehicle’s headlights. The PH confided in me he didn’t like it but what could he do? In the early 1990s when I was breaking into the hunting world a booking agent offered me, “All four North American sheep in two days--if you have the money.” As time goes by the list gets longer.

After thirteen trips to Africa and one to Australia I don’t have the last word in experience but I do have a bit more than armchair memories. My Zimbabwe PH tells me the majority of his bow hunters shoot with a rifle and pose with a bow. The same was echoed by several South African PHs I spoke with--many allow the bow hunter to use their rifle. Add this to the number of bow “hunters” who just sit at a water hole or feed stand and wait for thirsty or hungry game to appear in front of the blind, or hide. This takes the excitement and high skill out of bow hunting. In fact, when I go to Anchorage and stay at a friend’s condo and watch the Outdoor Channel I have never seen a true bow hunt in the wild. Everything is from tree stands or ground blinds. They can shoot a bow very well--but they can’t track and they can’t hunt. Many ranches have one waterhole in each high fence enclosure. The animals must go there to drink.

It’s not just the bow hunters. More and more rifle hunters shoot from blinds, from a vehicle, use a spotlight, or drive through the hunting area looking for game to shoot-sometimes not even stepping out of the vehicle. Craig Boddington said in his excellent dvd, Boddington on Elephant, “Of course no one would ever shoot an elephant over a water hole.” It would be great if Craig’s words were followed by hunters. In the Tsholotsho area of Zimbabwe, boardering Wanke Park to the south, I know of elephants only being taken at the water hole and at night with a spotlight. I really don’t see many honest tracking hunts anymore. Fair chase includes chasing in a vehicle, it seems. I like and appreciate John Sharp’s advertisements in the African Hunter magazine: “Track down your game on foot--the real way.” And that is the way it is meant to be. But isn’t so much anymore. A video of a pronghorn hunt in the western US showed the shooter with a bench and a mechanical rifle rest on a hilltop. He made his kill at several hundred yards but didn’t hunt and didn’t track.

Look at all of the gadgets that are sold to increase one’s success but keep those from truly experiencing what actual hunting is. Scent blocking shoes, clothes, and even chewing gum(!), muzzle loaders that don’t look like muzzle loaders, bows that don’t look like bows, recoil reducers, muzzle brakes, barrel vibration reducers, telescope reticles that look if they belong in a submarine periscope, hearing amplifiers, motion sensors, game cameras, feeding stations (some that play music so the game equates the music with food), tree stands, blinds, vehicles with shooting stands mounted on them, electronic calls, ghillie suits, more camo patterns than one can count, super whiz-bang magnums (some with ridiculous names) that shoot farther, faster, and flatter that any hunter could possibly shoot, devices to hold the rifle in place (like bench rest shooting in the field), and the list goes on. Guaranteed hunts, pre-measured animals, game farming, and, if all of the above fails, some buy taxidermy for their walls. I’ve seen a photo of a “hunter” in a hot tub on top of the shooting platform in Texas that overlooked the feed station.

I have to wonder how did our forefathers manage to kill a turkey for the first Thanksgiving? How did the buffalo hunters wipe out the herds of bison? How did early wing shooters, wild fowlers, and deer hunters manage success? They didn’t have any of the above stuff when they hunted. A well-known deer ranch invited me to hunt there in 2010. 3000 deer on 3000 acres (surrounded by a high fence, of course). The first hunters pay the most (about $20,000), the second batch a bit less (after the top trophies are gone), the third less than that, and so it goes through the season. 100% guaranteed kill with so many deer the quality of the trophy is also guaranteed. Since the first group of shooters selects the top scoring bucks the next group takes a decrease in size, and so it goes. Fishing in a barrel? Lots of tall tales about the business man’s shoulder mount but I doubt details of the one-day hunt are told with 100% accuracy.

As I write this (April, 2010) South African lion hunting is the topic of discussion on many forums on the internet. Canned lion hunting is the rage now as sportsmen (mostly from America) take hundreds of well-maned lions to show their friends. I doubt they tell of the lions being separated by size and mane color in paddocks, of the lions being fed meat by the land owners, of the short duration of the hunt (as compared to a true lion hunt in Tanzania or Zambia taking three weeks). And, I bet, the lion charged.

In a South African hunting magazine, Jag-Hunt, there are as many fence companies advertising as there are game farms. The price listings are for standard trophies and the price tag increases as does the horn length (“For nyala over 24 inches, price on request”). And, it is possible to have one’s trophies pre-measured to guarantee quality. One fella I know did just that. He had his pre-measured white rhino waiting for him. The “hunt” was on video for all his friends and relatives to enjoy and he knew his name would be well-up in the record books. His field experience of the “hunt” was a few hours. A ranch in Montana is saving their top bison in a separate pasture for the “hunter” willing to pay $10,000 for their top trophy.

In the vintage years of the Victorian and Edwardian eras rarely did a sportsman (or woman) keep a list of horn length or trophy size. Only ivory was weighed with the magic 100-pound mark being the holy grail. I don’t read much of Selous having to shoot a kudu with horns 1/2 an inch longer than that of Teddy Roosevelt.

Today 57-inch kudu are commonly taken as trophies. In Hemingway’s Green Hills of Africa he writes of a 57-inch kudu as having the “...most unbelievable pair of kudu horns in the world” (page 291, 1953 edition). Hemingway did an experiment in writing Green Hills. He wanted to see if a book that recorded the actual experience of a hunt could be as successful as a fictional story. It was, and today Hemingway’s African stories are read with interest and awe even in the anti gun and anti hunting liberal college campus classrooms across this great country.

Look at today’s trophy record books. In fact since Hemingway wrote of seeing the magnificent 57-inch kudu, Roland Ward has recorded 536 greater kudu (southern species) having a horn length of 57 inches or greater (26th edition). Of those, 381 have been taken in South Africa-AND only one of the entries dates before the mid-1930s when Ernest went on his safari (69 1/4 inches from 1916). Either evolution is making the greater kudu even greater (and doing it rather quickly) or they are being raised on game farms to be shot after attaining a specific horn length. Look at how many entries come from South Africa compared to Zimbabwe or Tanzania. (I know there is a difference between the southern and the East Africa species of greater kudu but I am trying to make a point).

On my second Zimbabwe hunt in 1997 I shot an old, blue eland with a .500 black powder express double rifle (Mortimer and Son # 5280). My over-zealous young PH far estimated the length of the horns at mid-30 inches (through inexperience or perhaps the desire for the trophy fee). When the animal measured about 27 inches I was disappointed. Then, I thought, “This was the best stalk of my life, shooting at less than 30 yards and taking over an hour to get that close, and using a beautiful double from 1890 of which I had the history of the first two owners.” After that I vowed to myself my emotions would never again be ruled by the tape measure.

In 2008 (I believe) a record book elk was shot in Canada but reported as being a fair chase animal taken in the States. I guess even the high-fencers do not want to admit to a canned hunt. I was offered a shot at a record book elk in America’s west in the late 1990s. I was to arrive and take a late morning walk to pick out my elk. After the shot I was to have a nice lunch while the animal was skinned, the skull and horns prepared, and I would be ready for an early afternoon departure. The ranch was 10 1/2 acres! A Canadian outfitter who hunts in open land admits to me that if he could do it all over he would change his operation to a high fence enclosure. “That’s where the money is,” he says.

The antis have lots of time and money. The entertainment elite like to pick a cause to rant over. I honestly believe when canned and guaranteed hunts are publicized our situation will worsen. In the liberal education field anti gun and anti hunting attitudes prevail. In my teaching career many parents have asked me to remove hunting photos so as not to traumatize their delicate child (they must think their burgers and steaks come from the meat tree). However, the majority of parents who, after hearing my rationalization of fair chase hunting, with the meat being used at home or in Africa, don’t have a disagreement with what I do. Imagine if I told them about shooting deer in a fenced enclosure?

My trophies are not the biggest, the best, nor the most numerous. However, I have never shot from a vehicle, or with a spot light. The soles on my Courteney boots wear out from walking “miles and miles of bloody Africa.” I don’t list my animals in trophy books--my reward comes from my memories, not from what others see or think. My choice of rifles for the past several years have been open sighted doubles and, as my eyes have grown older, I now use a 1-4x scope on my .450-400. I wear cotton in the heat of Africa and wool in the cold of Alaska. An ash bottle tells me of the wind. And, I don’t carry a tape measure. I hope Teddy would be pleased.