Last year's winner, George Landreth, a 43-year-old petroleum engineer, was more relieved than anything else. "I thought, now I can relax again," Landreth says. "It is hard to imagine how much pressure the Weatherby trophy puts on its nominees. At first I did not think that winning it mattered that much, but as time passed and I realized that I had a good chance at it, I began to feel the springs tightening."
Landreth knew there were certain animals one must have to win: all the species of North American big game, and the grand slam of sheep—Dall sheep, found in Alaska; Stone sheep, which range through British Columbia; the Rocky Mountain bighorn; the desert bighorn. In fact, Landreth had four such grand slams. "You know you should have all the major species of Asian and African game," Landreth says, "and then a lot of unusual and rare ones, such as bongo and mountain nyala. Then there are the truly exotic species of Asian sheep—the Ovis poli of the Pamirs, and the Ovis ammon of Mongolia."
Landreth was the sixth person to take an Ovis poli and the first in 40 years to take an Ovis ammon. "As it turned out, I had all the hard ones, but I did not have a tiger," Landreth says. "Roy told me I had a good chance if I had a tiger, but without one he did not see how I could be expected to win. I started that day making calls to book a tiger hunt, squared away my business as best I could and took off. All I wanted was to get the tiger. Suddenly I realized I was not hunting for sport anymore. I was filling a quota, achieving an end. What happens is that you start trying too hard, and you find yourself doing things you would not ordinarily do. Sooner or later the pressure gets so bad you may take a shortcut, and then you spend the rest of your life regretting it."
Landreth did not take a shortcut to get his tiger, but shortcuts are what confuse the record books and lead to sensations like those of the Gary Swanson case. Trying to achieve the grand slam in sheep has been intoxicating to many hunters. All four North American species are demanding to hunt; the desert sheep, because of its limited numbers, also is heavily protected throughout its remaining range. All legal hunting is by permit. These are so few that in recent years only one in 100 prospective sheep hunters has managed to get one.
In Southern California, where there is a protected but relatively sizable population of desert sheep, the Government has charged that Gary Swanson rounded up clients willing to pay heavily to hunt these trophies. Last fall law-enforcement agents arrested Swanson and confiscated his records, alleging he had put 32 desert bighorns, illegal but impressive, in the trophy rooms of satisfied hunters and had also put some hefty deposits in his bank account. Swanson, whose trial is scheduled for next month, denies the charges. Some of the others under indictment have not yet been heard from. The episode illustrates how easily big-game records can be tarnished.
A guide in Angola recently reported taking a roan antelope that would clearly place high in the book. He wanted to sell it before the new trophy reached Rowland Ward's so the buyer's name could be entered in place of his own. He sent out six letters. Within a week he received four offers for the head. Taxidermists report receiving fresh hides accompanied by horns that are years older. Providing "pickup" horns, as they are called—to be substituted for less impressive ones actually taken—has become so profitable that some natives have switched from guiding to hunting pickups.
Only five hunters have taken all 26 species of American big game. This past fall Bill Bond, a Texan, accomplished it when he got a Shiras moose in Wyoming. "When a man is closing in on No. 26," he says, "the pressure on the guide to find the animal, and on the hunter to shoot straight and true, is something else!" And the need to keep the records straight is greater than ever. One flagrant violation of ethics casts an indelible shadow over all hunters.