SI Vault
They Kill Them with Kindness
Jack Olsen
July 10, 1961
The trophy hunter, a relatively new species on the sporting scene, is an outdoorsman who deals in what at first glance appears to be conspicuous destruction. He charges off to distant places, spends stacks of money and kills the most magnificent animals he can find. Then he brings home the carefully processed remains so that he can admire them as they lie elegantly on the floor or glare down from the walls of his trophy room.
Decrease font Decrease font
Enlarge font Enlarge font
July 10, 1961

They Kill Them With Kindness

View CoverRead All Articles View This Issue

The trophy hunter, a relatively new species on the sporting scene, is an outdoorsman who deals in what at first glance appears to be conspicuous destruction. He charges off to distant places, spends stacks of money and kills the most magnificent animals he can find. Then he brings home the carefully processed remains so that he can admire them as they lie elegantly on the floor or glare down from the walls of his trophy room.

But the strictly pure and dedicated trophy hunter does not go shooting for his trophy room alone. Nor does he go out for any of the other reasons people usually associate with hunting. He does not, for example, shoot animals for their meat. He does not reckon the success of a hunt in the number of animals slaughtered. He does not go into the jungle or the tundra merely to accumulate taller and taller stories to tell and retell when he returns to his home in Bayonne, N.J. What he wants are records—palpable records for the big game listings. He may be after the world-record walrus, or a Dall sheep to round out his "grand slam" in sheep, or simply a rare type of African antelope that would look good in the bare spot over there in the corner between the dik-dik and the bushbuck. Anything else he passes up.

There have, of course, always been trophy collectors. Queen Elizabeth I was one. She ordered her sea captains to bring home antlers from the various North American deer, which she then had mounted on handsomely carved heads modeled after European red deer and roebuck. Some of them are still in the horn room of Windsor Castle, where they cause untold confusion to visiting naturalists and hunters. The modern counterpart of Queen Bess was a Dr. Beck of Wilkes-Barre, Pa., who at one time possessed half a dozen world-record animals, none of which he had designed to shoot himself. He simply bought them from hunters. In between the queen and Dr. Beck there were thousands of panting game hogs who went to Africa and Alaska and South America, cleaned up on the native fauna and brought home shiploads of heads and horns and antlers to prove their manliness. Their usual technique was to shoot anything that breathed, then select the larger specimens for the home folk and leave the rest for the vultures.

The new-type trophy hunter, a product largely of the post-World War II period, takes a different approach, partly by choice and partly because big game species had been so badly decimated that a new approach was a necessity. The modern trophy hunter usually goes into the field with one or a few specific trophies in mind. Suppose he wants a record-class elk. The hunter may look over hundreds of elk before sighting the one he wants. His hunt may last a week or a month, and may range over thousands of square miles of countryside, and may cost him several months' pay. If he sees a specimen, he stalks and kills. If he fails to spot what he wants, he goes home without having taken a shot. Does that make the trip a failure? Not to the modern trophy hunter. He is a man proud of his lack of bloodlust. The verbs "kill" and "shoot" are almost unused by him; he prefers euphemisms. The well-known trophy hunter, Robert M. Lee, once managed the difficult task of writing a book containing 15 pictures of animals he had killed without using the word "shot" more than once in the captions. Seven of the specimens were "obtained," six were "taken," one was "bagged," and only a rhino "which charged the author" was "shot."

"Pulling the trigger on an animal," says Hunter Elgin T. Gates, "is almost an anticlimax. The thrill is in the search, in trying to outwit some wise old male. The thrill, in other words, is in the hunting." Gates ought to know; he once spent nine days clambering up and down a storm-lashed peak in Ethiopia, looking for a record-class nyala. Spotting nothing but inferior specimens, he returned to his home in Newport Beach, Calif., his cartridge belt still holding the 20 rounds of ammunition he had taken with him.

Now, there are many hunters who think this sort of approach is sophisticated nonsense. "Why would I want to spend half my life trying to shoot the world-record lesser kudu?" asked one detractor. "Who needs the world-record lesser kudu?" Trophy hunting is just not made for the personality and constitution of certain hunters, many of whom try it and soon give up in frustration. But no frustrations, however tedious, can stay the true trophy hunter. Among sportsmen, they are perhaps the most strongly motivated of all. A tennis player whose Saturday doubles match is rained out can somehow stand up under the ennui; but a trophy hunter who is denied a chance to go after the particular animal that obsesses him is like an enraged tiger and is hardly worth being near. Bert Klineburger, Seattle taxidermist and hunter, knows one such who finally stayed put long enough to get married six months ago but since then has been off alone trophy-hunting five of those six months. Klineburger himself says that his wife lets him go on his frequent trophy jaunts to Alaska "because it makes me easier to live with when I come back." What he really means is that not going to Alaska makes him a misery, a fact that the candid Klineburger would be the first to admit.

Whence springs this deep motivation? One can only quote the trophy hunters. Says the darkly handsome Gates, often described as the world champion trophy hunter: "I'll give you an honest answer. Trophy hunting fulfills two big things for me—ego-satisfaction and recognition. Any way you try to cut it, those are the reasons. I'm not immodest, but I'm not a frantic seeker to climb the ladder of publicity, either. Publicity and recognition are two different things. I walk into my trophy room, and I look around and I get all the satisfaction I want out of seeing them there and remembering keenly the details of each hunt. I don't go out on the street and grab people and say, 'Hey, come in here, I want you to see my great trophies.' But I do get a certain amount of pleasure out of having these trophies here for a few of my personal friends. And there's another thing that motivates me: I was the younger brother in my family, and I remember so many times when my older brother would get to go to the circus or a show and my parents would say to me, 'Let Brother go this time, you can go next time.' And I built up an ironclad determination that someday, instead of playing second fiddle all the time, I was going to do something bigger and better to outdo my brother. One time my brother came to California to see my trophies, and I would be a liar if I didn't tell you that it gave me some small satisfaction to show them to him."

Most trophy hunters, like Gates, wear their motivations on their sleeves, and are proud of their strong competitive drives. Says Klineburger:

"When I was 16 years old in Arizona, working in the mines, there was a lot of competition among the older fellows for the biggest deer. I always wanted to beat. I'd be up two hours before it got light, and I'd go till I almost dropped. I'd sleep up on the mountain, and I'd do anything to get a bigger deer than the other fellows. It's the same thing that makes mountain climbers go up the highest peaks or people go across the English Channel in a bathtub. I think those people are a little crazy, and they think I am. But it's competition, the drive to be the best. Next year I intend to get the world-record moose—I'll get him or die trying. And I figure I want this moose because of that competition for deer when I was a kid, because the moose is the biggest member of the deer family. It all goes back to that competition in childhood, that 16-year-old thing."

Otto A. Koehler, San Antonio brewer and trophy hunter, sums up succinctly: "I go after trophies for one reason—to do better than the Joneses." He might have added that many people ski for the same reason or pole-vault or chase skirts. But there is an added motivation for the trophy hunter; he is acting out one of mankind's oldest fevers-the desire to collect. A short story of recent vintage described a man who collected animals and dumped them into a deep tar pit, where they would be perfectly preserved for posterity He had collected two of just about everything, and his collection was all but complete, when a chance misadventure caused him to fall into his own tar pit. Just before his head went under for the last time he consoled himself with the thought that he had achieved the ultimate in collecting—he had collected himself.

Continue Story
1 2 3