Trophies-what are they? What do they mean?

 

 

Trophies. Why the Waterbuck and not the Kudu?

 

Trophies. They mean different things to hunters. Some chase record book Number Ones. Some want absolutely one of everything. Some only want a few. Some don’t save a trophy mount or enter their trophy in a record book but nail the antlers or horns up on the barn. Some frame photos for the wall or album or just throw the photos into a drawer. Some say “You can’t eat the horns” and save nothing, not even a photo.

Many non-hunters have no understanding of “trophy”. Most frequently, they believe the drivel and lies from the anti-hunting organizations that trophies are sought for some macho purpose. I remember one starlet that spouted how trophies are intended to overcome sexual limitations of the hunter. As I remember that starlet had the biggest set of fake implanted breasts known to this world so I always wondered who really had the inadequacies in that little exchange? Often it is stated or implied that a trophy hunter also leaves the meat to rot and just cuts off the head. All lies but facts are not of interest to such fools.

 

For those who save any version of a trophy, that trophy is a physical manifestation of a memory. That memory often includes details far beyond the animal, although having the trophy manifests, facilitates the memory. That memory can include special people long gone or still with us but now old and remembered in their youth, scenes of great country, other animals that crossed through the hunt, the pain and sweat you thought might kill you but didn’t, the skill in the shot, the special beauty of that one animal, or extreme weather events endured. When you look at the trophy, whether a mount or photo or old weathered antlers or horns tacked up on the barn, all of the memories come streaming back. And you feel, “If I can just keep that trophy with me, I won’t ever lose the memory”. As time passes, the trophy saved gains more value. And thoughts of the one you didn’t save can bring pangs of sadness and regret that you don’t have it with you.

 

Wally Thomas was an old man when I was in my late teens. A fine machinist who could make, in his basement shop, anything of metal you showed him to a couple of thousandths of an inch. Had a set of beautiful whitetail antlers nailed over his shop door. They were back in the shadows, not obvious if you weren’t looking closely. I asked him about that buck. He told me a wonderful story of out-smarting that old, wise, elusive mountain monarch. Wally’s eyes shone like fire in the telling. Wally died a few years later. I was at his house and his cold and distant wife and his wastrel, drug-addled grandkids were all slurping up the “stuff” they were about to sell for easy cash. The antlers were still there and I asked her if I could take them. She waved and said something, indicating they were of no value, and I could take them.

 

They were not of no value to Wally. They are not of no value to me. I wanted to keep that old man’s memory and trophy for him as long as I last anyway. So those antlers are on a plaque with an explanatory inscription in my trophy room. In some ways it is now one of the most beloved trophies I have. His trophy is my memory of his story and how he felt about that day and that buck. It isn’t really mine that trophy or maybe it is now.

 

Only trophies collected by fair chase and legal methods are the valuable ones. Collection otherwise is just killing, an execution. It is not hunting. Fair chase is a hunt because it includes, in that experience, a reasonable chance that you won’t be successful. The animal has the space and the option to evade you using all of his senses and a natural expanse of cover and terrain to use to do it. If it is a sure thing, it isn’t hunting or a trophy. Just one man’s opinion.

 

I hunted Namibia in 2010 and collected several trophies. My most sought-after was a kudu. They always fascinated me, Hemingway not withstanding. They are colored much like an old mule deer buck from my Idaho Mountains, all gray and elusive, willing to freeze at close range and allow you to walk by, take a step and disappear into the fog of the brush, or flee at breakneck speed while you are still a thousand yards away. I shot a 52 inch Kudu bull in 2010 and I was very settled that that one kudu would be all I ever needed to shoot. Leaving for a return hunt in 2012, I thought about the average impala and springbok I had taken in 2010 and decided I would try to improve on them with a bigger specimen if one presented an opportunity. But the kudu? No need for another one no matter how big.

 

I had also shot a very average waterbuck in 2010 and thought I was also OK with that. I had somehow failed to realize what a handsomely rugged creature waterbuck are. I had seen the photo of Robert Ruark’s first waterbuck taken on Ruark’s first safari and I remember how wonderful it looked but standing beside one brings a much more complete understanding of the rugged beauty of these creatures. As I said, I decided I was OK with my waterbuck. I later re-thought the impala and springbok question and decided I didn’t really need bigger ones. Again, why shoot something for a couple more inches of horn. How much does the extra horn really amount to?

 

I was accompanying a lifelong hunting friend on his first safari in 2012. Nothing like seeing a friend seeing Africa for the first time. It awakens all the first-time wonder of your own first time like nothing else. John and I have hunted together since the late 50’s when we were high school. We had shared many hunting adventures, including small game and whitetail deer hunting near home and guided elk hunts as young men 2,000 miles away out in Montana. After I moved to Idaho, John joined me in my new hunting country for deer and elk. Now we were going to share Africa. We were hunting in Namibia with the PH I had hunted with in 2010, Hagen Eggert of Omatjete Safaris.

 

John was seeking 5 or 6 species. I was looking for a big black wildebeest. I also wanted a pair of zebra stallions to be mounted together on one pedestal in fighting pose.

 

I found a taxidermist in a little town, Coalville, Utah, named Dean Schulte (High Uintahs Taxidermy) who is a magician in getting African game “right”. Dean was excited about the prospects of the zebra mount. If you attended the SCI Convention in Las Vegas in 2014 you may have seen them at his booth. Dean entered those two fighting stallions in the USA Western Regional Taxidermy Contest in the Master’s Division and won first place. Some of his work for me is featured on his website, (search High Uintahs Taxidermy on the net). He has my sable and kudu on pedestal mounts, and a pair of oryx, together, on single pedestal mount featured there on his website in his African Gallery. I am sure my zebra will be there as well by the time you read this. His work is terrific. The expressions, the eyes, and the soul: it is all there. That is the value of a talented taxidermist. When done right, you never look at one of Deans’ mounts with regrets that it should have been done differently. When done well, the mount elicits all of the memories and the full beauty of the animal.

 

I often go quietly into the room where the mounts are displayed. Just myself, all alone. And I sit in silence and have a visit. I marvel, as if for the first time, at the beauty and the story of each experience. I marvel at the fact I was able to go on those trips given my very humble economic beginnings. These mounts are for me and my memories. I did not have these mounts done just for others to see. Sure other people might see them but they can’t see them as I do. I find they are best seen alone, in silence, in sacred silence.

 

I only carried a gun 5 days of the ten day hunt 2012. We were out on the second or third day. I had my rifle along that day for the zebra possibility. John was the only hunter of the two of us who might shoot something that day. Suddenly, my PH, Hagen, was veering the hunting car off into the brush and making hissing noises. I knew he had seen something very good. Joseph, our tracker, was cooing and leaping over the side with the shooting sticks. Then I saw the big waterbuck bull about 350 yards away on a little knoll walking toward us. John had no plans for a waterbuck so I knew it wasn’t for John that we were stopping. At first I wondered why we were stopping. In what seemed like an out-of-body experience, I looked down at the scene unfolding and saw that I too was leaving the truck in a crouch, speedily following the other two creeping human predators. I remember I thought, “I guess I am going to shoot this waterbuck!?”

 

I believe Hagen just knew I would want it after the smaller bull two years before. He never asked me if I did. He never looked at me. He never checked to see if I was following. He just knew. Scary, someone can be inside your head like that. Scary and a good thing too. Hagen is a joy to hunt with for sure.

 

It was a beautiful bull. Massive horns about 30 inches tall with almost 11 inch bases. He was dark and big and rugged. He turned and walked away over a little knoll. We closed the distance and Joseph peeked out and jammed the sticks into the ground. I was up on the sticks quickly. The waterbuck had returned after walking back toward us and was standing about 150 yards away presenting a full frontal shot.

 

I like that shot as a second choice to broadside, at least on thin-skinned game. I have killed several animals including oryx and blue wildebeest and a couple of elk with that shot. With a steady rest and no excess distance or wind, this has always proven to be a one-shot kill and most animals pile up right where they are standing. Just put the bullet low, into the chest, right thru the crease where the shoulder folds around into the brisket.

 

I was shooting a 180 grain Swift Scirocco bullet out of my .30-06 with handloads cranked up to about 2900 fps. That waterbuck bull dropped straight down, rolled on his side and one ear flicked 5 times. That was it! I swear the dead waterbuck’s hooves were directly above the last hoof prints he was ever to make. The bullet had expanded to .75 caliber and retained 92% of its weight. I had seen a bull elk fall to that bullet in one of my .300 Win Mag. handloads about six months before. It was shoulder shot and the bull fell where he was standing like a piece of plywood blown over in a high wind. Same as the waterbuck, never took a step. Those bullets hit like a truck. Swift Sciroccos will be my bullet of choice for “softs” in the future for sure.

 

So, I see a waterbuck and immediately set off to shoot it when I never planned to shoot another waterbuck? What’s with that? It was a unique experience and I still can’t explain what happened. It was a very surprising behavior and it will become part of the memories of that trophy. I never went through the decision of changing my mind. It seemed as if some force outside my conscious control triggered that stalk. I guess I coveted that big bull and I was helpless to stop the progress to the kill. Weird. That has never happened to me before. When I decide I will pass up game I have always done it. I have passed up dozens of good animals. That waterbuck sure tripped some wire in me

 

 

About four days later, after glassing from a rocky promontory, we returned to the truck and my PH began making these air sucking sounds, again a sign he just saw something really big. I followed his eyes and there, less than 200 yards away, standing broadside, was a magnificent kudu bull. The PH whispered to no one in particular that this bull was over 55 inches. I did not doubt it. I got some HD video film (admittedly not the best source of a still image.). The bull looked down his nose at us rather disdainfully as if we were lesser creatures and not worth his time. He stood there for at least 10 seconds. I had a rest and my rifle was in my hands but I never shouldered the rifle. I never considered shooting him. It never crossed my mind. Look at his photo in this article and you decide how big he is. I would guess 56-57 inches. The bases are heavy, the curls magnificent and wide and deep. Because the curls are tight and not separated by long vertical horn sections, he does lose some length. But, too me, he is one handsome kudu and much nicer than my first one. And yet I never considered shooting him, although I could have done so easily. After viewing his image later, I must say I have second-guessed myself a bit. But, on balance, I am OK with letting him walk. Besides, I do have a trophy of him, in a photo, forever. And why kill him for 4 or 5 inches more horn?

 

My experience with the first kudu would only be marred by shooting another one. Shoot that bigger one and the experience with the first one is diluted and minimized somehow. I knew how I felt when I shot that first Kudu and I always want to feel that feeling again, each time I look at his mount. Now I still can. But that big one, he sure was nice!

 

 

So, why the difference between the waterbuck and the kudu? I can’t say. I didn’t think through the waterbuck decision. I just had to do it. I guess I was willing to forego the unique and singular memory of the place that first waterbuck held for me, destroy part of it in a way, and take the better one. I guess waterbuck don’t hold the same place in me as kudu.

 

I will shoot any legal elk no matter how small. But mule deer? I haven’t shot one in fifteen years. I have passed on several in that time. I will only shoot one as big as or bigger than my best one which is just below the Boone and Crockett Record Book minimum. Unlike kudu, I will shoot every really big mule deer buck that ever presents itself. I could have ten on the wall and another big one shows up? He is dead and the presence of that new buck will detract nothing from my previous trophies, only enhance them. Again, there is no explanation. We hunters do have our foibles. Maybe others reading this have these mixed relationships as well?

 

Ruark said it best:

“……..if you properly respect what you are after, and shoot it cleanly and on the animal’s terrain, if you imprison in your mind all the wonder of the day from sky to smell to breeze to flowers- then you have not merely killed an animal. You have lent immortality to a beast you have killed because you loved him and wanted him forever so that you could recapture the day…..”

 

Mr. Ruark had his critics but no one can deny he had the soul of a hunter. I daresay, RCR, I have smelt your flowers and felt your breezes and seen your sky, and trees, and oh, so much more. I have the photographic images of some of your wonder and carry the rest with me every day, in my memories. And I know that there is no better way to save a day than with all the trophies of that day. All of them. I so wish, just once, I could have shaken your hand and wished you well and thanked you for reading my mind with your written words. I knew you were reading my mind when I first read your words. I was only ten years old but I knew. I grew up just like you did RCR in so many ways.

 

One does not come across too many people who can do that. Read your mind and write of ideas you haven’t quite completed the details for until you read their words and know there are no more details necessary. The writer has formed and completed ideas that were in you before you could form them. You, Mr. Ruark, and Aldo Leopold and Terry Wieland and Shane Mahoney and, oh yes, José Ortega y Gasset are among the ones who do that for me. God bless you all and be at peace.

 

Trophies. They mean different things to hunters. Some chase record book Number Ones. Some want absolutely one of everything. Some only want a few. Some don’t save a trophy mount or enter their trophy in a record book but nail the antlers or horns up on the barn. Some frame photos for the wall or album or just throw the photos into a drawer. Some say “You can’t eat the horns” and save nothing, not even a photo.

 

Many non-hunters have no understanding of “trophy”. Most frequently, they believe the drivel and lies from the anti-hunting organizations that trophies are sought for some macho purpose. I remember one starlet that spouted how trophies are intended to overcome sexual limitations of the hunter. As I remember that starlet had the biggest set of fake implanted breasts known to this world so I always wondered who really had the inadequacies in that little exchange? Often it is stated or implied that a trophy hunter also leaves the meat to rot and just cuts off the head. All lies but facts are not of interest to such fools.

 

For those who save any version of a trophy, that trophy is a physical manifestation of a memory. That memory often includes details far beyond the animal, although having the trophy manifests, facilitates the memory. That memory can include special people long gone or still with us but now old and remembered in their youth, scenes of great country, other animals that crossed through the hunt, the pain and sweat you thought might kill you but didn’t, the skill in the shot, the special beauty of that one animal, or extreme weather events endured. When you look at the trophy, whether a mount or photo or old weathered antlers or horns tacked up on the barn, all of the memories come streaming back. And you feel, “If I can just keep that trophy with me, I won’t ever lose the memory”. As time passes, the trophy saved gains more value. And thoughts of the one you didn’t save can bring pangs of sadness and regret that you don’t have it with you.

 

Wally Thomas was an old man when I was in my late teens. A fine machinist who could make, in his basement shop, anything of metal you showed him to a couple of thousandths of an inch. Had a set of beautiful whitetail antlers nailed over his shop door. They were back in the shadows, not obvious if you weren’t looking closely. I asked him about that buck. He told me a wonderful story of out-smarting that old, wise, elusive mountain monarch. Wally’s eyes shone like fire in the telling. Wally died a few years later. I was at his house and his cold and distant wife and his wastrel, drug-addled grandkids were all slurping up the “stuff” they were about to sell for easy cash. The antlers were still there and I asked her if I could take them. She waved and said something, indicating they were of no value, and I could take them.

 

They were not of no value to Wally. They are not of no value to me. I wanted to keep that old man’s memory and trophy for him as long as I last anyway. So those antlers are on a plaque with an explanatory inscription in my trophy room. In some ways it is now one of the most beloved trophies I have. His trophy is my memory of his story and how he felt about that day and that buck. It isn’t really mine that trophy or maybe it is now.

 

Only trophies collected by fair chase and legal methods are the valuable ones. Collection otherwise is just killing, an execution. It is not hunting. Fair chase is a hunt because it includes, in that experience, a reasonable chance that you won’t be successful. The animal has the space and the option to evade you using all of his senses and a natural expanse of cover and terrain to use to do it. If it is a sure thing, it isn’t hunting or a trophy. Just one man’s opinion.

 

I hunted Namibia in 2010 and collected several trophies. My most sought-after was a kudu. They always fascinated me, Hemingway not withstanding. They are colored much like an old mule deer buck from my Idaho Mountains, all gray and elusive, willing to freeze at close range and allow you to walk by, take a step and disappear into the fog of the brush, or flee at breakneck speed while you are still a thousand yards away. I shot a 52 inch Kudu bull in 2010 and I was very settled that that one kudu would be all I ever needed to shoot. Leaving for a return hunt in 2012, I thought about the average impala and springbok I had taken in 2010 and decided I would try to improve on them with a bigger specimen if one presented an opportunity. But the kudu? No need for another one no matter how big.

 

I had also shot a very average waterbuck in 2010 and thought I was also OK with that. I had somehow failed to realize what a handsomely rugged creature waterbuck are. I had seen the photo of Robert Ruark’s first waterbuck taken on Ruark’s first safari and I remember how wonderful it looked but standing beside one brings a much more complete understanding of the rugged beauty of these creatures. As I said, I decided I was OK with my waterbuck. I later re-thought the impala and springbok question and decided I didn’t really need bigger ones. Again, why shoot something for a couple more inches of horn. How much does the extra horn really amount to?

 

I was accompanying a lifelong hunting friend on his first safari in 2012. Nothing like seeing a friend seeing Africa for the first time. It awakens all the first-time wonder of your own first time like nothing else. John and I have hunted together since the late 50’s when we were high school. We had shared many hunting adventures, including small game and whitetail deer hunting near home and guided elk hunts as young men 2,000 miles away out in Montana. After I moved to Idaho, John joined me in my new hunting country for deer and elk. Now we were going to share Africa. We were hunting in Namibia with the PH I had hunted with in 2010, Hagen Eggert of Omatjete Safaris.

 

John was seeking 5 or 6 species. I was looking for a big black wildebeest. I also wanted a pair of zebra stallions to be mounted together on one pedestal in fighting pose.

 

I found a taxidermist in a little town, Coalville, Utah, named Dean Schulte (High Uintahs Taxidermy) who is a magician in getting African game “right”. Dean was excited about the prospects of the zebra mount. If you attended the SCI Convention in Las Vegas in 2014 you may have seen them at his booth. Dean entered those two fighting stallions in the USA Western Regional Taxidermy Contest in the Master’s Division and won first place. Some of his work for me is featured on his website, (search High Uintahs Taxidermy on the net). He has my sable and kudu on pedestal mounts, and a pair of oryx, together, on single pedestal mount featured there on his website in his African Gallery. I am sure my zebra will be there as well by the time you read this. His work is terrific. The expressions, the eyes, and the soul: it is all there. That is the value of a talented taxidermist. When done right, you never look at one of Deans’ mounts with regrets that it should have been done differently. When done well, the mount elicits all of the memories and the full beauty of the animal.

 

I often go quietly into the room where the mounts are displayed. Just myself, all alone. And I sit in silence and have a visit. I marvel, as if for the first time, at the beauty and the story of each experience. I marvel at the fact I was able to go on those trips given my very humble economic beginnings. These mounts are for me and my memories. I did not have these mounts done just for others to see. Sure other people might see them but they can’t see them as I do. I find they are best seen alone, in silence, in sacred silence.

 

I only carried a gun 5 days of the ten day hunt 2012. We were out on the second or third day. I had my rifle along that day for the zebra possibility. John was the only hunter of the two of us who might shoot something that day. Suddenly, my PH, Hagen, was veering the hunting car off into the brush and making hissing noises. I knew he had seen something very good. Joseph, our tracker, was cooing and leaping over the side with the shooting sticks. Then I saw the big waterbuck bull about 350 yards away on a little knoll walking toward us. John had no plans for a waterbuck so I knew it wasn’t for John that we were stopping. At first I wondered why we were stopping. In what seemed like an out-of-body experience, I looked down at the scene unfolding and saw that I too was leaving the truck in a crouch, speedily following the other two creeping human predators. I remember I thought, “I guess I am going to shoot this waterbuck!?”

 

I believe Hagen just knew I would want it after the smaller bull two years before. He never asked me if I did. He never looked at me. He never checked to see if I was following. He just knew. Scary, someone can be inside your head like that. Scary and a good thing too. Hagen is a joy to hunt with for sure.

 

It was a beautiful bull. Massive horns about 30 inches tall with almost 11 inch bases. He was dark and big and rugged. He turned and walked away over a little knoll. We closed the distance and Joseph peeked out and jammed the sticks into the ground. I was up on the sticks quickly. The waterbuck had returned after walking back toward us and was standing about 150 yards away presenting a full frontal shot.

 

I like that shot as a second choice to broadside, at least on thin-skinned game. I have killed several animals including oryx and blue wildebeest and a couple of elk with that shot. With a steady rest and no excess distance or wind, this has always proven to be a one-shot kill and most animals pile up right where they are standing. Just put the bullet low, into the chest, right thru the crease where the shoulder folds around into the brisket.

 

I was shooting a 180 grain Swift Scirocco bullet out of my .30-06 with handloads cranked up to about 2900 fps. That waterbuck bull dropped straight down, rolled on his side and one ear flicked 5 times. That was it! I swear the dead waterbuck’s hooves were directly above the last hoof prints he was ever to make. The bullet had expanded to .75 caliber and retained 92% of its weight. I had seen a bull elk fall to that bullet in one of my .300 Win Mag. handloads about six months before. It was shoulder shot and the bull fell where he was standing like a piece of plywood blown over in a high wind. Same as the waterbuck, never took a step. Those bullets hit like a truck. Swift Sciroccos will be my bullet of choice for “softs” in the future for sure.

 

So, I see a waterbuck and immediately set off to shoot it when I never planned to shoot another waterbuck? What’s with that? It was a unique experience and I still can’t explain what happened. It was a very surprising behavior and it will become part of the memories of that trophy. I never went through the decision of changing my mind. It seemed as if some force outside my conscious control triggered that stalk. I guess I coveted that big bull and I was helpless to stop the progress to the kill. Weird. That has never happened to me before. When I decide I will pass up game I have always done it. I have passed up dozens of good animals. That waterbuck sure tripped some wire in me

 

About four days later, after glassing from a rocky promontory, we returned to the truck and my PH began making these air sucking sounds, again a sign he just saw something really big. I followed his eyes and there, less than 200 yards away, standing broadside, was a magnificent kudu bull. The PH whispered to no one in particular that this bull was over 55 inches. I did not doubt it. I got some HD video film (admittedly not the best source of a still image.). The bull looked down his nose at us rather disdainfully as if we were lesser creatures and not worth his time. He stood there for at least 10 seconds. I had a rest and my rifle was in my hands but I never shouldered the rifle. I never considered shooting him. It never crossed my mind. Look at his photo in this article and you decide how big he is. I would guess 56-57 inches. The bases are heavy, the curls magnificent and wide and deep. Because the curls are tight and not separated by long vertical horn sections, he does lose some length. But, too me, he is one handsome kudu and much nicer than my first one. And yet I never considered shooting him, although I could have done so easily. After viewing his image later, I must say I have second-guessed myself a bit. But, on balance, I am OK with letting him walk. Besides, I do have a trophy of him, in a photo, forever. And why kill him for 4 or 5 inches more horn?

 

My experience with the first kudu would only be marred by shooting another one. Shoot that bigger one and the experience with the first one is diluted and minimized somehow. I knew how I felt when I shot that first Kudu and I always want to feel that feeling again, each time I look at his mount. Now I still can. But that big one, he sure was nice!

 

So, why the difference between the waterbuck and the kudu? I can’t say. I didn’t think through the waterbuck decision. I just had to do it. I guess I was willing to forego the unique and singular memory of the place that first waterbuck held for me, destroy part of it in a way, and take the better one. I guess waterbuck don’t hold the same place in me as kudu.

 

I will shoot any legal elk no matter how small. But mule deer? I haven’t shot one in fifteen years. I have passed on several in that time. I will only shoot one as big as or bigger than my best one which is just below the Boone and Crockett Record Book minimum. Unlike kudu, I will shoot every really big mule deer buck that ever presents itself. I could have ten on the wall and another big one shows up? He is dead and the presence of that new buck will detract nothing from my previous trophies, only enhance them. Again, there is no explanation. We hunters do have our foibles. Maybe others reading this have these mixed relationships as well?

 

Ruark said it best:

“……..if you properly respect what you are after, and shoot it cleanly and on the animal’s terrain, if you imprison in your mind all the wonder of the day from sky to smell to breeze to flowers- then you have not merely killed an animal. You have lent immortality to a beast you have killed because you loved him and wanted him forever so that you could recapture the day…..”

 

Mr. Ruark had his critics but no one can deny he had the soul of a hunter. I daresay, RCR, I have smelt your flowers and felt your breezes and seen your sky, and trees, and oh, so much more. I have the photographic images of some of your wonder and carry the rest with me every day, in my memories. And I know that there is no better way to save a day than with all the trophies of that day. All of them. I so wish, just once, I could have shaken your hand and wished you well and thanked you for reading my mind with your written words. I knew you were reading my mind when I first read your words. I was only ten years old but I knew. I grew up just like you did RCR in so many ways.

 

One does not come across too many people who can do that. Read your mind and write of ideas you haven’t quite completed the details for until you read their words and know there are no more details necessary. The writer has formed and completed ideas that were in you before you could form them. You, Mr. Ruark, and Aldo Leopold and Terry Wieland and Shane Mahoney and, oh yes, José Ortega y Gasset are among the ones who do that for me. God bless you all and be at peace.