Trophy hunters have been wrongfully accused of driving the world’s wildlife to extinction ever since Europeans began to travel to the remote areas of the world to hunt. This is strange, as the accusation doesn’t even bear the first application of common logic: “The true trophy hunter”, as Elgin Gates put it, “is a self-disciplined perfectionist seeking a single animal, the ancient patriarch well past his prime that is often an outcast from his own kind.” The non-hunters don’t suppose, I hope, that trophy hunters simply slaughter every animal they see, then pick up the biggest and let the rest rot? Selective harvest of a very limited number of animals can’t possibly be as dangerous for a population than other types of hunting, especially market hunting. To illustrate the point, we’re posting today a story from Sportsman’s Eden by Clive Phillipps-Wolley.
Clive (later Sir Clive) went down as a pioneer of Canadian literature with his otherwise unremarkable novel Gold, Gold in Cariboo!. He started out as one of those Victorian Britons who found their civilized and overpopulated island too small for them. As a young man, he was on diplomatic service in Russia; then he tried to settle down at an estate he inherited, practiced law in London, but the call of far lands was too strong for him. He went on a “sporting tour” to the Caucasus; then visited Spitsbergen (with perhaps the first crooked outfitters on record); then crossed Canada from the Atlantic to the Pacific coast. When he reached British Columbia, he loved the land so much that he emigrated to Vancouver, and wrote Sportsman’s Eden – a book framed as a series of letters from a family of new immigrants telling their relatives in England how happy they were in the New World, and why everyone should follow their example.
This moose story from this book is not only interesting for its own sake. It does a great job illustrating the difference in the mindset of a trophy hunter and a market hunter – and shows why a ban on selling meat of wild animals is an essential pillar in the North American conservation model. The story begins the day after the writer, with his Metis guide Jocko, had harvested a bull moose, but the writer was dissatisfied with the size of the antlers.
I won’t recount our second day’s wanderings amongst dark balsams and by frozen lakes – favorite fighting-grounds of the moose in the early autumn – but hurry on to late afternoon. We are amongst the balsams. Jocko’s face is quite drawn with excitement. I am trembling with fatigue. Suddenly he stops, carefully dusts the lock and hammers of my rifle, which he has been carrying for some time past, and then, though he absolutely has not spoken all day, lays his finger on his lips, and, crouching like a cat, creeps on. For quite a quarter of an hour we steal silent as shadows through the snow, and then he stops, his eyes ablaze with excitement, but his figure rigid. Slowly he stretches out and passes me the rifle, and signs to me to look across the gully. Two hundred yards away in the big trees a great brown form is moving slowly. I get glimpses of his body, but cannot see his head.
“Shoot, shoot that one,” whispers Jocko. “Shoot, or they’ll be gone.” I only see one, and only a small patch of him from time to time between the pine-stems. However, I fire.
“No, no; there, there he is now,” whispers Jocko, and again I fire at what looks like my beast, going at a trot through the timber. The smoke hangs, and as Jocko clutches my arm and points to a brown patch standing still between two pines, I fire again, as he whispers hoarsely, “Steady, don’t hurry, he won’t give you another chance.” As I fire, Jocko snatches the rifle from my hand and goes off at best pace across the valley. Another miss, I suppose (though why, as I am a fair shot at any rate, I cannot guess), and with my blood up, fatigue forgotten, follow at my Indian’s flying heels
For half an hour, it seems to me, we run and stumble on. What does the fool expect, I wonder. The moose, if I have missed him, won’t stop again between this and the Arctic Circle after such a fusillade. But I recanted my thoughts as they passed through my brain, for there, like great statues of stones in the middle of the snowy path, with heads turned to see what we were who followed them, stood three bull moose, the pine-boughs and snow-wreaths over them, and the dim depths of the forest beyond. The one next me was the big bull of the gang, and my heart longed for the grand antlers which looked so gigantic against the white background.
“Take the front one, he isn’t wounded, and you will get the three” whispered the murderous Jocko. Taking no notice of him, I fired at my bull. The hammer fell with a click, but no report followed. Miss fire ! Again and this time my bull drops dead in his tracks. As yet I have not moved, and the other two, bewildered, stand and gaze back over their great quarters at us.
“Fire again, fire again!” Jocko almost shrieks in my ear.
“See you damned first, Jocko,” I reply in very good English, and dropping my rifle, I throw up my hands with a yell, and have the pleasure of seeing the two great beasts crash through the forest with bounds which, though clumsy, cover a great deal of ground, and soon take them out of sight. Jocko was very wrath, and, standing looking at the grand head thrown back on the snow, the huge horns looking black against their background, I didn’t care how angry he was.
If only I could have brought my moose of yesterday back to life and sent him after his fellows, I should have been quite happy, although I was dead beat, and had ten miles through the snow between me and my dinner. After gralloching my beast, Jocko, still grumbling at my suicidal folly in not firing, rose to return. Imagine my disgust, when I heard him console himself thus: “Ah, well, there’s the other two bulls safe enough anyways.” And I am sorry to say he was quite right. My first two shots had been as clean as if made at a target, and though moving through thick timber at 200 yards, the two bulls lay there dropped dead in their tracks, each with a bullet behind his shoulder.
I make no boast of the shooting, though to shoot a moose moving through timber at that distance is not so easy as the size of the beast would lead you to believe. They were good young heads and well worth keeping, but I would have given a good deal to have missed them, and so avoided an unwarrantable slaughter and unwitting breach of the game-laws of the country. Those who have shot moose in these dense forests and know how little of the beast you sometimes see, and how the smoke hangs in certain conditions of atmosphere, will believe my story and forgive my mistake. Of course, to Mr. Jocko, meat was meat, and each carcass was worth about 25 dollars to him. This accounts for his action in the matter, and it is easy to see how such excellent hunters and shameless butchers as he may and will, if not carefully watched, destroy vast quantities of Canadian big-game.
By the late 1800s market hunting had decimated many species in North America. Though through the guidance and leadership of several visionary and concerned sportsmen and conservationists, groups such as the Boone and Crockett Club were formed and gave birth to the North American Conservation model. Market hunting was ended and with the inception of game laws with strict harvest limits, ethics and rules of fair chase most of our hallmark species have recovered from all-time lows from around 1900 to great numbers today. Whenever you go hunting in Canada or the USA today, you make a significant contribution to conservation. So why don’t you go on to discover your hunting opportunities with BookYourHunt?
If you liked this story, you might also like:
- Let’s Talk About Feelings: The Ban on Trophy Hunting for Grizzlies in British Columbia
- How Hunters Saved Markhor in Tajikistan
- The Maharaja of Cooch-Behar, or, Why is there no Hunting in India?
- Two Dianas in Somaliland: The First Lion Hunt.