Jim Shockey, BookYourHunt.com co-founder, has been announced as the winner of perhaps the most coveted and difficult award in the hunting world – The Weatherby Hunting and Conservation Award. He is now in the good company of hunting legends from Jack O’Connor to H.I.H. Prince Abdorreza Pahlavi, Herb W. Klein to Renee Snider. In the perfect world all we’d have to do was announce the occasion and send for the champagne. Unfortunately, today even some of the hunters need explaining what the award is, and why it matters. But first, a few words about Jim Shockey.
Jim Shockey is the Renaissance Man, whose tastes, activities and abilities appear almost beyond the scope of possibilities for an average modern person. Apparently, he can do anything. Athletics? Canada National waterpolo team in two world championships. Fine arts? Considered to be one of the world’s foremost experts on the Ethnocentric Folk Art forms from Western Canada. Military? Active member of the Canadian Armed Forces, serving the rank Honorary Lieutenant-Colonel of the 4th Canadian Ranger Patrol Group. Creative talent? The producer and host of award-winning TV shows Hunting Adventures, Uncharted and The Professionals. Business? You won’t find Jim in the Forbes’, but money has always been a tool, not an end, to him, and he could always make as much of this tool as he needed. Add to that a happy marriage to Louise “Nana Weezy” Shockey, and two wonderful children, Branlin and Eva, and you’ve already got a life to envy. It looks like the only thing Jim Shockey could ever fail at is veganism: hunting and fishing provides the lion’s share of protein on his table. But his hunting is not limited to filling the freezer.
In any of the world’s biggest cities a Gallup poll will show the general public pictures trophy hunters as murder-obsessed ego-maniacs who kill beautiful animals just to have a skin or antlers half an inch longer than the next guy’s. What’s even sadder, even many among the hunting community would agree with this. In fact, trophy hunting has gotten a bad name among the general public, that Jim Shockey prefers to call the hunting he does “selective hunting”.
All hunters are limited in their ability to harvest game. It’s a shame how so many people don’t even know that hunters don’t just go about shooting everything in sight – that there are harvest quotas, seasons, licenses and tags. But some hunters take self-limitation a few steps further than that. They are the best hunters – the most skillful, the most knowledgeable about biology and animal behavior, the best shots with bow or rifle or whatever weapon they chose. Hunters who can beat a marathon runner over broken terrain and wipe Sherlock Holmes’s eye in attention to detail all in the same breath. Hunters who could… but they don’t want to.
Instead, they set a carefully designed rule of self-constraint. They limit their hunting to animals whose harvest is the least damage to the population, and usually even benefits it overall – animals who are nearing the end of their natural existence and are well out of reproductive cycle. And, on the other hand, to animals who are the most difficult to harvest – simply because their natural wariness is multiplied by many years of experience in escaping danger. In simple English, these animals are old males.
The Origins of the Award
As a matter of fact, trophy record books were never meant to be an ego contest. They started out as a means for collecting scientific data on where which animals dwell, and how big they can get, and overall health of the species – and they’re still being used as data source by many researchers. It was a bit of an honor to see your name in the book, and by 1920s and 1930s, when hunting internationally was still limited to a privileged few (thankfully, things have changed), something of a record craze could be observed. Even at the time, however, the practice was strongly condemned within the hunting community. John Hunter, perhaps the most famous “White Hunter”, for one instance, gave “record chasers” a highly satirical and thoroughly annihilating verbal flogging in his African classic Hunter.
By 1950s, as distances and wilderness were shrinking, many renowned hunters thought they had to install something that would serve as a moral guidance for those who go out with weapons in search of wildlife. Trophy hunting awards were the answer, and the Weatherby Award, which traces its history way back to the original Roy Weatherby and his breakthrough rifles, was one of the first.
The Weatherby Award
The Weatherby Hunting and Conservation Award is one of the most prestigious and desirable achievements in the world of hunting. It is awarded by a committee of former Weatherby winners. It’s given, according to a selection committee member, to “the hunter who has ethically taken the most varied, difficult, and largest number of species in the world, and who has not already won the award”. The award has no national or gender boundaries. It’s open to any person in the world who meets the requirements (no “rich white men only”, thank you). To win, you must first be nominated, and spend at least a year in the status of the nominee, to give the Selection Committee an opportunity to observe your conduct in real life mode. Each nominee must file a statement that all the trophies taken were taken in an ethical manner, and in full compliance with the hunting regulations of the country and region where the trophy was taken. Then the Committee reviews the applications, and each member gives each applicant a certain number of points, based on three categories.
To win the Weatherby, the hunter must take trophies on every continent where big-game hunting is possible and legal (everywhere except the Antarctic, that is). Number and variety of species are as important as the quality of the trophies, to ensure the hunter doesn’t kill immature animals who haven’t had a chance to reproduce. The quality of trophies is certified by acceptance into recognized trophy books, and official measurement. The difficulty of the hunts is also taken into consideration.
Another eye-opener for many: the so-called “iconic animals”, such as lions, giraffes, and elephants, make up only a small portion of the species lists. It’s mostly made up of animals that the general public doesn’t know or care about. However, selective hunters finance their conservation in places that are not available as photo tourism or just tourism destinations, and part of their motivation are the lists. What else would drive a hunter to stay day after day in the sauna heat of West Africa, looking for an antelope indigenous to this area that they could just as well and more easily hunt where it has been transplanted in South Africa? Hunting in truly exotic destinations is usually a very demanding thing, taxing one’s stamina and perseverance to the utmost.
But the Weatherby Award is not only about being a great hunter. The hunting part of it comes down to only 65% of the win. What else does it take?
Conservation and Education
20% of the committee’s decision depends on the category titled Conservation and Education. Regulated legal hunting already supports conservation by funding anti-poaching efforts, etc. But this is not enough. The nominee must make a direct contribution, not related to getting a tag or license, to a recognized specific conservation program or project. The projects may sponsor protecting or restoring wildlife habitat, protection or reintroduction of endangered species, trapping and relocation for increased genetic diversity, etc. And the contribution doesn’t have to be a direct financial donation – volunteering, managing charities, promotion, and other ways of personal involvement also count.
Another important contribution to this category is education. The nominee must engage in activities that teach the new generation of hunters not just how it’s done, but why, and how hunting is meaningful for conservation. Establishing or contributing special youth hunts also counts, as well as informing inform the general public on the positive role of hunting.
Character and Sportsmanship
The third category taken into consideration by the committee is the nominee’s character and sportsmanship. Commitment, integrity, and impeccable reputation is what it takes to score high in this category. If you’re known as a person that doesn’t always comply with hunting rules and regulations, local, national and international laws, principles of fair chase and ethical hunting, you’ll lose points in this category. The committee values not only passive following of the rules, but the person who takes an active stand against poaching, promotes hunting ethics, improves the image of ethical hunting, protects hunting rights, etc. This category comprises 15% of the total judging value.
To Win the Weatherby
The share of the conservation, education, character and sportsmanship may seem insignificant in comparison with the value of the hunting part. But most of the contenders have similar achievements in regards to their hunting successes. Mostly it’s the first category that makes the nomination possible, but it’s the other two that make the winner. In other words, nobody who isn’t a great hunter can win the Weatherby. But nobody can win the Weatherby simply by hunting.
“What’s It Take To Win The Weatherby Award: It is easy, climb a few million feet, walk a few thousand miles, spend years away from home, family and work, usually in a foreign land. Travel for days on icy, gravel mountain roads in old jeeps or SUV’s full of other people’s cigarette smoke. Endure hundreds of searches in airports, borders and military checkpoints. Get sick or hurt, lose luggage and suffer delays too numerous to mention. Sound like fun? It is. It is a passion and way of life for a few very fortunate people” – that’s how it was described by the Weatherby newsletter a few years ago.
For anyone who knows anything about Jim Shockey it is already clear that he scores at each of the categories. His morals and character are impeccable, and he with his daughter Eva have done more as ambassadors of hunting than most anyone else. In August 2015, Shockey and his daughter Eva appeared on the cover of USA Today Hunt + Fish, in a story that touched on their relationship, the importance of the outdoors and how Eva has become the new face of hunting. The Outdoor Life called Jim “the most influential celebrity in big-game hunting”, placing him on the cover of their November 2017 “The Influencers” edition, and running a king-size interview in the December 2017/January 2018 issue.
As for the hunting part of it, the same publication called Jim “the most accomplished big-game hunter of the modern era, having taken arguably the most free-range big game species by any living hunter.” And he’s got footage to prove that millions feet to climb, thousands of miles to walk, icy, gravel roads, old Jeeps, airport searches, getting sick and hurt, and everything else there have been aplenty. But what can one do if “it is a passion and way of life”?
Says Aleksei Agafonov, BookYourHunt.com co-founder and CEO, who got to know Jim from all sides, from hunting dangerous game side by side, to launching a breakthrough business together:
I’ve seen Jim on the screen, and I’ve seen him in real life. In a word: he’s cool. Smart, tough, with a head packed with knowledge, a terrific sense of humor, and an awe-inspiring physical condition. I don’t know many people who don’t hesitate to get into the deepest jungle, let alone in their 60s. And what’s more, Jim is real. The Jim you see in your TV is 100% real-life Jim. Jim’s Weatherby Award was only a matter of time, and I don’t know anyone who deserves it more. Jim, congratulations – and looking forward to your next adventures!