Skip to main content
Original Issue

They Kill Them with Kindness

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 restfor 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 ofwriting 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 sixmonths. 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 Kline-burger 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 brotherwould 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 misadventurecaused 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.

Many a trophy hunter seems to be moved by this odd but powerful obsession; it is the same deep-rooted impulse which sends grown men cavorting across fields wielding butterfly nets or trudging head down across old battlegrounds looking for arrowheads. There is, in fact, hardly a trophy hunter who hasn't worked through the whole collecting spectrum, beginning with stamps and culminating in wild beasts. Says Gates: "It is a basic, fundamental human instinct to collect, and to keep for yourself the fruits of your collecting labors. Even the man who goes down to the bar on Saturday night and gets drunk is collecting. He is collecting experiences."

Gates started collecting pennies as a child selling newspapers. The desk in his study in Newport Beach is now covered with foreign and U.S. bills under glass. Locked away is a small fortune in gold coins collected all over the world. Stowed in glass-faced cabinets are 450 trophies won in outboard motorboat races (Gates is Southwest distributor for Mercury motors; he raced competitively to prove himself and his product). He has 700 butterflies, some of them extremely rare, which he has taken on safari in Africa. He shoots colorful birds with tiny, .22-caliber shot shells (so they won't be mangled), and now has about 50 of them in gay profusion about his house. He has 145 big game trophies on his walls, ranging in size from the elephant down to the little dik-dik, and not even he himself knows how many more he has stored in the attic. He collects books, movies of hunting trips, data about Communism, gewgaws and objets (fart from foreign lands, including drums, ivory statues,ebony carvings. He has book ends, wastebaskets, cigarette boxes, humidors and lamps, all made of various parts of zebras, elephants, buffaloes, rhinos, kudus and antelopes, and rugs of leopards, lions, bears, tigers and zebras.

Millionaire Oilman Maurice Machris of Los Angeles, a trophy hunter for a mere eight years, has a Noah's Ark complex of staggering proportions, and happily has channeled it in ways which have enriched museums and zoos. When Machris hits the trail with his gun, he usually takes as guests a posse of zoologists and botanists. They swoop down on the hunting area and gather up specimens of every living thing, including big game, plants, snakes, birds, fish, butterflies, and other insects. At the end of a typical Machris trophy hunt, the biologists are kept busy for four or five years sifting through the collections. On a single trip to Brazil, in company with eight scientists, Machris brought back 11,000 insects, out of which 18 new species have been found, and 1,000 plants, out of which 58 new varieties have turned up. The sorting process is still going on; the trip was in 1957. The New Latin word machrisae now appears in the scientific names of several dozen new discoveries,including several water bugs. In all, 125 new varieties of life have been collected by the Machris expeditions; more will turn up. Machris considers all this a form of philanthropy, which indeed it is. It is also a way to act on the collecting impulse when there happen to be no good big game trophies in sight.

Despite his feverish record as a collector, Machris takes a relaxed attitude toward his trophy hunting. "You take a fellow who will go on four or five safaris a year," says Machris. "It ceases to be a pleasure any longer. It gets down to ditchdigging."

In some cases, it gets down to extreme personal danger, too. Take Berry B. Brooks, a charming and wealthy cotton merchant from Memphis. Brooks decided that he had to have a gaur (a large ox). To get one, he hunted right in the middle of the Vietnam revolution. All around him, Brooks recalls with disdain, "guerrillas were raiding villages, terrorizing the natives, beheading people and cutting throats. My Chinese cooks almost got into bed with me, they were so scared." But Brooks, winner of the Weatherby Trophy, big game hunting's Oscar, got his gaur. Klineburger, hunting in Alaska for a record-class brown bear, spotted a beauty from the air and ordered his pilot to land nearby on the muskeg. The plane crashed and flipped. Hanging upside down in their safety belts, pilot and hunter exchanged questions about each other's health and welfare, found that everything was in order and took off after the bear. It was the third plane Klineburger had crashed in his quest, buthe figures it was worthwhile; according to Klineburger's tape measure the brownie now stands No. 2 in the world rankings.

Grancel Fitz, one of the best-known big game hunters and conservationists, set out in 1928 to take one specimen of each of the 25 legally huntable big game animals of North America. "I wanted a really good representative head of each kind that I would be satisfied with for the rest of my life," Fitz says, "and as soon as I would get one of a certain species I would be finished with that species and go on to the next." Fitz was the first man to get all 25 species. It took him 30 years and 50 trips and more than one close shave on cliff and pack ice. He finished the collection in 1958 with a jaguar killed in Nayarit, Mexico; he had made seven previous trips in search of the big cat and had not so much as sighted one.

Gates, who has taken every trophy worth taking, including the Weatherby, topped off his collection just after Fitz. In 1959 he brought down what in some quarters is considered the most magnificent and unattainable animal of all: Marco Polo's sheep of Asia. The last time these Ovis poli were collected by a museum expedition was in 1927; their habitat—the wild, tumbling mountains where China, Pakistan, Kashmir, Afghanistan and Russia lie in uncomfortable juxtaposition was considered inaccessible long before politics was added to the hazards of the hunt. To get an old ram with horns measuring five feet around the curl, Gates had to climb 20,000 feet in the shadow of K2, endure blizzards and subzero temperatures, fight his way through chest-high snow and probe inside the borders of Red China at the risk of being trophy-collected himself by a Chinese patrol. He traveled 30,000 miles by airplane, automobile, train, yak and horse, and logged another 40) miles on foot. Later he wasquoted on his reaction to the first sight of the rare animals:

"There they were! Nine Ovis poli rams with great flaring horns.... My heart was in my throat, and my hands started trembling so badly I had to lower my binoculars. I am not ashamed to say that tears of emotion ran down my face and froze.... It had been 30 years since the last one had been seen by a Westerner, 32 years since the last poli was taken by an American Museum expedition, and the first time in history that an American big game hunter had ever looked at these majestic animals."

Gates was not the only trophy hunter who was overcome with emotion at the feat; the whole world of big game hunters stood in awe, and a special citation was added to his four-foot-high Weatherby Trophy.

Having brought off this coup, Gates decided to hang up his guns except for an occasional trip with his two sons. His satisfaction will lie now in his extraordinary trophy room and the record books. He is listed 120 times in Rowland Ward's records of African and Asian animals, and 14 times in the books of the Boone and Crockett Club, a sportsmen's group which, by popular request of hunters, sits in judgment on all North American big game trophies.

B&C was started by Theodore Roosevelt in 1887; its membership is limited to 100; its chief measurer, arbiter and statistician is consulting nonmember Grancel Fitz, who studied the matter of trophies in the late 1930s and did not like what he found. The precise-minded Fitz felt that existing systems of measurements were ridiculous. World records were determined largely by the size of the skin, by the length of the longer horn or antler and by spread. At one time, the "world record" white-tailed deer was a specimen with a 36-inch antler on one side and a six-inch spike on the other. "It wasn't worth $2," scoffs Fitz. "It was a freak. You might as well say that Siamese twins are the finest example of the human race bemuse they have more arms and legs than other people."

Cheating was rampant under the old systems. The world-record bighorn horns were found to be made up of three different sets of horns skillfully blended. A record elk was found to be similarly doctored. Psychopathic braggarts would kill a moose with better-than-average antlers, split the skull down the middle and insert wedges to widen the spread. Then they would replace the hide over :he skull and call in the neighbors. Others would steam a set of antlers until it softened a little, then increase the spread by yanking and tugging.

"Bearskin records were a joke," Fitz recalls. "I saw one guy who was really making himself a record skin. He had it fixed on the end of his cabin, drying. The four legs were stretched as far as human strength could stretch them and :hen pegged down. A four-by-four was nailed to the bottom edge and weighted with rocks. By the time that guy got finished, the bear that wore the skin would never have recognized it."

To put an end to such hanky-panky, and to give some real meaning to the North American big game records, Boone and Crockett members called in Fitz and other experts and asked them to devise a better way. The result was the present system, a complex mass of measurements and calculations which only an advanced mathematician or a trophy hunter could love.

Its complexity notwithstanding, the B&C system has ordered the chaotic world of trophies and, perhaps most importantly, it has worked as a force in conservation. Hunters who once went out each year to pot the first deer that came along now go out to pot the big old buck which will get them in the B&C record book. As Fitz points out, no harm is done to a herd which loses its patriarch; he is going to be run out or die of old age or be killed by predators in a few years anyway; his stud years already have been lived.

The whole idea of going off to the woods to compete not only with nature but with one's fellow man in the record lists has so bewitched hunters that they are swamping Fitz and his helpers with entries in the record class. In B&C's 1950 competition there were 153 entries; by 1960 there were 10 times as many, and the coming tabulation in March will show another doubling in the number. Says Fitz, with commingled pride and despair: "We have revived trophy hunting but good."

This fierce new competition has led to some bitter rhubarbs, with Fitz making supreme decisions from his trophy-tilled penthouse in Manhattan. The most recent controversy involved a mammoth polar bear killed by Arthur Dubs of Medford, Ore. Mounted, the bear stands 11 feet 1½ inches, the tallest ever. But Fitz and the B&C Club take the position that bear records are meaningful only if based on the size of the skull. "The taxidermists seem to operate on the principle that what the hunter wants is altitude," Fitz grumbles, "and they mount these bears straight up in a position no polar bear has ever taken. Then they measure the height. And this can vary by as much as a foot or two for the same size skin." One can only pity poor Dubs. He may well have taken the biggest polar bear ever, but he can't even submit the skull for measurement because a piece of it was chipped off in the dressing operation. He is left with a gargantuan trophy totally lacking inofficial status.

Bear skulls are among the easier trophies to measure under the Boone and Crockett system. The hunter simply measures length and width and totals the numbers. But the killer of an antlered animal promptly finds himself consumed by arithmetic. Suppose you have shot a white-tailed deer, and you suspect it might be in the record class. You whip out your flexible steel tape and measure tip-to-tip spread, greatest spread, inside spread, total lengths of all abnormal points, length of main beam and nine or 10 other items. Your score increases with the number of points on each antler. You are penalized for abnormalities. If the total figure adds up to record class, i.e., if it is higher than the lowest-listed whitetail in the B&C record book, you submit the antlers to Fitz, who goes through the same measuring process and certifies the record. Then YOUR NAME goes into the B&C book, Records of North American Big Game, and you can see how many Joneses you did better than, andhow many Joneses did better than you. This, to the modern, competitive trophy hunter, is apparently irresistible. But just as alluring are the memories and the impressions collected, what Fitz has described as "a sunset reflected in a hidden pond or the novel shape and color of an insect, or even the play of sunlight on an unfamiliar leaf." And finally there is the mysterious pull and tug which has sent men into the fields for millenniums, obsessed and tormented by the need to excel, to prove themselves, to win in fair and equal combat over beasts of tusk and horn. Elgin Gates described the feeling in a verse he wrote about the Ovis poli:

Do you know the hand that leads me
—toiling thru this frozen waste
Where the trail is lost in deep eternal snow?
Do you know what drives me onward
—I must make that final chase
For the hunter's horn has called and I must go.
Tho I've searched my soul for reason
—I have sworn a sacred vow
Then I looked into the heavens for a sign.
Now the ends of earth are nothing—
and alt ho ugh I know not how
Still the horns of Ovis poli will be mine.



Tusks and horns and handsome hides attest to the hunting skills of Maurice Machris, millionaire oilman who seasons safaris with a pleasant touch of philanthropy.



Framed by the massive tusks of African elephants, sportsman Elgin Gates poses in his California home, whose rooms he had specially designed to display his 145 big game trophies.



Small matters like a plane wreck did not keep Bert Klineburger from getting his bear.



Record-class walrus rewarded Grancel Fitz after dangerous journey through pack ice.



A tiny jungle grotto tucked neatly below its left ear, the head of a bull elephant juts ominously above its beer-brewing conqueror, Otto A. Koehler of San Antonio, Texas.



To get record-class Asian gaur, Berry Brooks of Memphis ignored revolution.



Arthur Dubs stands in the shadow of his huge—and controversial—polar bear.