Defining Trophy Hunting

News & Tips: Defining Trophy Hunting

Non-hunters often get the wrong idea of the meaning of the term "trophy hunting". Some people mistakenly believe that it somehow refers to shooting game and then just removing the head to leave the rest to spoil. Obviously that is highly unethical — and illegal. So what does "trophy hunting" really mean?

TrophyHunting DSblog
Photo courtesy of Advanced Taxidermy & Wildlife Design

To most of us, it means pursuing a large, mature, usually-male specimen of a given specie of game, and that definition certainly works for me.

But what does "trophy" mean?

To some, it strictly means a specimen that achieves a certain "score", based on the official scoring systems of the various fine record keeping organizations such as the Boone and Crockett Club, the Pope & Young Club or Safari Club International. While I don't have an issue with anyone who looks at it that way, and I too talk about whitetail bucks, for example, in terms of their Boone and Crockett score as a term of reference and comparison, I truly believe that a "trophy" is in the eye of the beholder.

When I have my quarry in my crosshairs, my main criterion for determining whether that particular specimen is "a shooter" is whether I want to be looking at that animal hanging on my wall for the next 25 years. If the answer is yes, I pull the trigger; if the answer is no, I let it walk. It is for this reason that I chose not to pursue a warthog or a wildebeest while on safari in Africa; too ugly by my eyes!

I've been fortunate to have the opportunity to hunt quite a few places for numerous species of game, and the walls of my home are adorned with a number of fine specimens (much to my wife's chagrin!).

Although a few of them are certainly exceptional specimens, I have never had any of them officially scored. To me, they are all "trophies", regardless of their actual size. They are all mementos of people I met, places seen and things discovered in far — or even not-so-far away lands.

The caribou mount on my wall reminds me of the ruggedly beautiful Arctic tundra of northern Quebec and enjoying pan-fried ptarmigan with my father-in-law. My pronghorn mount reminds me of my reluctance as a first-time antelope hunter to take the first pronghorn I encountered and thus needing to be convinced by my guide to shoot what turned out to be a huge Wyoming antelope. My various whitetail mounts remind me of many long hours of sitting in a frigid tree stand just an hour from my home.

If I measured the "success" of a hunting trip just by the size or amount of game I brought home, I would have given up the sport long ago. Instead I judge a trip by far more than that, and I have had some great trips even though I never fired a shot, and had other trips that were far less fun even though game was taken. Like the ticket stub from a great concert or a cheap tin cup for winning a softball tournament, I see my wild game trophies as reminders of great experiences. If you judge an animal simply by what it scores, you could be missing out on the best "trophy" of all.

Good hunting.