Age before Size
It is well known amongst hunters of bighorn sheep and Cape buffalo that the trophy quality comes from what the horns represent, not their absolute size mind you; no rude measurement in stiff-upper-lip British Imperial inches. It is a privilege to match wits with an elder of the species whose horns grow throughout the first 4/5 of life then wear down faster than they grow. The horn wear is the best indicator that one’s quarry is a superior individual; one that has fought through many seasons of breeding battles, dodged large predatory cats of their respective continents, endured biting insects, crocodiles, avalanches, and a steady barrage of lesser hunters. These wizened, aged, sages of the bovid world have seen it all, even if their breeding years have expired. They no longer play a significant role in herd or environmental effects and are truly surplus organisms in the twilight before being recycled into fertilizer on some remote and lonely space. It is both a challenge to locate them and bring them to bag that true trophy hunters seek.
Thus, a deeply broomed and scarred bighorn with few remaining incisors, a shattered horn, and a distinct limp is the quarry most sought. Buffalo hunters might look high and low for a Dagga-boy which is an aged batchelor tank of a Syncerus caffer. That he sports lion claw marks and has his formerly sweeping horns rubbed down to fist-sized nubs makes hunters giddy with admiration. This is the origin of bragging rights.
Unfortunately, we live in a world of one-upmanship and the stakes to surround our hunter kills with approbation is paramount. We want to drape as many virtue signals as possible onto the act of killing to help us rise above any fabricated criticism a non-hunter could bring. Thus, I outline the pinnacle experience for the trophy hunters of sheep and buffalo below.
To Take A Trophy Sheep
The ultimate sheep hunt begins with a year of grueling training by the hunter running stairs, carrying loaded backpacks and doing weight training to combat the hills. There is no sense in doing this without social value so the backpack should contain donated food delivered to the unemployed, clothes for the homeless and Christmas gifts for the underprivileged. A small camouflaged halo should begin to form over the would-be killer’s cranium.
A specific rifle must be constructed for this hunt. The first step is hours and weeks of on-line debate interspersed with kick-boxing matches to decide between two rifle calibers that differ by less than two hundredths of an inch in diameter. This is crucial. The rifle should weigh no more than 6.5 lbs and no less than 6.6 lbs. The scope through which the golden ram will be viewed must be argon-filled and contain crystal glass polished by anal-retentive German teutons who deliver the final glistening polish with gentle abrasive dust made from the dew collected from Peruvian spider webs.
Then comes the cartridge testing ad nauseum. One tests and shoots until they have dropped their left ear hearing by 30%, developed wicked tinnitus, received a divorce request and ingested sufficient lead particles to lower their IQ by 15%. This increases their resolve to obtain the trophy. Group sizes must shrink from a scatter to a cluster to a Mickey Mouse outline to a single hole and the final shrinkage is to no hole at all. Then they are ready.
The selection of a guide who shares the hunter’s sheep goal is a crucial step in the hunt. The ideal guide will be someone who has lived in the mountains for years studying sheep behavior as a soul-purifying existence. He would have been struck by lightning or suffered from PTSD following a peace-keeping mission to a desperate foreign country. Having won numerous valor medals and seen things no other living human has seen, a return to society was impossible so they became an ascetic sheep hermit. So much the better if the guide is a misunderstood shaman or female and can perform purification ceremonies such as smudging or Gwenneth Paltrow’s steaming rituals. Camouflaged clothing is essential but no facial camo because photos will be taken later and they must show the raw emotion and possibly a tear or two.
Horses or mules will be involved at some level as riding stock, packing stock, or just dog food. The mountains will offer up tests in the form of a grizzly bear, mountain lion or wolf pack to challenge the hunter and guide to prove their worthiness to even be on the mountain or to wear $650 Hanwag boots. Addressing this wild animal savagery is akin to Hagrid’s Fluffy and is managed with a handful of dog food (thanks horse!).
The climb to the misty haunts of the revered sheep lord requires passing numerous holy men perched meditating on their cliffs. Each one offers some profound hunter inspiration and insight into the ascension: “Have you cleansed your heart?” or “Did Tom Brady retire yet?” or maybe “Do you really need ALL that granola?”
Ultimately, your guide crawls to the lip of the peak, peers upward and there, framed by the Specter of the Broken, is the God-sheep. He slowly beds down in supplication, giving himself to the hunter but unfortunately, he is bedded right behind a boulder and no shot is available. Closer, ever closer and it becomes obvious that one cannot get too close. As the hunter and guide finally get within an arms length, it becomes clear, the hoary aged organism is in the process of dying of old age (apply to sheep or hunter as appropriate) and all that is required is a small pen-knife to the throat to “take him with honor”.
The guide will pull a small movie camera out to record the pivotal moments — he will edit out the bits of the hunter flinging his rifle off a cliff saying “ . . . and I carried that &%$#@!~ rifle up here for nuthin’!”). The guide is awed that that last sentence appropriately ended with five punctuation marks. Back to the sheep though, having lost most of one horn sheath, carrying black scars across his Roman nose and being gaunt makes him the most beautiful thing they have ever laid eyes on. They nickname him Beetle Juice. Even with his massive 18 inch bases, he scores out at 118 inches and reinforces the hunter’s highly ethical insistence to never register him in any hunting contest . . . he would never win anything anyway.
The Trophy Buffalo Hunt
Hunting Cape buffalo shares some similar eschewing of size to reach trophy goals. Deep Mobius like curves of polished pointed horn are objects of derision and scorn. It takes a muy hefe to grow those horns but an even tougher animal to live long enough to wear them down. Remember, we are gunning for meaning here.
First, one must take out a second mortgage on your house to pay for a double rifle though some will just sell one of their airplanes. So much the better if the firearm had been used by a former US president, a commercial buffalo cull expert who wrote many fictitious books or someone who had been killed by a charging buffalo. The caliber selected must be one that existed prior to 1920 and originated as a black powder cartridge before conversion to smokeless powder. The case must be larger in diameter than the pinky finger and no shorter than — ahem- one’s private parts at standard temperature and pressure. For female hunters the cartridge must be larger than a lipstick case and smaller than a curling iron. Some .450, half inch, or .600 caliber should do nicely!
The gun will be carried by a gun bearer who also must carry the shooting sticks, a camp chair, lunch cooler, water for the hunter and some expensive binoculars given to him by the previous hunter who was killed by a buffalo, or maybe he just scooped them up from the bloody spot in the sand. The Africa Buffalo Hunter Union has very strict rules about who does what, thus, you will never see a skinner doing tracking work, or a gun bearer helping skin. When the hooked horn tosses the tracker into the air, the gun bearer will not say anything about the location of the animal like “I think the buffalo is there . . .”. You hope for him to say “Bwana — here is your .500 Higgins and Higgins Nitro B-Square double with splinter fore end, safari sights and ivory sighting bead, registered at 35 meters and loaded with 480 grain monolithic Woodleigh solids”, however, that is not what he will say. In fact, he will say nothing and your eye will trace a trail of discarded coolers, chairs, shooting sticks and binoculars to his haunt 200 yards back in the top of an Acacia tree. The President’s rifle will be stuck muzzle-down in the sand behind you (smart fella). A fist full of small local currency is valuable for coaxing gun bearers out of trees.
But on to the trophy aspects of buffalo- the quintessential Dagga-boy is a dangerous animal due to senility and the habit of charging first and asking questions later, not unlike my wife at a shoe store. This reminds me why we don’t hunt Dagga-girls — far far too dangerous a game to try to stop a charge! The perfect Dagga-boy will have tiny or ideally, no horns at all! It is essential however that they have massive hard bosses. Some have hypothesized that buffalo danger originates in those hard bosses — the likely result of a stressful work place filled with disgruntlement.
Shot placement is all important too. Prior to the hunt, many holes will have been punched in expensive paper silhouettes of broadside buffalo with a red ink heart and a circle of death on the vitals. A second images shows the buff with a blaze orange brain facing directly at the hunter while giving an expression usually reserved for Margaret Thatcher or Leon Spinks (who had a similar number of upper teeth). The better prepared hunters will have practiced on a trolley-charge machine where the buffalo image rolls down a track directly toward the hunter time and time again. The highly stressed hunter practices by standing in front of the charging machine between a pile of expensive brass hulls and an adult diaper machine.
Once ready to shoot a Dagga-boy, it must be on a charging animal if you expect to have angels and divine light stream down, so, after wresting the weapon from the fleeing gun bearer, our hunter stands bravely planted facing the oncoming black death. Hey, what the hell?? There is no blaze orange brain to be seen. Uh-oh! Then amid some expletives, all hell is unleashed on the beast as the PH quickly burns $18.00 worth of cartridges and the hunter discharges both barrels into the approximate direction of the buffalo. Predictably, hit or not, the Dagga-boy falls dead at their feet with blood coming out of his ruptured ear drums. The cameraman has gotten all of this on film and now must change both his film cassette and his adult diaper.
A great fuss is made over the bull’s tiny ugly nubs; truly less is more. Now-emboldened, the gun bearer slaps the hunter on the back, and offers him a baffling African bent-wrist handshake. In Swahili the various tracker union members chant “The bull has no horns; the Emperor has no clothes; this guy is crazy; the meat will be so tough the dogs can’t chew it; why couldn’t he shoot a young cow?; I’ll bet this crazy bastige fishes with barbless hooks; I am smiling hugely with hopes for a big tip; If he had missed I would have snatched his GPS from the bloody spot in the sand before that damned skinner got it”. The cameraman puts on a macro lens and gets images of the air where horn used to grow as they all talk bad about people who shoot bulls with graceful sweeping 50” horns.
They winch the hornless carcass into the back of a Land Rover and drive back to camp at 3 km per hour timing their arrival exactly at sundowner time. What a weird endeavour this trophy business! Happy April Fool’s Day!