“Trophy hunting is often seen as an aberration by a handful of individuals. However this investigation shows it is a large, powerful industry with a well-oiled and generously-funded lobbying machine.”

        —Eduardo Goncalves

I had the good fortune to ask Patrick Hemingway about elephants just at the beginning of the worst conservation tragedy of the last decade — the slaughter of 130,000 elephants. “Enormous silly beasts,” as his father Ernest described them in “True at First Light.” He told me from his home in Montana, “For my money the elephant will soon be gone.” He of course recognized the royal “sport” for what it was, a colonial fabrication that belongs to the old days. Humanity lost a third of the world’s elephants due to poaching, often in areas that encouraged trophy hunting. One magnetized the other. It was an apocalypse we should never forget. He should also know about Montana. He once witnessed a grizzly hunt when he was eight. He admitted it was exciting. But he didn’t like the meat. That was the old days. And he doesn’t hunt bear.

gray wolf in Montana

Montana, the home of Patrick Hemingway, is going through quite a transformation these days as iconic species such as grizzlies, wolves, wolverines and lynx still stand proudly like in no other state outside of Alaska. So what is going on with the 900 wolves that are to be slaughtered? What is it with all the snares and bear baiting? What is it with all the hate? Giving license to kids as young as 11 to shoot wolf, classified as vermin, in the same show of prowess and pride that a 12 year old girl displayed near her newly killed giraffe. What is it about indiscriminate trapping that incites such bragaddaccio among the politicians there? What is it about the elite and the lawmakers, the realtors, carpenters, taxidermists, ranchers who vote on matters of life and death but who always vote on the side of killing, and bigotry and never biology?

We’ve been sold a bill of goods. And one of the biggest lies in the history of language. Killing is conservation. Some like the present governor of Montana who are aching to destroy this small army of wolves believe that humans and dinosaurs walked together 6,000 years ago. It is astounding and it is killing one of our greatest states. What is it that makes trapping innocent beings, who face agonizing pain for hours and days, a constitutional right? Why does the NRA, Safari Club International, Sportmen’s Alliance and others pay $600,000 to defeat an initiative to ban trapping in the great state of Montana? 

All of which would have made Patrick Hemingway shudder. He is from the old school. He liked hunting but as he told me, he ate everything he shot. “The Maasai used to kill lion to make them fear attacking cattle.” But of course they never imperiled the lion population. The British did. He lived in a different time. Today, he acknowledges that “the uncontrolled growth of human beings is making everything else difficult.” He admits its “very difficult to reconcile wolves and agriculture because humans are “so highly organized with farm animals. Some environmentalists say cows produce so much methane. We ought to eat artificial meat or meat that doesn’t involve keeping animals. I do think the heavy burden of feeding an ever increasing amount of human beings has made us do very inhumane things to domestic animals." 

As a hunter for his entire life I sensed a nostalgia in Patrick Hemingway’s voice when hunting was purer and a challenge. Not like the canned fabrications of today. Not like the near point blank obliterations that some called hunting and never for sheer fun. Hemingway believes, “it would be a nice idea for wolves to be given priority.” Hemingway would side with lifelong Republican Mary Sue Wardell, who is appalled by the trapping policies of her state and who believes deeply in “respecting nature and all living beings.” I asked Hemingway about a species’ endangered status in relation to trophy hunters. He responded, “Most people do not have the education in biology to really have opinions of worth or value. Very wealthy people hunt trophies.” And hunting trophies for the sake of trophies doesn’t seem to make sense for Hemingway, who has had experience in the bush like very few people worth their weight in gunshot.

The divide between the haves and have nots has never been greater. The divide between humanity and so-called nature has become a gulf larger than the Grand Canyon. It now encompasses the entire width of the planet. Trophy hunters posit themselves as saviors but in the not too distant future there will come a day when even finding a leopard in the bush will be a challenge. An eleven year old with a gun in their hands will ask his dad, “Where did everything go? What happened? Everything’s gone.” That day will come soon enough if we keep obliterating the wild. You can count on it.

The preface to Eduardo Goncalves’ impassioned book “Trophy Hunters Exposed” has been written by Bishop John Arnold, the Catholic Church’s official spokesperson on environmental affairs in England: “We continue to slaughter animals, often in the cruelest fashion, for sport and fun. How can we claim any dignity in that? What pride can there be in arming ourselves with guns to kill defenceless creatures which are no threat to us? There are arguments that can be understood about the killing of an animal for its meat – but for a trophy to hang on the wall? There can be no justification in that.”

On April 1, Take Down Tobacco will be a national day of action to empower people to speak out against the denialism and criminality of the tobacco industry. Is there any wonder that tobacco is a big funder of the trophy hunting business? Or that some of the top hunters happen to be the last president’s fundraisers. The lobbying machine is gigantic and the species of the world are its victims. Its all about money. Piles of it.

In the third decade of the 21st century there needs to be a turnaround. Kids will not be able to see real polar bears from the “Polar Express” or “Winnie the Pooh,” or Shere Khan, the tiger in “The Jungle Book.” They will indeed remain in the realm of fiction.

Ranulph Fiennes, one of the most incontestable explorers of our time, who grew up in Africa, has some very good idea of what is going on.

“Far from protecting endangered species, the law today is failing wildlife. As many as 1.7 million animals have been killed by trophy hunters over the past decade. Hundreds of thousands of these are from species protected by law because scientists say they are at risk of extinction. We are frequently told that we face a biodiversity crisis every bit as serious as the climate crisis. Yet the slaughter, inexplicably, continues unabated.”

As for Hemingway, who has some experience of the 20th century, with the sagacity of one who has loved nature for more than 80 years, for a man of uncommon understanding that hunting is atavistic, but that “hunting for sport is not something we should do.” He is adamant in reminding people that, “Endangered species have to be protected.” Even in such far away places as Montana that are Hemingway’s home, certain factions continue to expose hate such as the Proud Boys and Last Chance Patriots and anti-Muslim groups and White Nationalists. All have made Montana their home. Can we care for nature and the wild if we hate ourselves?

I sensed a wistfulness in Hemingway’s voice, of the days when he would shoot grouse and cook the meal for his friends and family and sense the glory of the forest and the stars, whether he was in Africa like his father or in Montana. He cannot chase after antelope and cook the venison like he did as a younger man, but he can still see the vast Montanan horizon beckoning. He is proud of having been a very good game cook. And while he is wistful for the old days, he would not look kindly on those who harass, intimidate and threaten. Those trappers who let an animal scream in pain for days with no regard for life. He would not think kindly at those who are killing wolves at record levels of extermination from hate. He would not think kindly on those who stomp on innocent creatures who writhe in pain for days or shoot game at point blank range. Or those who club animals in agony to death. He would not look kindly at the bycatch of animals that are caught by trappers from horses, to dogs, sheep, eagles, cattle, elk, mountain lion and bears. He would think that an old order of decency when one fed one’s family had been lost forever and he would wonder at what kind of killers had taken over the range. He would wonder where Montana, Fish and Wildlife had gone wrong. Where had the bounty of $1,000 for each wolf come from, as the state of Idaho only knows too well. He would wonder where the militia of Montana had come from, they who wanted to eradicate Indian reservations and those who wanted to make the heinous practice of trapping a constitutional right.

Montana, Hemingway’s state, is being turned upside down. It is the number one state in hate, fear and intimidation and a lot of it is being directed towards the innocent and the most magnificent beings America has to offer, its wildlife. If Montana continues its present trajectory in killing, in ways that amounts to a war on wildlife, some may even reconsider their travel arrangements. A once incontestable grandeur will have been sacrificed to very special interest groups whose specialty is perverse. It is anti-life. 

As for trophy hunting, Hemingway, who knows a thing or two about guns and their application, told me very simply, with all the wisdom of someone who knows, who has been there, who has assimilated the language of the wild, “Very large conspicuous mammals deserve protection. I would avoid killing important large mammals that are threatened.”

“Like any law-abiding citizen should do.”

Stephen Capra is the Executive Director of Footloose Montana, a non-profit dedicated to ending trapping on public lands in Montana. He formally was Executive Director of New Mexico Wilderness Alliance where he worked to create two National Monuments and three wilderness areas and started the Mexican Wolf Coalition.

Learn more about Cyril Christo and Marie Wilkinson's work at their website.

WALK THUNDER trailer from Last Stand Films on Vimeo.

Published on Mar 08, 2021