For most of us, the time since the end of WWII to today, is the most interesting, since we are all part of it.
In 1961 Harry Swank, an Alaska resident, had a bush pilot drop him and a small fly camp in the Wrangle Mountains of Alaska, where he proceeded to shoot the world record Dall sheep. That same year guide Eldon Brandt landed me on deep snow in a Super Cub on skis and I shot the world record moose.
Before the US government took control of sea mammals, intrepid guides would fly equally intrepid hunters in small aircraft out of places like Kotzebue, Point Hope and Point Barrow to hunt polar bear on the Arctic ice pack. I spent part of every hunting season in those areas and took at least five bears. There were lots of them, and harvesting male bears seemed to have no effect on the population.
Some of us would go to St. Lawrence Island, off the Alaska coast in the Bering Sea, to hunt walrus and several species of seal with the natives in walrus-skin boats. Chris and I were the first to hunt out of the villages of Gambell and Savoonga, along with that famous hunter Yoshi Yoshimoto. My brothers and I were creating a museum in Anchorage, where we had our taxidermy receiving station and fur store, and I decided we should have a beluga whale in our display. I contacted Carl Thiele, who lived off the land in an area across Cook Inlet from Anchorage and asked him to take us in his boats to hunt beluga in the mouth of the big Susitna Rover. We took two on the low tide.
All these wonderful times in Alaska came to an end when Congress passed the Sea Mammal bill, and overnight the US Fish and Wildlife Service closed all sea mammal hunting in the U.S.
Before WWII a few hunters went to western Canada, but after the war, in the third hunting era, more and more guides got hunting areas and the industry flourished in British Columbia, the Yukon, Alberta and the Northwest Territories.
Bob Householder started the Grand Slam Club, and lots of hunters
who wanted to be part of that ever-expanding group hunted western Canada for the three of the required species of sheep that could be taken there. Wood bison hunting was also open and many record-book trophies were taken there. I took the #9 Boone & Crockett head while hunting with Stan Burrell. He later died when his plane crashed and Canada lost a great guide. Wood Bison hunting stopped with the US Endangered Species Act, even though the wood bison was not endangered, and it took John Jackson of the Conservation Force 12 years to get the law changed so that US citizens could once again import wood bison trophies.
Asia experienced all the hunting eras, since some of its hunters crossed the Bering Straits land bridge to North America, but Western hunters had little, if any, experience of Asia until very recent times. First remoteness and then Communism kept the doors of Asia closed to westerners. Even so, some brave adventurers and explorer-hunters — including the Roosevelts, Lydekker, Littledale, Carruthers, Demidoff, Allen and the Clark-Morgan expedition – risked their lives to hunt up to 40 different species of mountain game there. Asia boasted the Argalis, Urialis, mouflon and Asiatic bighorns. These hunter explorers recorded their experiences and made maps that became very valuable to those of us who followed. The great taxidermist-hunter James Clark wrote his classic book, “The Great Arc of the Wild Sheep,” after his expedition with Morgan.
The opening of Asia for today’s hunters spans the last two hunting eras. After WWII, except for India, all of Asia and Eastern Europe was closed to hunting.
Most of the first hunts in the Soviet Union were in the Caucasus Mountains of Azerbaijan and North Ossetia. In 1970 my brother Chris was able to get permission for a six-week exploratory expedition into those areas. He found the different species of tur, plus brown bear, maral deer, roe deer and chamois. Early hunters concentrated mostly on the tur. After years of negotiating with Intourist, the big breakthrough came in 1987, when we were given permission to open Marco Polo sheep hunting in Tajikistan. Chris and I got all the necessary equipment and took the first hunters there: Bob Chisholm, Fred Fortier and Curly Miller. Curly almost died of high altitude sickness on that trip, but luckily I had brought along some bottled oxygen and it saved his life. Fred was the first Western hunter in modern history to take a legal Marco Polo sheep – got him on a day hunt with Chris.
Chris and I went on to open the rest of the gigantic Soviet Union. While I was in north-central Siberia, north of Yeniseysk, the oldest established village in Siberia, exploring hunting possibilities there, Chris was hunting in far eastern Siberia, in the Yakutia area to open the first hunts for snow sheep. Communism fell and people were free to do business and take money from foreigners. Hunting, mostly led by Chris, opened fast. Kazakhstan was next, followed by Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and the big prize, the Kamchatka Peninsula. Chris took the first hunters there in 1990. The only hunters recorded to have hunted Kamchatka previously were Guillnard in 1855, Demidoff and Littledale in 1899 and Allen in 1901. Chris and his group would fly almost completely around the world to get to the Kamchatka Peninsula. Just crossing the Soviet Union took them through 11 time zones! In contrast, when, in 1991 I took the first group to fly to Kamchatka on the newly-opened Alaska Airlines Flight, it was a short three-and-a-half-hour hop.
The 1960s saw the opening of Mongolia, with its much-desired sheep, ibex, elk and other species. Mongolia remains open today. With the help of our deceased club member, Prince Abdorreza Pahlavi, Chris opened Iran to hunting. It closed thereafter from time to time, but remains an important hunting destination for sheep and ibex and is currently open for hunting. Nepal opened for hunting in 1974 with Chris and noted companion hunters Bob Speegle and Butch White on that first shikar. It remains open today.
1967 was an important and historic time in hunting history. For the first time, modern hunters could book a Marco Polo sheep hunt in Afghanistan. It took several trips over there to get permission to start booking hunts for this much desired trophy found in the Wakhan Corridor, that little finger of land that touches China, Tajikistan and Pakistan. lied the first hunter to visit there and opened the roads for others to follow.
In 1968 we opened markhor hunting in the Hindu Kush mountains across from the Pakistan border. My brother Chris and I took markhor, but few hunters then were willing to pay $3,000 to hunt one. Today hunters are paying about $100,000 for that same hunt in neighboring Pakistan.
All hunting in Afghanistan closed when the Russians invaded in 1979, and it remains closed today. It would be 1987, when we opened Tajikistan, before hunters could once again go after Marco Polo sheep.
Bhutan was my next goal to open hunting, and I visited with King Sigme Singye Wangchuck. I was personally given permission to hunt there, as were fewer than 10 other western hunters, among them Americans Dick and Art Carlsberg, Stan Studer, Leonard Milton and his son Rand. Bhutan is an isolated and fascinating little known country with diverse wildlife and game, including tiger, leopard, gaur and especially takin and blue sheep. On my two hunts in Bhutan I took a Himalayan black bear and a blue sheep, and was
the first westerner to take a takin since WWII. Sadly, the hunting program I presented was not accepted, but the King did agree to begin allowing some tourism.
In Central and South America there were few laws about or restrictions on hunting game, including jaguars, and equally little restriction on bringing these trophies in the US. The great Sasha Siemel killed more jaguars than any other hunter, and often did it with a spear. I was not fortunate enough to hunt with Sasha, but I did with professional hunter Alberto Machado. Alberto guided many hunters for jaguar and puma, but also for the huge water buffalo found on giant Marajo Island at the mouth of the Amazon River. I took the #1 SCI water buffalo on Marajo with Machado, and many other trophies.
About the time Machado was considering retirement, along came Antonio de Almeida. I had met Tony in our Seattle taxidermy studio and he invited me to join him on a jaguar hunt. Richard Mason was also invited along. Tony and Richard had met in Angola when Richard guided him on a safari. We purchased some pots and pans, hammocks, mosquito nets and the all-important machetes and took off for the Matto Grosso in southwestern Brazil. We didn’t get a jaguar on that hunt, but I did wound a big male and Dick & Tony would later kill it with my 30-30 bullet still in its lower chest. During the trip we met Alberto, and we discussed hunting
possibilities for Tony and Dick. They were enthused about hunting water buffalo on Marajo Island, but I convinced them than more hunters would be interested in hunting jaguar. They agreed, and I supplied them with their first hounds, which I had bought from Joe Demoss, a professional hunter in Washington State. I also bought them tents and supplied the clients. Amazon Safaris (the name we chose) eventually became the leading outfitters for hunting jaguar and other game of Brazil. I enjoyed some wonderful hunts with them, as did many American, European and Mexican hunters. I recommend reading Tony’s two books: “Jaguar Hunting in the Matto Grosso” and “Jaguar Hunting in the Matto Grosso and Bolivia.”
With the passage of the Endangered Species Act in 1973, US citizens could no longer import jaguar trophies, and in time, Brazil and other South American countries closed jaguar hunting. The jaguars, unmolested, did much damage to ranchers’ cattle and for a while some special permits were issued for these killers. In the end, however, such permits became harder to get and all the great jaguar hunters put away their guns and laid down their spears. A notable era in our hunting history came to a sad end.
I feel very fortunate to have lived my long life in the hunting world. In the last two Great Hunting Eras, I have been privileged to have many adventures and to meet many great hunters. It has been very satisfying for me to help hunters and to have opened many other areas for other to follow.–Bert Klineburger