I was sitting on a low ridge overlooking a hard-frozen Alberta grain field while another hunter was posted off across the field on another little rise. The guides were driving or, in Canada-speak, “pushing bush” through a timbered draw below our field. All shots were safe but there seemed a lot of distance between us — maybe that’s what the buck thought. The drive was just a few minutes old when a big-bodied, heavy-antlered northern whitetail came barreling down the center of the field, running flat like only a whitetail can. I was swinging hard, trying to get enough lead, but I never finished the squeeze. The buck somersaulted in mid-air before I heard the shot, one of the prettiest I’ve ever seen.
At the time I thought luck might have played a role in that spectacular shot. That’s not because I was jealous…I never got a chance on that hunt, but, deep down, I was really glad somebody else was on the trigger that day! I didn’t really know the guy who shot that deer; we met when we showed up in camp together. His name is Joe Bishop, a builder from Denver, now Steamboat Springs. That was nearly 30 years ago, and I know now luck had little to do with it.
Joe Bishop is one of the finest field shots I’ve ever seen — always calm and usually deliberate—but fast as lightning when he needs to be. In Mozambique a few years ago, we caught just a quick flash of a huge bushbuck streaking toward cover. I don’t know if there was even time for anyone to say, “Shoot!” But Joe didn’t need to be told; the rifle went off just as the animal vanished behind a tree. And that’s where we found it, center-punched.
I’ve thought back, and I’m not sure I can recall ever seeing Joe Bishop miss. Unfortunately, I can assure you the reverse is not true. Every few weeks—for 25 years—I’ll pick up the phone and Joe will say, “Boddington, remember, it’s all about shot placement.”
In 1992, Bob Kern set us up on a bear hunt in Kamchatka, catching a spring blizzard that delivered several feet of fresh snow. Joe’s a skier; I am not. We lost track of the number of times I fell down on Russian cross-country skis. We’re quite different. Other than orneriness Bishop has no bad habits and doesn’t swear. He found my language very creative as I went face down in the snow and struggled to get up time and again. Somehow we got our bears, and since then we’ve done a lot of the tough hunts together: bongo, Derby eland, Russia, Tajikistan, Turkey, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, Ethiopia twice, Mozambique twice and more. It’s now been a long friendship, and I’m fairly certain we left for our first hunt in Ethiopia the day after his first date with his wife, Sara.
It was my second try when we hunted giant eland together. I got mine first at about the halfway point; a massive old bull with huge bases, well-worn at the tips. It was past dark two days later when we heard distant singing and Joe and Jacques Lemaux danced and sang their way into Rudy Lubin’s camp. Joe’s eland was in the back of the truck completely hidden under leafy branches and, once the singing died down, nobody had much to say. I should have known, especially when Bishop said, “Like you said, Boddington, an eland is an eland.” They took off some branches, and it was the most beautiful animal I’ve ever seen, thick all the way up, and well over 50 inches on the spiral.
Luck didn’t seem to be with him when we hunted the Bezoar goat in Turkey’s Taurus range. I got a good ibex, again at the halfway point, but we got down to the last day and Bishop hadn’t had a chance. We had an evening flight and we were beat. We almost bagged it that last day. A young Kaan Karakaya offered to take us pig hunting in low country nearer the airport. Instead, we decided to hit the mountains and give it one last try. Again, I should have known! About 3:00 p.m. Joe shot the biggest ibex yet taken in Turkey. We ran off the mountain, me with half the ibex, changed clothes and made our flight.
You know the old saying, “Beware the one-gun man.” Bishop is an avid collector of many things: Old tractors, cameras, watches, horse gear, art and artifacts and firearms. He has some awesome rifles, including several of the very special guns made for our Convention. But when he goes hunting, he uses an out-of-the-box Sako 7mm Remington Magnum and if that doesn’t seem enough, he uses a Sako .375 — both Mag-na-ported to keep muzzle rise down. I’d probably have done better if I’d followed his advice to stick with one rifle, but I’m still learning.
We haven’t hunted together a lot in recent years. Partly that is because Joe doesn’t much care about duplicating, and he doesn’t seek awards. Partly it’s because he’s done several major hunts with his wife, Sara, as the designated hitter and certainly because they spend a lot of time on their ranch in Namibia, in partnership with our friend Dirk de Bod. It was a great place when they started it, but after 15 years of developing the wildlife, it’s a showpiece now and we’ve shared some good times around the fire.
This past year, Joe started to get the itch. We had a plan to go to Ethiopia, without question one of Africa’s most beautiful countries but a bout with cancer interfered and it wasn’t possible. Barely past that he started making a new plan. Joe was one of the early hunters to take a “world slam” of wild sheep. He has some spectacular rams in his trophy room, but he saw pictures of the monster sheep now popping up again in Mongolia and he became entranced, so he made a new plan to go to Mongolia to hunt those big sheep. It was quite a plan, Joe, Sara, and Donna and me, with Kaan Karakaya for the best part of a month.
As you’re reading these lines, we should be somewhere in the Altai Range, or maybe in the Gobi. Maybe we’ve already seen some of those big rams or maybe we’re still looking. But Joe won’t be there with us. Three weeks from departure his cancer popped up again. Immediate and painful surgery was indicated and performed. At this writing, though the pain is awful, the prognosis is good, but there will be no travel for some time. Postponement was not an option, so Donna and I are going on what should be the sheep hunt of several lifetimes while Joe and Sara continue the fight. We’ll be thinking about them. We’ll pray at the Buddhist shrines that dot Mongolia, and any game taken will be for Joe. Later, when the leaves start to turn, perhaps we can start to make a new plan.–Craig Boddington