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Why do some hunters travel and others not?
Taken as a whole, Safari Club International is a group of hunters who travel to enjoy our sport. The very word “safari” simply means “journey” in the Swahili language, and by nature, though not by credo, most members of SCI hunt far from home at least now and then. Statistically, this is an anomaly. We of Safari Club International are a minority of America’s 16 million hunters, and decades of repetitive surveys show that the vast majority of American sportsmen and women never hunt outside their home states. For those of us who avidly chase the far horizons this probably seems strange…and for those who don’t, our activities probably seem equally strange! As a hunter who has traveled to hunt his entire life (and also hunted close to home) I find this an interesting question: Why are some hunters driven to travel the globe, while so many others are perfectly content to hunt available game closest to home?
REASONS OR EXCUSES?
I spend a lot of time talking to hunters at sports shows and conventions. All too often I hear comments like, “Gee, I wish I could go ‘there’ and ‘do that.’” The inference is they would like to expand their hunting horizons…if they could only afford it. Yes, hunting outside of your home state costs money. In North America we have the rare opportunity to conduct “do-it-yourself” hunting on hundreds of millions of acres of public land. (Yes, hundreds of millions; Montana alone has 37 million acres available to the public for hunting.) But realistically, nonresident licenses are priced higher, and then there are travel, food, lodging and equipment costs…and of course costs for guided hunts (which are required in many areas) are generally much higher.
On so many international flights and in hunting camps from Alaska to Africa to Asia, I meet hunters from all walks of life and all income brackets who were driven to “make it happen.” Although grudgingly, I accept that there are hunts I dream of and probably can never afford. But I’m driven to do them and save, work extra hard, and make payments…and all over the world I run into hunters who do exactly the same things so that, every now and then, they can conduct a special, long-dreamed-of hunt.
However, for the majority of American hunters I do not accept that financial concerns, although usually given as the primary reason, provide the real answer for confining their hunting to their own neighborhoods. Not everyone can afford a Stone sheep, an Alaskan brown bear, a Marco Polo sheep or a safari in Tanzania. But, realistically, given a bit of planning and forethought most Eastern whitetail hunters (who comprise the world’s largest hunting population) could manage to go west to hunt pronghorn, mule deer or elk. Most American hunters from any part of the United States or Canada, again given a bit of planning and forethought, could put together a plains game safari in southern Africa, a stag hunt in Argentina or New Zealand, an ibex hunt in Mongolia, or other selective hunts anywhere in the world.
PRIORITIES AND LEGACIES
To some extent it’s a matter of priorities: There are reasons why my farm vehicle in Kansas has 240,000 miles on the odometer, and equally good reasons why I haven’t yet turned my barn into a trophy room. I am driven to hunt in distant places, and I would never dispute that my priorities and interests have long been skewed. But, at least on some levels, I know where it comes from.
Well, on some levels I do and on others I don’t. My uncle, Art Popham, went on safari in Tanganyika in 1956. That was somewhat unusual in a Kansas City family in those days, and I remember, at four years old, vowing that I would do that someday. But for the next 20 years it seemed extremely unlikely. My dad and my granddad were hunters, but they were typical Kansas hunters of the day: They hunted birds, because that’s what we hunted in the Kansas of my youth. The first modern deer season wasn’t held until the mid-1960s. So Kansas hunters were bird hunters and small game hunters, hunting the game closest to home and most available…like the vast majority of hunters today. My dad and granddad were unique only in that they occasionally went bird hunting in Nebraska and South Dakota (because those seasons opened earlier than in Kansas).
I’ve seen the evolution. Impoundments increased waterfowl populations. Turkeys and deer increased and seasons opened. Bobwhite quail decreased, and my quail hunting buddies became, often sequentially, waterfowl hunters and then deer and turkey hunters—still hunting the game most available close to home. I was a weirdo, and still am. I was always fascinated by rifles, but in Kansas in the early 1960s if you wanted to hunt big game with a rifle you needed to travel west. Dad had never fired a centerfire rifle in his life, so we learned together and started hunting pronghorn and mule deer in Colorado and Wyoming. Traveling to hunt seemed perfectly normal, and it became a habit I have never gotten out of.
Of course, there was also that vow to hunt Africa, which I made good before I was 25. I scrimped and saved and did extra work so that I could get Africa out of my system once and for all. That didn’t work exactly as planned; Africa is another habit I have never been able to overcome! But it certainly isn’t because I think distant destinations are “better” than hunting close to home. In California’s Central Coast, where I’ve lived for so many years, I get a huge kick out of hunting our coastal deer, valley quail and wild hogs—the game that’s close to home. And at my little place in Kansas there’s no way I’d miss whitetail season. So it isn’t at all a matter of thinking the grass is greener on the far horizons, or that the hunting is always better…rather, it’s a matter of different experiences.
It has been nearly 50 years since Dad and I first struck out for Wyoming, with pronghorn tags in hand but absolutely no idea of a place to hunt or how we were going to go about it. We managed and had a wonderful time…and I’ve been striking out for distant horizons ever since. It has been so much fun that I remain perplexed as to why so many hunters prefer to confine their sport to their own backyards.
GOOD REASONS AND BAD
Again, finances are often a reason…but sometimes an excuse. Not everyone can afford to hunt out of state every year, or even every other year. But most, far more than actually do, could manage to every now and then. Part of it is there are various reasons for hunting: Time with friends and family, putting some extra meat on the table, just getting away for a few days. These things can be done close to home as well as far away, and many hunters are psychologically and emotionally tied to familiar hunting areas and long-used hunting camps.
There is a comfort zone. I doubt if a lot of folks who have not traveled to hunt can bring themselves to admit it, but going on a hunt far from home is a bit intimidating…especially if you’ve never done it! I get a sense that an awful lot of us are fascinated by distant destinations—African stories and books, for instance, are avidly read by far more hunters than those who actually go to Africa.
Our millions of American sportsmen and women hunt for a variety of reasons. We have, literally, millions of fanatical whitetail hunters who truly have little interest in pursuing any other game. Likewise, we have single-minded turkey hunters; and, in the West, elk hunters, mule deer hunters and so forth. This is an age of specialization, and the proliferation of North American native game—including on public land—has made it uniquely practical for American hunters to concentrate on available game close to home.
Then there’s the simple fact that in today’s world, leisure time is an ever-shrinking commodity—and the demands on that diminishing time continue to increase. Hunters not only love what they do, but at some level are compelled to, but there are good reasons (or at least valid excuses) for hunting close to home. I think that, at least in part, there’s a familiarity issue. We know our local whitetail woods, turkey hollows and elk meadows. We may not always be successful, but we know we can hunt, satisfying that atavistic urge at little cost, with minimal time away from family and other responsibilities…and with limited risk. Let’s be realistic: It is one thing if, as I did, you grew up traveling to hunt. Despite the faraway dreams you might hold, it’s quite another to actually realize them if you’ve never done it before. I could be wrong, but for a lot of hunters, including many who may be extremely experienced in their own areas, I think traveling to unfamiliar areas is a very difficult step to take. In fact, although it may be hard to admit, I would imagine that it’s downright scary.
WHAT ARE THEY MISSING?
As far as our sport goes it’s not a problem that only a small percentage of hunters travel to enjoy their sport. The North American Model of wildlife conservation requires an active hunting public that buys licenses and equipment, supports sensible management practices, contributes to conservation organizations, turns in poachers and the whole nine yards. Some American states and Canadian provinces are blessed with significant nonresident traffic that pays higher fees and significantly enhances the game departments’ budgets…but wildlife conservation on this continent is essentially a grass roots movement, based primarily on a local hunting public…and in North America we have the largest hunting public in the world.
Even our own organization, Safari Club International, “first for hunters,” doesn’t care if our members travel. This is a departure from our earliest days, when an international hunt was required for membership, and it’s a good thing those days are past. Today we welcome hunters from all walks of life and all levels of experience. We don’t care if they are deer hunters, turkey hunters, rabbit hunters, sheep hunters or whatever; we only care that they embrace our mission to support and promote hunting and conservation. Annually, I attend quite a few chapter fundraisers and I consistently meet some hunters of vast and far-flung experience…and others who have seldom (or never) hunted out of their home state, but still believe in and support our organization.
This diverse mix of experience working toward a common goal is marvelous. But as I chase my own tail through the hunting year, I often wonder who has the best approach. I would never suggest that I do. On the other hand, I would not like to give up the sights I have seen and the memories I’ve collected. I think I have a clear understanding of why some people hunt and others don’t. I “get it” that, like all other hobbies, pastimes and sports, some people are avid and dedicated, while others take a more casual “part time” approach. No problem. However, at various events I run into a fair number of hunters who are just as avid and just as dedicated as I am…but rarely (if ever) expand their horizons.
This is perplexing. Hey, traveling to hunt does cost more money, but it doesn’t have to be frightful. Here in North America we are especially fortunate to have opportunities that hunters everywhere else in the world would give their eyeteeth to have. Sure, traveling to hunt takes planning and research (the more you do, the better
your chances for success), and certainly a sense of adventure and maybe, initially, a wee bit of daring.
To hunters who do travel, it’s worth it. So I have to wonder if those who don’t have any idea what they are missing? It doesn’t have to be ultra-exotic. I’ll never forget the first time I saw pronghorns dotting Wyoming’s high plains, a sight I never tire of, or the bugle of an elk far up among golden aspens, or after fruitless days on the endless tundra, seeing the first herd of caribou lining the distant horizon, or smelling the pine needles as you walk up through timber to glass a high basin for mule deer. The problem (this is a warning!): It gets to be habit forming!– Craig Boddington