Trophy Hunting and the Noble Savage
Since the beginning of time man has hunted beast. For sustenance, status, and recreation, as rite, and as tradition. Throughout much of history peopled hunted by necessity. Before the wide spread availability of the awesome variety of meat products we enjoy access to today people either had to raised their own small herds or hunt to get any substantial amount of protein in their diet. Our development of a vast network of food production which makes nutrition available to, theoretically, everyone (even though thats not exactly how it works in reality) is one of the prime factors in the expansion of life expectancy and growth in world wide average height over the last few thousand years.
Archeologists have found many artistic examples from antiquity proving exactly how highly hunting was regarded to ancient civilizations. There are endless images of kings and deities hunting big game animals and mythological creatures to show their power and strength as leaders or warriors. Many ancient taboos are also related to various prey and the mythos associated with them. Some form of semi hunter-gatherer lifestyle endured all the way up until the Age of Discovery when urban growth in Europe really started to take off in a much more pronounced way.
Ancient greek fresco from Tunis of a hunt with lions
As hunting moved from a subsistence activity to a social one, two trends emerged. One was that of the specialist hunter with special training and equipment. The other was the emergence of hunting as a ‘sport’ for those of an upper social class. As game became more of a luxury than a necessity, the stylized pursuit of it also became a luxury. The evolution of the word ‘game’ to include an animal that is hunted was a direct result of the development of hunting as sport. Dangerous hunting, such as for lions or wild boars, often done on horseback or from a chariot, had a function similar to tournaments and manly sports. It was considered to be an honourable, somewhat competitive pastime to help the aristocracy practice skills of war in times of peace. In most parts of medieval Europe this trend was enforced as law, making large tracks of land private hunting reserves for the nobles. Poaching could be punishable by death. These laws are where the original stories of Robin Hood began.
As the wealth of Europe grew and their colonial empires grew the aristocracy became increasingly mobil and a wealthy merchant class began to grow. By the 19th century many of the laws regarding hunting in Europe had fallen by the wayside and so was born one of the most iconic British traditions. The fox hunt.
Everyone has seen images of groups of many riding their horses in top hats and red coats, bugler in the midst, chasing their dogs who are hot on the tail of fox. The fox hunt has become a largely symbolic activity but, starting as far back as the 17th century farmers were chasing foxes and killing them as pests. As the industrial revolution came into full swing more people moved away from the country into urban environments and hunting slowly started becoming a leisure activity. With better more accurate guns and few laws or people to enforce them out in the country, hunt clubs began to develop throughout the 19th century. Originally the foxes were hunted because they kept killing the prized pheasants, which the hunt clubs enjoyed, but with the development of new hound breeds trained to handle the new industrialized landscape the fox hunt became a staple activity for the quality in Victorian Europe.
As travel became more luxurious and more reliable people of means with a more adventurous spirit started using their leisure time a bit differently. Foreign tourism began in force and apart from the cultural aspects of the various colonies safaris and big game hunts began to be organized for the enjoyment of the nobles and other wealthy visitors. These safaris were always complete with a team of trackers and local experts, usually of a local tribe, to aid in insuring the comfort and success of the tourists. Although many tribal people were treated as less then human they were still revered for their ‘primitive skills’ such as, hunting, tracking and understand nature and the land. This concept of the “noble savage” was developed throughout the colonial era as a way to acknowledge the skills they had but, in a subservient manner.
Roosevelt standing with native hunters over a dead lion while on safari in 1910
Ernest Hemingway and Teddy Roosevelt were some of the most famous big game hunters of the modern era shooting all manner of beast from atop horses, elephants, jeeps and camels. This type of ‘trophy’ hunting, where specific animals are sought out for their beauty, rarity or ferocity to prove the prowess of the hunter gave rise to the concept of a trophy room where mementos of each kill such as mounted heads, taxidermied beasts, pelts, and furniture made from bone could be kept as a monument to their owners skill.
(L) Ernest Hemmingway with his double barrel (R) Teddy Roosevelt sitting on his felled African Buffalo
The trophy room at the Wilbur D. May Museum in Rancho San Rafael Regional Park in Reno Nevada
Modern day hunting as evolved to include a bit of everything from the past. There has been a concerted effort by some to try and move “off the grid” including growing or killing their own food. That is an extreme example but, hunting to this day is one of the most popular sports in America. With sustainability and animal rights on the fore front hunting ethics laid down as far back as Teddy Roosevelt have been another hot topic. Roosevelt wrote of a concept of “fair chase.” Simply defined, fair chase is the ethical, sportsmanlike, and lawful pursuit of free-ranging wild game animals in a manner which does not give the hunter an improper or unfair advantage over the animal. The rules of fair chase are simple and seemingly intuitive, treat all things with the respect they deserve. The Boone and Crockett Hunt Club put these rules in writing all the way back in the 19th century.
- Obey all applicable laws and regulations
- Respect the customs of the locale where the hunting occurs
- Exercise a personal code of behavior that reflects favorably on your abilities and sensibilities as a hunter
- Attain and maintain the skills necessary to make the kill as certain and quick as possible
- Behave in a way that will bring no dishonor to either the hunter, the hunted, or the environment
- Recognize that these tenets are intended to enhance the hunter’s experience of the relationship between predator and prey, which is one of the most fundamental relationships of humans and their environment
With new technology come new challenges so the Pope and Young Hunt Club have added some more guidelines to fair chase.
- From any power vehicle or power boat
- By Jacklighting or shining at night
- By the use of any tranquilizers or poisons
- While inside escape-proof fenced enclosures
- By the use of any power vehicle or power boats for herding or driving animals, including the use of aircraft to land alongside or to communicate with or direct a hunter on the ground
- By the use of electronic devices for attracting, locating or pursuing game or guiding the hunter to such game, or by the use of a bow or arrow or firearm to which any electronic device is attached