My wife was talking about my hunting with a friend of hers, to whom the subject is not only quite strange, but also more than a little creepy. “Has David ever shot an elephant?” asked the friend.
No, said my wife, he’s been chased by an elephant, but he’s never shot one.
There’s a fairly long list of animals I’ve never shot when I had the chance.
I’ve never shot a brown bear or a grizzly. It doesn’t seem right to destroy something like that, take the head and hide, and leave the rest for the scavengers. Finn Aagaard, for whom I had tremendous respect, would not do it either.
Finn did hunt elephants. In fact, he was obsessed with it. To him it was the highest form of hunting, but he was also very much aware that the tembos he killed were creatures with considerable intelligence, and a certain amount of self-awareness, like the apes, and ourselves.
“If you shoot the number-one sable bull out of a herd,” Finn said, “another bull will take his place and nothing will change. But if you shoot an elephant bull, his askaris will gather around the remains and say to each other, “My god, they killed Ralph. This is all that’s left of him.”
That may be why elephants that are treated “humanely” by zoos and circuses sometimes go berserk and start killing people. They’ve had enough of captivity, affronts to their dignity, which is very real, and being gaped at by creatures who are probably repellent to them. “Fine,” they decide one day. “Enough is enough. Now it’s time for payback.”
There are species that you can shoot one of in a lifetime, and no more. The sable comes to mind. A sable bull is one of the biggest and most impressive of all the antelope, but the beasts are not particularly bright. They will step out right in the open, inviting you to admire them, and there’s not much sport in putting one on the ground.
I got a very respectable sable bull very early on in my African hunting career, and a decade later I got a chance at a true monster, far, far better than the one I already had, destined to go way up in the record books. I didn’t shoot, and the professional hunters wouldn’t speak to me for a day. But I had sound reasons for not shooting. First was the cost of a sable license, which was considerable. But there was also the ethical problem. He was standing in the middle of a road no more than 25 yards away. Shooting would have been little more than murder.
Some people detest wolves, and kill them every chance they get. I think wolves are terrific animals, and they’ve never done anything to me. I also think they’ve been handed about as rotten a deal by humans as any predator, and we should now give them a break, even at the price of some of the species we like to eat ourselves.
Looking back, there are a good many times I could have pulled the trigger, and didn’t, and I’ve never regretted one of them. And there were times when I did shoot, usually against my better judgment, and as J.E.B. Stuart said, I have only regretted those once, and that was continually.