Saturday, March 24, 2012

Big Game Hunting

While I myself have never been a hunter, I have many friends that enjoy the activity and I understand how participating in the timeless dance of predator and prey could make for a rewarding experience. It is in the pursuit of wild game we tap our most primitive instincts, assuring ourselves that with cunning (and a moderate line of credit at a sporting goods store) we can reclaim our position at the top of the food chain at any given moment. What I witnessed on The Outdoor Channel a few months ago involved neither.

A film crew was following an older Caucasian American we will call Dave. Dave was in Africa hunting hippopotamus, which are notoriously violent and territorial in aquatic settings but tend to be more docile on land. Nonetheless, hunting big game carries big risks and Dave did not strike me as a man who left things to chance in work or leisure. To that end, Dave was traveling with an entourage of local “guides” who chauffeured him to several known hippo hot spots. 
At each vantage point, Dave would extricate himself from the Land Rover and hold a short conference with the foreman concerning the movements of their elusive target. After several disappointing pit-stops, it appeared that a member of the crew was sent ahead to verify the location of hippos so that Dave would not suffer the inconvenience of muddying his boots unnecessarily.

Once the foreman had a confirmed hippo sighting Dave was rushed to a nearby thicket where his roadies constructed a rifle stand, aimed his weapon, and gently placed it on his shoulder. After being reassured by his guides that a single, well-placed shot between the beast’s ears would ferry it painlessly to the netherworld, Dave placed his finger on the trigger and fired. The hippo, apparently unprepared for said netherworld, bellowed with rage as Dave pumped two more shots into its skull until it finally succumbed to its wounds.

The guides quickly surrounded Dave and took turns complimenting him on his marksmanship and cunning. The camera then turned to Dave, who confessed that he had always wanted to have the head of a hippo on his wall and regretted that it had taken him so long to achieve it. For several minutes, the entourage jockeyed for the largest tip before Dave was loaded back into the SUV and presumably returned to his hotel. The segment ended with the following conservation tip, “It is important to make every shot count.”
While the program billed itself as “big game hunting” I could not shake the feeling that I was watching an exotic trophy delivery service for old white men. I am all about the thrill of pursuit, but this seemed more akin to a drive-by at a petting zoo than a contest of wits. In fact, the footage of the actual hippo was so truncated I was beginning to suspect that it was an animatronic decoy used by locals to relieve wealthy Americans of their retirement accounts. After each “kill”, the hippo is re-booted and the customer is shipped a mounted paper mache head a few weeks later via FedEx.

I can also understand the need for a guide, but Dave had enough men with him to staff an Applebees. In this case, the hunter did so little that he served simply as a surrogate finger when the time came to discharge the firearm. From the looks of things, the most dangerous part of Dave’s day was past him once he got the lid on his morning coffee.

I have no doubt that as the years wear on Dave will greatly embellish The Great Hippo Takedown of 2012. Scotch in hand, he will recall the animal bearing down upon him and his single companion Natoo (an elderly blind guide) as they sought shelter behind a fallen tree. Time after time he had fought the great mammal to a draw but now he was down to his last bullet and the massive herbivore showed no signs of stopping. Gripping Natoo’s shaking hand; he drew one long breath and stood to meet his destiny. As the bullet pierced the creature’s body, its legs gave out it slid to a stop not two inches from Dave’s feet.

The event so traumatized Natoo that the villagers claim he has not spoken since that day. Dave, having lost his knife in an altercation with a Cheetah, was forced to field dress the brute using only his Delta SkyMiles credit card. Out of charity, Dave chose to donate the meat and hide to Natoo’s family keeping only the head for himself.

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