Hunting for Trophies

What good is a trophy that you no longer care to show off?

By Rob Breeding

Years ago, I enrolled in a graduate course at Northern Arizona University. I can’t remember the class title, but the focus was on indigenous foods and hunting.

It sounded great, especially since I’d drawn an elk tag that fall. Arizona doesn’t have a general elk season; there just aren’t enough animals to go around in that populous state. Instead, you apply for six-day hunts.

I was excited to have a class where we’d discuss hunting, and smack dab in the middle of the semester, I’d be hunting myself. I was the only one in class who was an actual hunter, so I thought I might bring something useful to our discussions.

It turned out my experience didn’t matter much to the visiting prof who led the class. At the start of the semester he explained he was an American Indian — his appearance was Caucasian and he had an Italian-sounding last name. As the semester wore on, he focused more of our class time toward a pair of American Indian students, peppering them with questions about family traditions and indigenous foods.

The students were quite polite about all the attention they received, even after it became clear the only real food-gathering techniques they’d practiced with their families was going to the grocery store.

I tried to talk about my hunting plans that fall, but the prof became increasingly agitated with me. I measured his agitation by the length of his emerging gray roots. He’d apparently given himself the “Just for Men” treatment at the start of the semester, and by mid-October, there was a distracting growth of gray roots peeking up beneath his jet black mustache.

He was uninterested in my hunting stories. Instead, he cut me off so he could listen to the young Navajo women provide second- and third-hand accounts of when their uncle’s brother’s cousin went hunting one time.

The prof dismissed my experience as mere “sport” hunting, which was somehow less noble than the tales of indigenous food gathering he vainly tried to extract from his favored students. White guys, apparently, just hunted for horns. Trophies.

As I look back on it, however, the dude might have had a point. I’m not saying his biases helped reveal some greater truth. On the contrary, the only thing he revealed was his own self-loathing. The insight he provided was more along the lines of “even a broken clock is right once (or is it twice) a day” sort of wisdom.

That fall, I killed an elk, a decent 6×6 bull. I wanted to kill a good-sized bull, one I could have mounted. That was my focus and I succeeded. I’ve been paying for it ever since.

I did have the elk mounted, but how I wish I’d gone for a less dramatic (and lighter) European mount. He was a 6×6, but a small one, scoring less than 300 points. Still, I earned that elk, hunting higher in the San Francisco Peaks than I’d ever hunted before. I waited eight hours near a stand of aspen where I knew the bull had bedded down for the day with his harem, waiting for him to emerge just before dusk.

After I packed the meat out, I told myself I deserved a trophy to hang on the wall. I’d set a goal and worked hard to attain it.

But now I wonder. I’ve moved five times since, and each time I’ve loaded that head in a U-Haul, I’ve questioned my decision. He’s not even in the house anymore. I’m in the middle of a home remodeling project, and I’m not sure I still want that antlered presence dominating the space in my living room.

What good is a trophy that you no longer care to show off?

The fourth in a series on hunting ethics, limits, slams and trophies.

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