It’s an emotive subject no matter what your point of view, but the term ‘trophy’ being applied to an animal when hunted conjures up, for most people, a negative perception of those involved in the activity. Some people look to differentiate trophy hunting of large game in Africa, and elsewhere, from the deer they stalk back in the UK or their home countries. A justification for stalking, as we prefer to call it in the UK, is for deer management and we add additional validation to the pursuit with the assertion of turning the harvested animal into meat for the table. Indeed, we may even look to project a noble cause with no down sides. Why then, are we not surprised when photographs of people standing behind a hunted animal with a magnificent set of antlers causes such a negative back lash to our passions and pursuits?
There are many reasons why people record the end of a successful hunt and I’m sure we have all done so. For some, it’s a memento of the day to remind them of it at a future date. Similarly, the mounting of a head provides a memory of a successful day whilst also, in an odd way to some, serving as an act of respect to the animal who’s head now sits proudly on their wall. For some its not the size, or quality, of the head that’s important, but rather the occasion to be treasured.
An important part of the paragraph above, to me, is the issue regarding size and quality. We are taught that beauty is in the eye of the beholder but for some reason in fieldsports we have developed a scoring matrix to determine the magnificence of the animal. As far as I am aware, we only score males and not female deer, why is that? Can the killing of an animal simply because its head is regarded as a ‘gold’ or ‘silver’ be justified?
The basis for scoring an animal is to keep records of the development of that species in each region. Continuous recording of how a species has developed provides valuable data for the plight of the animal in any location and as a result provides valuable feedback for management and conservation in that area. The need to monitor and record the stature of animals objectively, against an agreed matrix is therefore a positive endeavour. The problem, unfortunately, is that the reasons behind scoring the head and the actual killing of the animal have become blurred. I’m sure if one were to ask any stalker if they would shoot an animal simply because of the stature, and likely score the beast would attain, they would say not. The marketing material for many stalking services would sadly purport the opposite.
We live in changing times where those with little or no exposure to the rural life or the ‘way of the wild’ are influenced not through experience, knowledge or accurate information, but rather by ‘headline porn’ and outspoken celebrities, now revered as divine experts. Whether we like it or not, we have to acknowledge this new world, for as long as it exists, and demonstrate sound reasoning behind our activities. Maybe one way would be for us to demonstrate, in a much more meaningful manner, the reasons for ‘scoring’ a culled animal. If we were to remove the ‘award’ element of the score, and apply a score to all felled deer – not just the ‘good looking’ ones – then maybe, just maybe, non-hunting people might take seriously the arguments behind our stalking activities and the associated scoring that sometimes goes with it.