A Road Map to Adventure

How The World Hunting Awards Changed Nick Hoffman’s Approach To Life 

By Nick Hoffman

Originally published in the June 2024 Awards issue of Safari Magazine.

The rusty old Jeep creaked and groaned as it carried us down a dirt two-track road in the middle of the jungle. Huge ferns and trees surrounded us. They were so thick I wondered out loud to my guide Jose, “How will we ever find anything in this cover?”

“Don’t worry, buddy,” he said in a thick Mexican accent. “I know how to find them.”

I was skeptical.  

It was hot. The forecasted high for the day was nearly 100 degrees, but driving along in this ragtop relic, it felt much hotter. I thought to myself, “How did it come to this? How did I end up here, bouncing around the jungle with a guy I just met, chasing a deer the size of a dog?”

Growing up, I didn’t have anyone to take me hunting and would have been happy just to see a whitetail buck, let alone hunting one. Now, here I am, as far south in Mexico as you can go, in the state of Campeche, trying to find a gray-brown brocket deer. Life is crazy.

Growing up in Tennessee, Nick Hoffman did not have anyone to take him hunting. Back then, he would have been happy just to see a whitetail buck, let alone hunt one. Since then, Hoffman has been around the world, mostly fueled by his passion or what he calls his “Hunttotravelitis.”

Eventually, Jose stopped the Jeep, and we set out on foot. Slowly, quietly, we crept through the dense jungle. We found tiny, nearly imperceptible tracks and followed them for about 20 minutes. Then the forest opened up enough for us to see about 50 yards. Just as my mind was registering the change in habitat, Jose crouched down suddenly, grabbing my shirt and pulled me down with him. 

He mouthed the words, “Right over there, 40 yards.”  

I shouldered my shotgun, my heart pounding. Maybe it was the swirling wind or our motion that betrayed us. With one lightning-quick motion, the deer was gone. A wave of disappointment washed over me. 

Ironically, I had never even heard of a gray-brown brocket deer until I discovered the SCI World Hunting Awards.

The World Hunting Awards are designed to recognize those hunters who spent copious amounts of their time, money and energy chasing the many species that can be hunted around the globe. The Awards also help them keep track their progress.   

Over the years, the program has evolved from only recognizing those hunters to celebrating the diversity of both our world’s game animals and the people who hunt them.

The World Hunting Awards program is a system with levels of achievements and milestones. With each new species, an outdoorsman or woman successfully hunts, he or she grows one step closer to each level. Some levels are quite easy to achieve, and others can take a lifetime.

At first glance, the program might seem like an invitation to “kill as many animals as possible.” But that isn’t what it’s about at all.

Instead, for a hunter like me, who thrives on the adventure and experience surrounding the hunt as much as the hunt itself, the World Hunting Awards program is more like a “roadmap to adventure” than it is a tally system.  

To me, hunting is about so much more than harvesting an animal. It’s more about the places hunting takes me, experiencing the history and culture of those places, and the people I meet along the way.  

When I first started hunting, the only species on my radar were whitetails and ducks. It wasn’t until I was a young adult that I branched out from the big game animals my U.S. Midwestern upbringing had to offer and traveled out of state to hunt for the first time.  

The hunt was for an elk in Wyoming. I remember it as much for the food I ate and the friends I made as I do for the beautiful bull I shot with my bow.  

That hunt left me stricken with an incurable disease I lovingly refer to as “Traveltohuntitis.” The progression of this ailment was swift and followed a common track known to many North American hunters. 

The track includes hunts like mule deer in Montana, Rio Grande turkey in Texas, black bear in Canada, caribou in Alaska and so on. My focus was mainly on finding hunts for the critters available here in the States, at least up to the point when I decided to go to New Zealand and experienced traveling internationally to hunt for the first time.  

It was around this time a fellow SCI member suggested I enter all of the animals I had taken up to that point as “photo entries” into the SCI Record Book system to be eligible for the World Hunting Awards (photo entries allow you to enter an animal without having it officially scored). The process was easy and affordable. Once I had entered those first few animals, the WHA system made it easy to see, at a glance, where I had been and gave me inspiration for where I should consider going next.   

Through the WHA, I have learned about species that were not on my radar before beginning the program, several of which I had never even heard of before. One example of this is the Tiny Ten in Africa. On my first hunts in Africa, I saw several of the little antelopes that make up the Tiny Ten, which are requirements for several inner circles of the WHA. 

I was so focused on the big stuff that I didn’t want to waste time on the small stuff, which seemed inconsequential. Yet, after many trips to the Dark Continent, I now find myself in pursuit of this milestone, and I have found these animals to be not only extremely challenging but also a ton of fun to hunt.  

The World Hunting Awards turned Nick on to pursuing the Tiny Ten. Here he shows a fine klipspringer.

The WHA program has encouraged me to get outside my usual routine in order to achieve certain milestones. An example of this is the Roosevelt elk hunt I have booked for this fall. 

I try to hunt elk every year, and it’s one of the things I look most forward to each season. If it weren’t for the WHA, I may have just gone on another hunt for Rocky Mountain elk as usual. But, in order to achieve WHA milestones like the North American 29 or Elk of North America, a hunter must take a Tule and Roosevelt elk in addition to their Rocky Mountain cousin we all know and love.  

The WHA program has inspired me to chase ibex, sheep and even birds all around the world that I may never have even considered hunting before.

This mid-Asian ibex fell on one of his adventures to Kyrgyzstan in 2021. Many of Nick’s adventures are documented in his show, “Nick’s Wild Ride,” on the Outdoor Channel.

Years after I first began participating in the WHA program, I am well on my way to my goal of earning the coveted World Hunting Award Ring, the highest award of the WHA Program. 

But I have a long way to go. That’s okay because there are many levels I look forward to achieving along the way. By the end of the year, I should reach the Fourth Pinnacle of Achievement and have taken close to 90 big game species around the world. With each hunt and each milestone and level of the WHA program I achieve, I am inspired to ask myself, “Where do I want to go next?”

So, I open up the World Hunting Records Field Journal to daydream, scheme and strategize.

That night, at the dinner table back in the camp in Campeche, Mexico, I told my fellow hunters the story of the day’s hunt for my gray-brown brocket deer over a cold beer. Most of them were down there to hunt ocellated turkey.   

“I didn’t even know those little deer existed,” said a hunter from Texas. 

“Me either ‘till a few years ago,” I said after a big swig of my beer. “Have you heard of SCI’s World Hunting Awards?”

“No. What’s that?”

“Hunttotravelitis” is about to claim yet another hunter, thanks to the SCI’s World Hunting Awards.

SCI Life member Nick Hoffman is a country music artist and the host of the award-winning hunting and travel TV show “Nick’s Wild Ride” on Outdoor Channel. Hoffman lives outside of Nashville with his wife and daughter, along with their dogs and horses.  

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