I remember this hunt like it was yesterday. Not so much because of the species, the terrain or trophy quality — but the pressure I had put on myself to close the deal. It was my last day of a 2015 African safari and I had been watching a group of blesbok 150 yards distant. As a bowhunter, I was hidden amongst a few trees and bushes and the terrain was such that I couldn’t get any closer. Typically, the blesbok is one of the first animals a hunter has the opportunity to take on a trip to the Dark Continent. This was my 33rd African safari and I still didn’t have one. My cameraman was PH Zak Grobler and despite our camouflage, the lack of ground cover and keen eyes of these plains antelope were making stalking difficult.
I decided to back out of our current position, drop over a small rise and work around through another small group of trees and into what looked like a pinch point. No sooner than Zak and I got repositioned, movement to my right showed two bucks slowly angling toward our tangle of grass and brush. It’s always exciting to watch animals unsuspecting close the distance, and of course the biggest trick in bowhunting is getting the bow to full draw without being discovered. As I cranked back my Mathews bow, the bucks kept coming. And just like bow hunts often do, my shooting opportunity came quickly. The arrow found its mark, with Zak capturing the entire sequence on video. After a quick check of the recorded footage, we could tell it was a good shot and trailed-up the buck.
So, I can imagine the reader’s thoughts at this stage of the article — “What’s the big deal about taking a blesbok?” Well, for me it was a big deal because that blesbok was the final animal in my quest to earn the coveted Safari Club International World Hunting Award Ring. BAM! Yes, I became the fifth bowhunter to achieve the milestone behind mega archers Archie Nesbitt, Gary Bogner, Byron Sadler and Ricardo Longoria. I remember standing on stage at the 2016 Convention and thinking, “Wow, this is a big deal.” It’s a mountain of bowhunting and a serious lifetime achievement.
If you are unfamiliar with the Safari Club International awards program, let me bring you up-to-speed. SCI divides its hunting award into three categories. Continental Awards, Inner Circle Awards and Milestone awards (Slams). These awards allow a hunter to reach levels of achievement. As more levels within the categories are attained, more awards are achieved. After completing the Four Pinnacles, a hunter can achieve the Zenith and eventually the Crowning Achievement. The next level is the World Hunting Award Ring and then up to the highest honor, SCI’s Conservation and Hunting Award. This highest achievement is also known as the YAK, named for a remarkable bronze which represents this final level of success with a hunter leading a yak, packing out a set of Marco Polo ram’s horns. A bronze worthy of the monumental hunting required to earn it.
The story of why I decided to pursue the “Ring” is pretty interesting. I had joined Safari Club International as a Life member in 2002, yet as a TV presenter and bowhunter on the ESPN Sports Network, I typically stayed clear of the record books for the sake of being labeled a trophy hunter. Let me be clear, I am a trophy hunter and proud of it, but the stigma associated with “trophy hunter” often brings out the worst in some social media outlets and jeopardizing my career over the antler and skull measurements of a few bow trophies didn’t make sense at the time. However, my thinking evolved, I continued to travel the world and bow hunt.
In May 2011, I was blessed to arrow a desert ram on Carmen Island, Mexico and achieve the Super Slam of North American big game, having harvested all 29 species with bow and arrow — on video no less. Word of the feat spread quickly and within a few weeks, renowned bowhunter and SCI Record Book Vice Chair Ricardo Longoria telephoned me and asked if I would consider pursuing the SCI World Hunting Award Ring. At the time, despite my Life Member status, I honestly never knew of such an award, nor did I know what species were required or really anything substantive about SCI’s awards program. It just wasn’t on my radar.
Since none of my animals were ever recorded by SCI, Ricardo asked me to quickly make a count of the different species I’d harvested with a bow. So, I walked around my game room and counted. When I told Ricardo, he asked if SCI could send a team to measure my animals for the SCI book. I agreed. After the measuring was complete, a few more weeks passed and Ricardo phoned again, this time to report that I needed 36 additional animals and he noted which specific animals were needed to complete the ring. It had taken me 13 years and 54 bow hunts to achieve the archery Super Slam, so 36 animals seemed like a tall order. Yet I remember thinking, “Why not go for it?” Ricardo had thrown down the gauntlet, and I accepted the challenge. A challenge that ended with a blesbok in Africa.
The neat thing about the SCI awards platform is that there are many steps up the ladder and many rewards along the way. When one looks at the whole of the milestone, it’s a huge undertaking, yet nibbling at bits and pieces, one can make headway with the categories. It took me fewer than five years to gather-up the 36 species
When one looks at the individual achievements required in the award categories, some really stick out in a “Wow!” kind of way. Like the Animals of Africa Inner Circle. Let’s just say they don’t call this outfit Safari Club International for nothing. A hunter can travel the whole of Africa taking thick-skinned game, the tiniest of pigmy antelope or everything in between.
And I’ve left the most important points for last. One needn’t have an unlimited budget or thirst to travel the globe to get into the SCI awards program. Goals like the North American deer, or the Wild Turkey Milestone, Elk of North America, North American wild sheep, even the North American 12 are all right here in our back yard. Or if you enjoy Africa, consider a challenging pursuit of the ring horns or spiral horns. Pigs and Peccaries of the world are a grand undertaking, as are Oxen of the World.
If you enjoy adventurous travel and hunting, collecting species is addicting. I’ve talked to many hunters who generated new life into their hunting by getting out of the whitetail woods and following a different path. I know of at least 20 guys who watched my Spanish ibex hunts on TV and just had to try one. Now they are hooked and pigeon-holing funds for their next adventure.
Keep in mind that SCI’s Record Book and awards platform also allows members to document their hunting heritage. Hunters active in the Record Book and awards platform are memorializing their hunting legacy for their family, where sons and daughters, grandsons and granddaughters can review their hunting accomplishments. It can be very eye-opening to look through the record books and see the names of past hunters, such as the likes of Courtney Selous or Theodore Roosevelt listed in the Roland Ward record book; or Fred Bear in the Pope and Young Record Book. Hunters like C.J. McElroy, Roy Weatherby, Dr. Bob Spiegel, Dr. James Conklin and many more elite hunters are listed right among us everyday hunters who have taken it upon ourselves to honor our animals by scoring and listing them in the SCI Record Book. Even our heroes of today such as Alan and Barbara Sackman, Renee Snider, J. Alain Smith, Craig Boddington, Jim Shockey, Archie Nesbitt, Jack Frost, Tom Hoffman and many others will certainly be legends someday. I know that I will be proud to have my name alongside any one of these iconic hunters as well as many others not listed here.
The bottom line is that these record-book archives and award milestones are tributes to the animals, the hunters and to conservation worldwide. These archives and achievements are not bragging rights, but heritage and legacy milestones with a key point that each hunter is doing his or her part for conservation. Never forget that hunting is the No. 1 tool of wildlife conservation.
Get involved with SCI Record Book and the hunting milestone awards. Thursday nights at SCI’s annual Convention is The Night of the Hunter Celebration, an evening of tribute to the SCI members that are active in our conservation and Record Book programs. Come and join us!
For me, I still need to complete the World Hunting Awards by hunting a few more new species as my eyes are glued to that YAK. It is the top bronze that shows my commitment to conservation and hunting around the world.–Tom Miranda