By Craig Boddington
In the summer of 1977, I was stationed at Camp Pendleton with an infantry battalion of the First Marine Division. Our outfit had prevailed in the jungles of Guadalcanal and fought its way out of the Chosin Reservoir; our colors carried battle streamers from dozens of faraway places. By tradition, we had the temerity to consider ourselves part of the “Old Breed,” but there was nothing old or seasoned about me. I was brash and very young, barely mid-20s.
However, I had just returned from Africa. Those days, almost no one in the military could consider such a thing, but that was during the post-Vietnam lull. Plans were possible. I saved up leave, and I’d been saving pennies for years. Family and friends thought I was nuts (and were probably correct), but I pulled it off, and had a wonderful safari in the closing days of Kenya.
As I’ve often said, a first African hunt is a life-changing event. For sure, it was for me, setting me on a new and unalterable course. There was one thing more about that baby-faced young lieutenant in the summer of ’77 — I was a brand-new and very proud member of Safari Club International.
The year before, with an African safari in the planning stage, I’d been a guest at a couple of Safari Club meetings. That’s the way SCI still works — we come as guests, meet people, make like-minded friends and leave as members. Back then, it was a journey from the sleepy little military town of Oceanside to the jungles of Los Angeles. But times were much different then. Although incorporated as Safari Club International for five years, the group in Los Angeles wasn’t just the core, but almost the totality of SCI. Our system of local chapters that would become the heart and soul of SCI didn’t yet exist, so the early gatherings in LA were the whole enchilada.
There was another major difference. In those early days, at least one international hunt or “safari” was a requirement for membership! Which is why I was a guest in 1976, and not a member until a year later! That was always a silly rule. It would go away when, shortly, chapters sprung up and were started, but in those days, SCI was still in the toddler stage.
So, periodically but probably not yet monthly, the faithful would gather. In those pre-cell phone and pre-internet days, I don’t recall exactly how I learned about SCI or figured out how to find the meeting, but I was actively shopping for the right first safari. Most likely booking agent Art Kolp invited me. I doubt that I’d ever been in a city as big as Los Angeles, and for sure didn’t know anyone up there. That would quickly change!
It’s really no different today. Whether a casual chapter meeting, a gala fundraiser, or our annual convention, walking into a Safari Club event for the first time is a daunting experience, but not for long. From the beginning, SCI has been first for hunters. All hunters are welcome and made to feel welcome. I wasn’t yet 24 when I walked into my first meeting, alone, in a strange big city. Truth is, I was terrified, but much more afraid to show it. I needn’t have worried. At that first meeting I made friends that I’ve kept to this day.
In those days, naturally, it was mostly a California crowd, although the rapidly expanding membership was all over the map. Among the notables, Bert and Chris Klineburger would often come down from Seattle. I don’t recall meeting founder C.J. McElroy at the first couple of gatherings I attended. “Mr. Mac” had already relocated to Tucson, and was effectively growing the organization.
I did meet an amazing number of people who had much to do with shaping Safari Club International and making it what it is today. Andy and Dottie Oldfield for example. Andy was one of our first presidents. A quarter-century earlier, at the Chosin Reservoir, it was young Corporal Oldfield who famously radioed his company commander: “Captain, we got a problem up here; we don’t have enough bullets to kill all these so-and-sos.” Bill and Ingrid Poole, who would soon help launch San Diego as one of our earliest chapters. Sportfishing legend Bill Poole would be a Conklin Award winner; Ingrid Poole is a Diana, and remains a strong leader among women hunters (and men). Don Carper, Ed Chatwell, Matt Daniel, Ron Norman, Ben Robson, Bruno Scherrer, Bob Tatsch, Dan Thimmes, Larry Thompson, Don Tompkins, LeRoy Trnavsky and so many more.
At that time, all had hunted in places I could only dream of. Universally, they all welcomed this then-young Marine. They were my heroes, and immediately became mentors and friends. In years to come, we would sit on boards and share podiums, and I would share campfires in various places with more than half of them.
Sadly, many are gone, and we are all older. I will never forget, and will always be grateful, for the warm welcome given, in the earliest years of SCI, to a youngster from nowhere, with nothing to offer beyond passion for what we all hold dear. Not just across the nation, but across the world, with our now huge network of chapters, hunters of all ages and levels of experience find an SCI event and come to check us out. Always, I can assure you, with a bit of nervousness. It’s our continuing job to make them as welcome as our early members — and founders and leaders — made me.
Please come as a guest, but leave as a friend and new member. That’s exactly what I did. I joined SCI as soon as I was able, in the early summer of 1977. I’d already made friends that I’d keep for a lifetime, and I’ve made many more. Thanks to SCI, First for Hunters, a gathering of friends, where all hunters are welcome.