This past July, Jim Shockey, hunting television show host and outfitter, was named the 2018 winner of the Weatherby Award, given annually by Weatherby Foundation International. Coveted among dedicated international hunters, the Weatherby Award is known as a recognition for those who have hunted the most species in the most places around the world under the most demanding conditions. Outside these circles, some see it as an award for rich hunters who can afford to travel to exotic places, while others view it as a prize for the one with the most notches on his (or her) belt. HuntingLife’s Executive Editor Barbara Crown spent some time speaking with Shockey to get a better understanding of what it means to win the Weatherby and what it really says about the winner. We discuss the exacting criteria required to receive the Weatherby and Shockey’s personal philosophies on those criteria – from fair chase and hunting ethics to reasons for hunting politically unstable countries, to the most challenging species in the world, and how there’s no place like home and no better species than the one you grew up hunting.
A philosophical hunter, Shockey expounded on all these topics and more in a two-hour interview. We’ve decided to publish the interview in segments that we will post over the coming week. Our first segment below is on Shockey’s view of an award he says simply celebrates a lifetime of hunting.
Barbara Crown: Some people consider the Weatherby Award to be the pinnacle in hunting achievement, while others see it as just another celebration of ego mania among wealthy hunters. What is your view on the Weatherby?
Jim Shockey: The Weatherby Award is considered the pinnacle of hunting achievement in certain circles. Part of its cache is that it is so long lived in the hunting world, going into its 62nd year now, but also it is and international award with winners from all over the world. If you look at the hunters considered for this year’s award there are hunters from Spain, Mexico, Russia and the United States. Its not a local award but a worldwide hunting award that has been going for a long time.
It probably is also the least marketed award and one that the average hunter, who hunts on the weekends, doesn’t know about. But in those circles of hunters who devote their lives to hunting around the world, it’s really a lifetime achievement award in a way. If you go back through the winners, I don’t know that you’ll find anyone under 60. If so, there isn’t many. That’s because you must have devoted your life to hunting around the world and to conservation. That is the reason the people who know about the award consider it the pinnacle of hunting achievement.
Barbara Crown: Was winning the Weatherby on your wish list or something you ever thought about as you planned your hunts?
Jim Shockey: The Weatherby was never really on my radar or a goal of mine. It was made really clear to me over the years as I rose in profile in the hunting industry that I would never be allowed to enter because I was considered a professional and the original criteria for the award excluded professionals in the industry. No film makers, no taxidermists, no writers, no outfitters/guides or booking agents. All were excluded from entering.
Over the years they softened the rules to allow people like Mike Simpson (a taxidermist) or Jimmie Rosenbruch (an outfitter) and Basil Bradbury (a writer and film maker). A few years ago, they asked if I would be interested in submitting a ballot, which came as a total shock to me. I never hunted with the Weatherby in mind. I hunt because I love hunting and exploring. I am equally as interested in the cultures of these countries I go to and the cultural artifacts and art. I’m an avid collector of that. My traveling companions will tell you I will spend more time treasure hunting than I will hunting an animal.
You can see that in the Hand of Man Museum of Natural History and Cultural Arts that Louise and I opened a couple of weeks ago. It’s a 17,000-foot facility featuring things I’ve picked up on my trips. The vast majority of the collection is cultural objects, not necessarily anything to do with hunting. There’s not a single shoulder mount in the whole place, but there is a set of mastodon tusks found in the Yukon. It’s my private museum now open to the public, and it’s the result of a lifetime of traveling and hunting around the world.
Barbara Crown: Once you were nominated did that influence or affect your hunting ventures afterward? Did it become a goal at that point?
Jim Shockey: The Weatherby for me came as a result of a lifetime devoted to hunting and not the other way around or from any time devoted to trying to get the Weatherby.
I would never criticize others’ motivations. There is a “Weatherby Race,” referring to when you get in the top six candidates – all of them (men and women) are highly motivated, type-A personalities. Because many people consider the Weatherby to be the pinnacle of hunting achievement, there is a great degree of desire or motivation to win it. But that was never part of my motivation. A lifetime hunting achievement came to me just doing what I love doing, and I won’t be changing any of that going forward just because this award has been bestowed upon me. I do this because it’s who I am. I could not care less about record book species or the most species. What I care about is the challenge and the joy of exploration, of putting together the expedition into the wild places of this world, literally to look over that next mountain. That’s who I am.
Had I lived in a different era I would have served on the HMS Beagle to Australia, I would have volunteered instantly. I would have wanted to go and see it. Even as a deck hand I would have gone. I would have been with Captain Cook on his voyages around the world, gathering up as many cultural artifacts as my bunk space would have allowed me because, knowing the Shockey genealogy, I definitely wouldn’t have been an officer. I would have been down in the depths of the ship somewhere, but I would have had some beautiful cultural artifacts to bring home. That’s just who I am. Hunting was a good reason to go to the further reaches of this planet. That in and of itself is a worthy goal.
When it comes to the hunting, for me it’s not about collecting species listed in a record book or required for an award. They are there and that’s cool, but there are so many other animals to hunt. For example, in Madagascar there is a legal seasonal hunt for these two species of hedgehog, one yellow and one red. I don’t even know what they are called. But I would just absolutely love to go experience that hunt. It’s not an animal on any list. It’s just about the experience. That to me is what hunting is all about. Comradery, discovery, family, traditions, adventure. And I hate to use the word adventure, because if you want to go bungee jumping, that’s not for me. That kind of adventure is not what I do. If I had to bungee jump it would be because I had to get down to the bottom on a quest for whatever I’m looking for.
Again, the Weatherby has come as a lifetime of just being me. I didn’t even remotely consider going after it. An award would never have been a motivation for me. Even when I played sports, it wasn’t about the award. It was about challenging myself to be the best that I could be. Nothing has changed. That’s who I am.
Barbara Crown: You’ve hunted 367 species in 50 countries, and now that you’ve won the Weatherby, now what? Will you continue hunting abroad? Is there something you want to do again? What does someone who has hunted “everything” do as a hunter?
Jim Shockey: Well, very soon I’m headed to the Arctic to hunt Coral Harbor for walrus with my Inuit friends. I have hunted walrus many times in other places. I am going back because I’ve never been to Coral Harbor and want to experience how they hunt walrus and experience their version of the Inuit culture.
So, the short answer is my life won’t change a bit. I will continue to seek out and explore remote places of the world… or I might just focus on places here in North America. It’s been a wonderful run traveling around the world to all of these various countries, some I’ve been back to 30-40 times. But now it may be time to look back into North America and take a map view look at this amazing continent that we live on.
I’m already scheduled to hunt in the Yukon. I’ll be hunting in California in about a month, then go back to the Yukon. Then I go to Arizona to the White Mountain Apache Indian Reservation and hunt there. Then I’m going to hunt Vancouver Island for elk, and probably go to Saskatchewan in October and then to Colorado. So, I’ll still be going everywhere. I’ll be traveling a lot, but probably more in North America because that’s my roots. And at 60, I’ve noticed I’m not as fine of hearing, the eyesight is not 20/10 anymore, and while physically I might still be able to keep up with most 30-year-olds, you need all of your senses if you are going to be doing what I’ve done for the last 40 years. International hunts require and “all in” complete and total focus. The better equipped you are in all those senses, the higher your odds are coming out of it safely in the end. I have five rules for hunting: safety, safety, safety, safety and safety. And I’ve come to realize I’m not as good as I once was. I’m still going to hunt. I think my wife Ousie (Louise) thought that once I’d gotten to this point in my career I’d be considering retirement, but if I retire it will just give me more time to do what I like doing, which is hunting. So, what’s the point of retiring?
Barbara Crown: Part of the review process for the Weatherby includes having award committee members speak with guides and fellow hunters about you as a hunter. Regardless of the Weatherby Award, what do you want all the guides, trackers and other members of the parties that have accompanied you to be able to say about you as a hunter, as a client and as a person?
Jim Shockey: I would love for everyone to have really liked the experience of hunting with me, but, as my wife Ousie will tell you, I am extremely focused, especially when I’m in places like Pakistan, Congo or Chad. Everywhere I’ve hunted, I’ve had tremendous respect for the hunters there and their knowledge of the area and the animals they are hunting. When I went to hunt free-range sambar deer in New Zealand, I hunted with a guy they called Mr. Sambar. It was absolutely a pleasure to hunt with this gentleman. I learned every single minute I was with him. He explained the genetics of the sambar, their history, the skills it takes to hunt them, the where, the how … he was literally a student of sambar deer. Now there’s a gentleman I’m hoping is sitting on the North Island of New Zealand right now looking at a sambar deer in his binoculars, and if I pop into his head, I would like him to remember me as someone who paid him respect for his knowledge and his dedication to his avocation. That goes for everyone I’ve hunted with around the world.
I’ve hunted with professionals like Jason Roussos in Ethiopia, and Steve Kobrine, who is truly an explorer you’ll find in the craziest places in the world. He makes me look like a backyard explorer. Those kinds of guys, I would like them to remember their experience of me as one in which I respected their knowledge and I came in equipped, mentally and physically, to walk with them in their footsteps. I would never want any of them to think that I tried to usurp their position, that I thought I knew more. I would like them to believe that I was their peer in my own way.
That said… this hasn’t always been the rule. I ask that the people I hunt with care about the wildlife, care about its conservation, care about learning how to hunt this animal or to hunt it in an ethical way, a legal way. For those people, I would like them to believe or remember me as a hard ass that demanded they pay attention to these important parts of the hunt. I don’t need them to like me. I need them to learn from me being there that there are hunters from around the world that won’t tolerate misbehavior on the legal side and that also demand a certain level of ability.
If you are going to put yourself out there as a professional, then be a professional. I’m an outfitter. People think I’m a TV guy. I’m not. I’m an actual outfitter who got his first guide outfitter territory over 25 years ago. I had guides that I ran through the “Shockey boot camp.” I expect a certain level of understanding of what this service industry is about when you’re an outfitter and a guide. My guides are that good, and I expect other guides to be that good around the world. Let’s just say if they did not meet my standards, I hope that they will look upon me as a difficult client who demanded their best, whatever that was, and if it wasn’t good enough that they learned from the decisions I made to make the hunt a success. So, I don’t need to be liked. I know who I am. I’m not worried in the least about them liking or not liking me. But I would like them to have respected who I am.
Editor’s Postscript: Shockey will receive the Weatherby Award at a gala dinner and ceremony to be held on January 16, 2019 at the Omni Dallas Hotel in Dallas, Texas. For information, contact firstname.lastname@example.org or visit their website.
Watch for more segments of our interview with Shockey when we talk about his thoughts on hunting ethics, the place of record books, and his most challenging hunting experiences.