Blood, gore and a respectful handshake in rural America
Killing animals with antlers and hooves gets some men going.
They will cross the world to do it. They like to take pictures and videos of themselves in cammo gear, up high on cold mountains, or prowling through low swamps, holding rifles fitted with scopes.
Most of all, they like to take photos of themselves, feet resting on their prey, victors in a small one-sided battle over a horned creature.
They don’t often get it wrong. They have rangefinders to get the animal’s exact distance.
Personally, I don’t get it. Well, I get it, but I don’t get the way they delude themselves that they’re out there, in the wilds, exposed to danger, taking risks, manning up against the odds.
I don’t get their sense of achievement.
It’s like those men, and women, who like to run down black bush pigs with knives and teams of dogs. They call it pig sticking.
They winch the pig onto the Toyoto trayback, reach into the esky, grab a coldie, and breathe out with relief, claiming what they just did was pretty bloody dangerous.
But I have never, ever heard of someone being gouged or gored - let alone killed - by a bush pig.
The animal, whatever animal it is, always loses.
That’s why we, not them, run the world.
I was in Idaho this week, in the upper west of the USA. It’s an incredibly beautiful place of low desert plains and high desert ranges and rugged mountains, especially lovely at this time of year, in the American fall, when the snow has just started and the leaves are down.
I headquartered in Boise, pronounced Boy-see, which is one of the prettiest and friendliest little cities I’ve ever been.
I was the only reporter present to cover the case of the three Tasmanians who this week pleaded guilty in Elmore County Court, in the small town of Mountain Home, to shooting a mature bull elk out of season, and to illegally transferring tags on two wolves they shot.
I watched a number of cases before the Australians were up. There was a girl who pleaded guilty to her third time caught with alcohol under the age of 21. A young man represented himself - and won - a traffic case against the police.
The judge gave a dirty old man two days’ jail for breaching a non-contact order with his female neighbour. He’d lent some money and was now demanding payment in blowjobs.
Judge George Hicks was a softie. Anyone he jailed had the option to turn the sentence into community service.
He saved the Australians till last. He didn’t like them much, particularly Anton Kepeller, who’d been coming to Idaho to hunt for two decades and was long suspected by other hunters and game officers of abusing his hunting privileges.
The animal shot by Kepeller’s group, four days before the elk season opened, was a full-grown, six-point trophy bull, a beauty. The judge confessed he himself liked the hunt. But not like this.
It was a particularly fine bull they had shot. And left to rot.
The Australians were the classic non-subsistence hunter-types, not interested in meat but in blood and memories. They only wanted trophies.
They had huge rifles which could, literally, drop an elephant. They dropped an elk and two wolves.
Later, I got to look through the hundreds of photos of photos the Aussie hunters had taken. They had been seized by the Idaho Game and Fish officers who busted them. There was the usual array of happy men with bloodied carcasses or rifles laid triumphantly across the rack, as they call the antlers.
The photo of smiling Samuel Henley with the two dead wolves he shot was particularly arresting and probably, if you’re sensitive to these things, which I’m not, upsetting.
Henley, 18, had a permit that only entitled him to shoot one wolf. So his uncle, Darren Tubb, pretended he had shot the second wolf, and transferred his tag the Henley.
No one really minded that they had illegally transferred tags. In fact, no one really cared about the wolves at all. They are seen as a menace to livestock and the state of Idaho refuses to protect them.
“I don’t think anyone’s bleeding hearts the wolves have died,” said the Australians’ defence attorney, Gerald Bublitz, in court.
Everyone kind of nodded at that. In Idaho, they don’t see wolves as noble creatures, but bad dogs.
And nobody even really minded that the elk had been shot four days before open season.
What they really objected to was the fact that Kepeller - the expedition leader - had abandoned his camp leaving his fire burning, in an area that can be devastated by wildfire.
They were furious he left the campsite littered with rubbish. As he has been doing for years.
They were most of all disgusted the men had left the elk to rot. The judge could not understand that. Elk meat is highly valued by locals, much more so than the antlers.
They were aggrieved that Idaho’s hospitality had been abused. It was really a matter of manners.
“If I had the ability to do it, I would suspend your hunting privileges for life,” the judge told Kepeller, the ringleader.
What he meant was he wished he had the power to stop Kepeller from hunting, ever again, anywhere in the world.
The men were convicted and fined, with Kepeller and Tubb told they would never be allowed to hunt in Idaho again.
The Australians would not talk to me, being that I’m from the scumbag lying press.
Game warden Brian Flatter, who was involved on the stakeout and busted the Australians, told me: “We protect our resources dearly. When someone comes and don’t follow the rules, yeah, it’s pretty arrogant.
“People say: ‘What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas.’ That’s not the case here. When people do it blatantly and repeatedly, we’ll do what we can to get them.”
They got them.
Outside court, after sentencing, officer Flatter and another warden from Idaho Game and Fish went up and shook the Australians’ hands.
For some reason, this made me feel bad. These people dishonoured themselves and, in doing so, added further weight to the Aussie arsehole stereotype.
Yet here were the officers from Idaho, shaking their hands, putting the matter to an end. It was very decent and, strangely, hard to watch.
I think I may love Idaho. Its people and its place.
Paul Toohey’s American Story column runs every Saturday on the News Limited iPad apps.
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