GQ On An Elephant Hunt?

June 5, 2014

“The lion is a fine animal. He is not afraid or stupid. He does not want to fight, but sometimes man makes him, and then it is up to the man to shoot his way out of what he has got himself into.”
— Ernest Hemingway to The New York Times, April 4, 1934

This quote was posted in the sidebar along with an article in GQ (Gentleman’s Quarterly, for those who don’t know).  But this story isn’t about lions or lion hunting.  It’s about elephant hunting. I just really like that quote.

There was a time when men’s magazines were about manly things.  Sadly, somewhere along the line, most of them became fashion rags and, according to most of the “manlier” guys I know, there is very little to be found of masculinity in those glossy, perfumed pages.  But every once in a while, one of them, GQ or Esquire or something will surprise me.

In my email this evening, just as I was about to wander into the kitchen for my daily sundowner, I caught something out of the ordinary.  I glimpsed something about GQ magazine, and almost delegated the message to SPAM when I also caught the word hunting… and Africa… and elephant.  In all-caps, the subject line read, “GQ GETS AN INSIDE LOOK AT ELEPHANT HUNTING IN AFRICA.”

I toddled off to the bar, filled a Waterford tumbler with a few fingers of Glenmorangie (thanks, John!), and considered reading the article.  My initial preconceptions were pretty damning.  It seems like every time I turn around, lately, some celebrity is in hot water for shooting some sort of big, beautiful animal.  GQ isn’t exactly known for their stable of quality hunting writers, and given my estimation of their typical audience, this was either going to be a hatchet job on African hunting or a mean-spirited caricature of the “great, white hunter” on safari.

I opened the email, and within read a few snippets from the article.  This Wells Tower guy, the author, knows how to pull some words together.  That much was obvious.  For example, the press release included this nicely crafted paragraph:

Two more strides and the elephant could reach out and touch someone with its trunk. The elephant looks to be about twelve feet tall. The trunk weighs hundreds of pounds and is easily capable of breaking a human spine. Apologies if that sounds like sensationalistic inanities you’ve heard intoned sotto voce by Discovery Channel narrators trying to ramp up the drama of snorkeling with porpoises and such. But the elephant is about fifteen feet away, and I will now confess to being scared just about shitless. The elephant snorts and brandishes its vast head. Lunch goes to lava in my bowels. If not for my present state of sphincter-cinching terror, I would well be in the market for an adult diaper. This is an amazingly pure kind of fear. My arteries are suddenly capable of tasting my blood, which right now has the flavor of a nine-volt battery.

I don’t have to approve of the content, as long as the writer is an actual wordsmith and not just another smart-assed hack.  This guy has skills.  I wanted to know, not just what he had to say, but how he was going to say it.  I clicked the link.

And here’s the thing…

First of all, those of us who have lately bemoaned the death of long-form writing… it’s not dead.  Slumbering heavily, no doubt, but it still stirs!

Second of all, my preconceptions and prejudices (aren’t they really the same thing?) be damned, this was not at all the article I expected to read.  To be sure, Mr. Tower is not a hunter.  The archetype is obviously alien to him.  And throughout the piece, he questions himself and the hunt, and the whole bloody idea of hunting as a positive tool… either for conservation or personal growth (self-actualization? Maybe that’s a stretch.).  Maybe he’s flawed, but we’re all flawed.  What I felt though, as I read the words, was honesty.

The internal dialogue throughout made it worth the effort to read.  Tower is no Hunter S. Thompson, and he’s not trying to be… but in this piece he is as much a part of the story as the PH and the client.  What he sees and feels became as important to me as the actual shooting of the elephant.  Sure, he seems to be faithful to detail and he captures the important stuff.  At the same time, though, he is present… not just as a journalist but as a participant.  And for something like this, the hunting and killing of an elephant, being present is really what it’s all about.

I’ve often dreamed of an African safari, but I want it to be something like you read about in Hemingway or Roosevelt.  You know, weeks in the bush, but with a level of luxury afforded by hot baths and cool whisky at the end of the day.  Of course I’ve considered the game… bush pigs and giant forest hogs and Greater kudu and warthogs…  the sheer volume of available game… and all of it is made of delicious meat!

But I have never harbored the desire to shoot an elephant, a lion, a cape buffalo, or a rhino.  Maybe that would change, if I were there in Africa, with the animal in my sights… but I sort of doubt it.  I think it’s like my reluctance to kill a black bear, or to shoot the jack rabbits in my pasture simply because they’re devastating my horses’ grass supply.  It just doesn’t feel like something I want to do.

It’s not that I have a problem with someone else doing it.  Robin Walldrip, the hunter in this article, found something in shooting that big, old bull that I’m simply not looking for.  That doesn’t mean I begrudge her the experience.

And I think that’s why I related with Tower’s article.  I felt like he was willing to explore his own reaction to the hunt, but he was willing to accept… at least on the surface… the reaction of the hunter.  He doesn’t have to understand, he only has to accept… and that made all the difference.

So read the article, if you will.  It’s in the June edition of GQ, or you can catch it online.

And then let me know what you thought.  Am I wrong?  Or was that a pretty good piece of writing?


7 Responses to “GQ On An Elephant Hunt?”

  1. GQ On An Elephant Hunt? | on June 5th, 2014 06:47

    […] GQ On An Elephant Hunt? […]

  2. The Suburban Bushwacker on June 7th, 2014 01:06

    Great piece, not a GQ-ista myself but that’s the second hunting piece we’ve seen this year. A good read

  3. Phillip on June 10th, 2014 14:00

    Speaking of good reads… where you been, SBW?

  4. ian on June 10th, 2014 15:47

    nice surprise there. bonus to reading online is that you didn’t smell like cologne.

  5. Phillip on June 12th, 2014 08:26

    I think you nailed it, Ian! I could read that article and then go on down to the hardware store without all those funny looks as I walk upwind.

  6. Brian on June 12th, 2014 17:14

    Great read. Thanks for posting.

  7. Jesse on June 14th, 2014 00:46

    But I heard hunting is banned in africa ….