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From The Vault Of Art Shay: The Hunter's Instinct

By Chuck Sudo in News on Jul 18, 2013 4:30PM

(Legendary Chicago-based photographer Art Shay has taken photos of kings, queens, celebrities and the common man in a 60-year career. This week, Art examines the world, and variants, of hunting.)

The two cuties, ages 10 and 15, wore red preppy caps and shy smiles as their doting daddy hung over them, shifting every second or so, careful where he was pointing his Remington, looking out of the window of their deer blind—an expensive little environment. He was monitoring the kill of a few eight-point stag bucks 50 yards out. The deer were nibbling grass and a mama deer was nursing her Bambi.

The father, a fit outdoorsman in his late 40s, slowly rolled up the four-foot window and guided the 15-year-old's weapon toward the unsuspecting animal . The slim, beautiful schoolgirl concentrated on her sight then pulled the trigger. The camera panned the terrain and caught the shot hitting the animal and its little leap straight up, the final leap of its life. The rest of the deer family scattered and the entire human party rushed out to see the kill close-up.

The father was loving and full of praise, the shooter kissed the dying animal on a flank, the video cameraperson caught the pride of father in his daughter, and the pride of the daughter in her kill. They would somehow proudly take home the head and magnificent rack of horns, and whatever meat they could carry. The younger sister looked prideful too, and impatient. In a family of shooters there's always a next.

The family counted the eight points of its quarry's stack and prepared to butcher the still-warm stag. A commercial came on. It was for a Zeiss gun sight. I caught ammunition commercials, bow and arrow commercials, and a fat commentator explaining to another obese hunter how the growing deer population must be thinned out. The family talked of moving on to an area where they could bring down wild turkeys. The 15-year-old seemed hooked on the sport for life. Another day in the gorgeous, deadly woods of Montana. And the woods of Wisconsin, Minnesota, Illinois, Maine etc.

Years ago when I was a columnist for a Des Plaines paper, I incurred the wrath of a national radio icon—world-class hunter and chuckler Arthur Godfrey. I'd merely reported how he laughingly described an elephant hunting trip he'd just returned from in Kenya. He detailed his stalking- saying self-deprecatingly—it was something like aiming at a moving garage. His object? To get two matching umbrella holders for his entry hall at home. I think he went back for two more.

One lawyer asked, on stationery as thick as an elephant ear, whether I had perhaps had a grudge against one of the products King Arthur advertised. "No," I replied, "I just thought it was unsportsmanlike to kill a grazing elephant closeup for such a vain reason."

They sent me a long list of awards Godfrey had won for sportsmanship.

I ultimately did stories on Ducks Unlimited and their work along the Mississippi Flyway down from Canada to the Edgar Monsanto Queenie estate in Arkansas. But my favorite was following two English white hunters into Masai country as they worked to help a maharajah kill a lion—the last of the great predators he didn't have stuffed and mounted in a room on the estate on which his bathwater was regularly weighed out and sold or given away with his blessing. The Maharajah wanted his lion corpse to be
unsullied by a bullet hole, so they spent a day coaching him on fulfilling in real life, the campfire joke of white hunters drunk on Dewar's Scotch from home: Aiming their long range Webleys at some poor lion's rectum. Creating a perfect bloodless wound.

But hunting takes many shapes and there are myriad hunters. And the ranks of some animals must be thinned. Confession: I enjoyed my single fighter "kill" from a B-24 nose turret (twin Emerson 50 cal Machine guns) on Sept. 27, 1944, over Kassel ,Germany. But I was relieved to see the Nazi pilot's chute open. Even then I was a softie.

Published with permission.

If you can't wait until this time every Wednesday to get your Art Shay fix, please check out the photographer's blog, which is updated regularly. Art Shay's book, Chicago's Nelson Algren, is also available at Amazon.