A bear walks into a bar

The meaning of a big-game records book is always open to discussion, if not debate. The concept almost certainly began with “Horn Measurements and Weights of the Great Game of the World in 1892,” a book assembled by the renowned Victorian taxidermist, Rowland Ward.

Ward learned his art from his father, who accompanied John James Audobon on his bird-collecting expeditions in North America.  As the premier taxidermist in London, Ward fils had access to almost every game animal throughout the British Empire, which at the time meant virtually every one in the world.  So he was uniquely positioned to measure the relative size of the animals that came into his business, and to establish orders of rank for them all.

Teddy Roosevelt’s idea in founding the Boone & Crockett Club in the U.S. in the late 1880s was not so much about establishing a fraternal order of sport hunters as to assemble a group of like-minded, prominent outdoorsman who understood, in the earliest days of environmental awareness, the vital importance of conserving the wild and its wildlife, and to employ their specific influence and power to that end.

It was not until 1932 that an outgrowth of this enterprise, the “Records of North American Big Game,” appeared in print.  That book essentially followed the Rowland Ward system of greatest spread and length, and it was nearly 20 years before the current system, that tried to take into consideration all the aesthetic, and not just size, factors of a trophy, came into play.

The B&C book is invaluable from a natural-history standpoint of providing scientists with the data on the ultimate dimensions, and size trends, that big-game animals can achieve on this continent.  One of the contentions of many anti-hunters is that the trophy size of game continues to deteriorate due to its being hunted.  Yet among the lessons of the “book” is that this is simply not so.

With each edition — the latest the 13th, current as of 2011 — the number of entries in the book continue to mount.  B&C’s scoring system establishes minimum scores for nearly 40 separate categories of North American big game, from Atlantic walrus to Coues’ deer, thresholds that very, very few trophies are able to cross.  It also manages to establish new world records on a regular basis.

Hunters often talk loosely about a “Boone & Crockett” head, but when pressed admit that the trophy in question is not one that has gone through the club’s official measuring, scoring, and certification process.  Take the grizzly.

Originally, Rowland Ward might have used the notoriously unreliable measure of the bear’s weight or the length from nose to tail (“between the pegs” for a carcass stretched out on the ground) as the determination of the animal’s size.  For Boone & Crockett, the only certain calculation is the greatest length of the skull, without the lower jaw, plus the greatest width, the total of the two numbers in inches — down to 1/16th increments — the ultimate measure of the trophy, the minimum score for the “all-time” records list being 24 inches.  (Last year saw the taking by a hunter of the second-largest grizzly on record, behind only a “pickup” — a skull found from a dead bear — from the 1970s.)

Back in 1961, U.S. hunter A. W. “Buzz” Travis, working in British Columbia for a logging and construction company, got word of a nuisance grizzly that was breaking into the cook shack and generally raising holy hell with the workers up on the Kleena Kleene River.  An avid North American big-game hunter, Travis saw a chance to do his civic and fiduciary duty by hunting the bear.  Not to mention going after a grizzly to add to his hunting experiences.

With his friend Bill, Travis cruised up to the river inlet in the company boat, to discuss working conditions at the job site, and also to get information on the bear.  The loggers told him where they had been encountering the aggressive grizzly; and the next day, while Bill fished the river, Buzz went off into the trees after the bear.  He soon found tracks and followed them back to the inlet, where he heard Bill yelling.

From a vantage point, Buzz saw his friend Bill backing into the river, the enormous grizzly 40 feet away, standing on its hind legs.  The shot from Buzz’s 338 Winchester Magnum took the bear through the heart, yet it ran some 400 yards before dying.

The bear officially scored 25 6/16ths inches, good enough to rank 19th in the 1964 Boone & Crockett book, when there were 96 grizzlies on record.  Today —another indication of the health of big game — there are 913 entries, with Travis’s bear still ranking in roughly the top 20 percent — and perhaps in a short while, grizzlies from Wyoming might once again be in contention.

Buzz Travis passed on 20 years ago; but his son, Tom, of Denver, kept his trophy heads, including the grizzly.  He really wanted to display the bear head where others could appreciate it; and through his friend, the local photographer Adam Jahiel, he got together with the Mint Bar on Main Street to add the bear to its fascinating collection of big-game animals hanging around the walls.

This Saturday, July 5, around 5 p.m., Tom Travis is planning to be at the Mint for the “official” unveiling of his trophy bear head, one of undoubtedly the few genuine Boone & Crockett trophies on public display in the Sheridan area.  He’d love to meet you and to tell you about the trophy.

There is a notion that records books are all about ego, and that is, indeed, no small part of the impetus to enter a trophy head into them — who doesn’t want others to recognize his accomplishments?  The books are, though, significant resources for a wide variety of scientific and natural history inquiries.  For a certain turn of mind, there is little more interesting than being able to chart the trajectory of wildlife across time.

TOM MCINTYRE is a contributing editor to Sports Afield and Field & Stream magazine.

 


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