What's a purist, anyway? According to Webster's New Encyclopedic Dictionary a purist is one who has a rigid adherence to or insistence of nicety. OK, so what's nicety? That would be a small but fine point, a careful attention to detail, or the point at which a thing is at its best.
I recently was chastised politely for using this word to describe a certain kind of hunter. The e-mail was from a Hunting Report subscriber, whom I am honored to know personally. I have a lot of respect for this man, who is an accomplished businessman as well as international hunter. You name it; he's hunted there or taken that species. He's the kind of the guy who likes to be the first one in when a destination opens to hunting, when it’s raw, rugged, with the possible snags in logistics still sharp. He is no prima donna.
He contacted me about a story in the June issue of The Hunting Report. I had given subscribers a side-by-side comparison of two hunting opportunities for Kri-Kri ibex - one in Greece, the other in Macedonia. I warned that there were serious caveats to both opportunities, making one or both completely wrong for some hunters. You can read the story for yourself, but basically, the hunt in Greece requires patience with inflexible bureaucracy, the ability to shoot at a distance with a shotgun, a high threshold for challenge and a lot of reliance on luck for a good trophy. The hunt in Macedonia is more comfortable, the trophies bigger, the people more accommodating, but there's a fence. The ibex can and do climb this fence, and have been found outside the enclosure.
For some hunters the frustrations of the Greek hunt are too much. They simply don't have the patience, desire or ability to meet the challenges of this experience. And, that's OK. If they know a hunt is not right for them, they can avoid it. (Which was the point of my side-by-side comparison of these two hunt opportunities.) For other hunters, the hunt in Macedonia is out of the question because a fence is simply unacceptable. Even if the ibex can climb out as they do on this reserve in Macedonia? Well, here's where that adherence to the fine details comes in. For a fair chase hunting "purist" this one little detail, this one nicety, makes all the difference in the world.
"This is a minor item but important to me," my subscriber wrote in his e-mail. "In the Kri-Kri article you refer to people who work hard at free-range, fair chase hunting as 'purists.' I am clear on the connotation. I don't feel like a purist. I just love to hunt wild and free critters that have not been genetically altered, bred and fed in captivity and can escape into terrain that will take a hunter days not minutes to get to if the animal can be found at all. Those who hunt in fences should be happy to call it contained or restrained hunting and not fair chase. The keepers of the big ranches and estates know the where and when of the critters because they can't get away. As Boone & Crockett says, fair chase is no game fences! I visited the reserve in Macedonia. I didn't hunt, but two others shot ibex there in one day. In Greece, neither hunter collected an ibex on the five-day hunt before mine. It took two of us a total of eight days to collect two ibex on my hunt. It's not a big thing, but I think most of your audience thinks like me, and you really are our voice."
I'm flattered. And as that "voice" I'll refer to the last definition of a nicety: the point at which a thing is at its best. And I suppose that this is really what "purists" are about - the point at which our sport is at its very best. Like my subscriber, I don't feel like a purist, but I know I love to hunt. I love the wild places. I love to be immersed in them and forced to commune with wild things on their terms and not the artifices of civilization. To hunt "critters" that are free and wild and able to evade me.
I recall two of my most memorable and fondest hunting experiences. One was in Arizona for a Coues deer that my guide and I had spotted from the top of a cliff and had to stalk all the way back around the mountain from the other side. After hours of walking in hot, rocky, cactus-covered terrain, I sat a mere 60 yards from my buck, only to see him bound off as I struggled to get a steady rest. The second time was in Tanzania, where we spent a day chasing a buffalo herd on foot through the miombo-covered hills. After six hours, we saw black patches through the trees up ahead, just before the thumping of hooves and a cloud of dust told us the beasts had had enough of us and were putting impossible distance between their herd and the two-legged predators following them. I eventually took both a nice Coues buck and a very nice buffalo that I'm proud of. But those failed stalks still elicit a feeling of pride, excitement and nostalgia in me. Why? Because those experiences were the point at which the thing was at its best, its purist, most unadulterated state. Does that make me a purist?