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How Do You Choose Africa's Greatest Hunting Trophies?

Aug 08, 2017

Just one of the historic great trophies featured in Rupp's book

Behind Great African Trophies: An Interview with Author Diana Rupp

Great African Trophies is a photographic showcase of some of the greatest game trophies ever taken on the Dark Continent, from elephants, buffalo and the big cats to the spiral-horned antelopes and dozens of other magnificent animals. It celebrates animals that rank in the top five of each species in the Safari Club International and Rowland Ward record books. But it also features a number of historic, unlisted, and little-known trophies that will fascinate. Author and Editor-in-Chief of Sports Afield Diana Rupp tells the stories behind them.

Hunting Report Editor-in-Chief Barbara Crown spoke with author Diana Rupp about the making of the book. 

BC: Tell us a bit about your hunting background and how it prepared you to research and compile this volume.

DR: I’ve been editor in chief of Sports Afield for a little more than 14 years. Before that I worked for a number of other outdoor magazines over the years.  I grew up in Pennsylvania, where I started hunting when I was 12 years old.  I’ve been extremely fortunate over the course of my career to have had the chance to hunt all over the world. Some of my finest experiences have been in Africa, where I’ve hunted in Tanzania, Namibia and South Africa. There’s nothing like Africa in the hunting world in terms of the variety of game, the traditions of the hunt, and the immense importance of hunting on that continent to the economic and conservation future of its residents, both the humans and the wildlife.

BC: What was the impetus behind Great African Trophies?

DR: The book was the brainchild of Safari Press/Sports Afield publisher Ludo Wurfbain. He thought a book like this—one that gathered the stories and photos of the top heads of African game throughout the years—would be of great interest to the hunting community. I think Ludo envisioned it more as a book filled with spectacular photographs of huge animals, but I was just as attracted to the stories behind the hunts. So, the final product is a blend of both.

BC: What does the book mean to you as a hunter, and what do you think is the appeal of such a book to other hunters?

DR: A large part of the appeal is in the photographs—everyone enjoys looking at an animal that is a particularly impressive representative of its species. But to me, hunting is all about the experience. Although the book includes scores and measurements, many hunters told me the experience of hunting a particular animal meant far more to them than its eventual rank in the record book. If there’s one thing I’d like people to take away from the book, it’s the understanding that an animal is a trophy if the hunter has taken it fairly and appreciates it, not just because it meets some numerical standard. Most of the hunters I talked to mentioned how fortunate they felt to have encountered an animal of record size, and how humbled and honored they felt to have been in the right place at the right time. 

BC: Can you share with readers a little bit of the process that goes into getting stories and photos for a book like this? How were you able to compile the stories? Give us a sense of how you pull a project like this together.

DR: It was far more work than I imagined! I worked on it for more than two years. I combed through record books, magazine articles, old hunting books and internet postings, as well as the Safari Press photo archives. Part of the problem is that the number of stories out there that could be included is nearly limitless. My first challenge was to narrow the scope, so I decided to concentrate on animals that are or could be listed in the top 10 of SCI and Rowland Ward. The only problem with that is record book listings are constantly changing. Some of the animals that were in the top 10 when I started the project had slipped down in the rankings by the time the book was done.

BC: I imagine there were some stories you knew from the start you wanted to include, but what are some of the stories that you discovered along the way and how did they come to your attention?

DR: I was very fortunate to have the help of an avid hunter and researcher from Austria named Christian Winkler. He’s very knowledgeable about historic German and Austrian hunting literature and dug up a number of stories of hunters I had never heard of—and was kind enough to translate them into English for me. Winkler found photos of the Austrian hunter Rudolf Grauer, who shot a 180-pound elephant in Uganda in 1905, and then found photos of a German hunter named Konrad Schauer, who called himself a friend of Grauer’s but who, we figured out, tried to take credit for those same 180-pound tusks after Grauer died. Winkler was really good at unearthing little-known stories like that, which was fun.

BC: What are your personal favorite stories/photos in the book and why?

DR: I enjoyed stumbling on well-known names from years past and learning that they had taken an African safari that meant a lot to them. One of my favorite photos is of actor Gary Cooper with a nice lion taken in 1931. Apparently, he was burned out after filming 10 movies in two years, so he took a year off from acting and spent part of it on safari, during which he supposedly shot 60 animals. Then there was Dean Witter, the founder of the financial company. He shot a big rhino after it charged him and wrote that he was really glad he was shooting a .470 double rifle loaded with 500-grain solids.  I guess that rifle was a good investment!

BC: Which story was the most difficult to get or put together and why?

DR: The biggest challenge, actually, was not the stories, but the photos. It can be very difficult to find good, clear photos, especially when it comes to animals taken many years ago. There were many instances where I had to leave something out for lack of a good photo.

BC: Were there any surprises in researching the stories and photos for the book?

DR: I think the biggest surprise were the many question marks and uncertainties surrounding some of the record animals taken many years ago. For example, there are several different versions of the story of the world-record elephant, allegedly shot by a slave named Senoussi. And in many cases, the dates of hunts given in first-person accounts didn’t match those listed elsewhere, so it wasn’t always possible to verify every detail.

BC: Projects like these often mean selecting what goes in and what doesn’t. How did you choose what stories/photos made it into the book and which ones had to be left out? Is there any one story you had to leave out that you personally would have liked to make room for?

DR: I used top-10 listings as my parameters and mostly tried to stick to that, but there were some good stories about animals farther down the list. If the tale was especially good and there was a good photo with it, I sometimes included it. I guess in a way I would like to do a book called “Great African Hunts,” which would focus on just the best hunting stories rather than the highest-scoring animals.

BC: What do you see as the link between trophy hunting and the conservation of Africa's wildlife resources? Do you think a book like this will ultimately help those conservation efforts?

DR: The connection between trophy hunting and conservation is a strong and proven one. Hunting in Africa creates incentives for local people to conserve wildlife and habitat; it provides employment in rural areas; and it puts much-needed revenue into conservation initiatives. When hunters go to Africa, they support a crucial pillar of conservation.

There are those who say that a focus on scores and record books is not good for the future of hunting. But the point of this book is to go beyond that—to celebrate Africa’s rich hunting and conservation tradition through photographs and stories of some of the continent’s most magnificent animals. This glimpse of a few of the very finest representatives of the many species that draw hunters to Africa will be, I hope, inspiration for more hunters to pursue their dreams of going on safari. That’s the best thing hunters can do to keep Africa’s wildlife populations strong.

Rupp with her own great trophy.

Get your copy of Great African Trophies today.

Order Here 

Price: $125.00, plus shipping

Limited Edition of 500 numbered, signed and slip-cased copies 

254 pages, color photos, 10x10.5, hardcover


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