Book Reviews » 50 Years of Trophy Hunting

December 4th 2014

50 Years of Trophy Hunting

By Gary Joll

Published by Halcyon Press

Reviewed by Tony Entwistle

RRP $50

Few modern New Zealand hunters have, or ever will have, Gary Joll’s credentials. Gary’s first trophy was taken in 1959 … a Bull Tahr from the Godley Valley at the head of Lake Tekapo. Although Gary couldn’t know it then, this was a species and an area that ultimately in many respects defined his career and his reputation.

As a keen recreational hunter and young school teacher, his life changed significantly in 1963 following several months in an Alaskan hunting camp. On his return to New Zealand, Gary set about establishing his own career as a successful professional hunting guide. In 1970 he settled permanently in the Godley Valley for 22 years, helping to establish Lilybank Lodge, which quickly gained an international reputation as New Zealand’s pre-eminent hunting operation. I was privileged as a university student in the 1970s to work many of my vacations on Lilybank Station. Evenings were often spent at the Lodge with photos and cartridge collections spread out on the floor and Gary regaling us with stories of memorable hunts, trophies and the fantastic people he had hunted with. Little wonder I guess that I was inspired to also eventually become a professional guide. Gary was the recipient of the prestigious Safari Club International, Outstanding International Professional Guide of the Year award in 1992.

50 Years of Trophy Hunting is Gary Joll’s fourth hunting book, following Big Game Hunting in New Zealand (1968), To Alaska To Hunt (1978) and Bulls, Bucks and Bureaucrats (2010). In this latest book Gary sets about documenting his extended journey as a trophy hunter in an easy, unpretentious style. The book is not a chronological sequence but rather details his hunting experiences country by country, from New Zealand and the South Pacific to the United States and Africa, re-telling an enviable series of adventures, successes and inevitable disappointments. Gary Joll is a natural born storyteller with a flair for observation. His descriptions of the hunting terrain, the animals, their habits and the unfolding stalks both good and bad, are compelling.

Gary’s forte as a hunter is undoubtedly trophy bull tahr and there is probably no-one who is better able to provide better insights into successfully hunting them and assessing their trophy potential. In 50 Years of Trophy Hunting Gary also provides plenty of sage advice for aspiring trophy hunters on a wide range of species, based not only on his successes but also from several less than satisfactory outcomes he experienced. His narrative of the various hunts, interspersed with insightful observations into the individual nuances of each animal and balanced with a series of excellent photographs, should maintain the interest of any true-blue hunter whose soul is stirred by the scent of the chase.

Trophy hunting can be a controversial sport… even amongst hunters themselves. Some see it only as the collecting of heads which couldn’t be further from the truth. Trophy hunters like Gary Joll have a genuine reverence for their quarry, valuing their one-on-one experiences long after the fleeting moment of the kill. The ethics of ‘trophy hunting’ cannot be prescribed and are not simply about securing the ‘biggest heads’. Ultimately they are something an individual must subscribe to for themselves. Joll is a true professional who sets high standards not only for himself but for others he hunts with… including the many guides he used to help him in his trophy quest. “It is a self-evident absolute that there are no degrees of Professionalism … Professionalism is a complete way of life, a mind-set and attitude” Not all guides got Gary’s tick of approval.

I may be biased off course, but I can sincerely commend this book to all hunters: those who aspire to hunt trophies wherever they can find them and those who more regularly hunt for the pot. For whatever reason you hunt, it is about gathering a lifetime of experiences. How you go about it ultimately defines who you become and Gary Joll has certainly done that.

Two moments in the book, based on conflicting emotions and revolving around trophies that had long eluded Joll, eloquently summarise for me what it takes to be a dedicated trophy hunter: Gary’s successful New Zealand Sambar hunt in the rain and his final unsuccessful Whitetail hunt in the USA. Gary can be tough on himself and tough on those who don’t measure up. The final photo in the book speaks volumes in this regard.

Footnote: Somewhat ironically, not long after 50 Years of Trophy Hunting went to print, Gary finally ticked off the missing Whitetail trophy on his bucket list, recently scoring his buck not far from the area he saw his first trophy Whitetail almost 50 years before.