These are 10 of the most famous big game hunters of all time.
In the annals of big game hunting history, there are a lot of very famous names out there. But some hunters just left a bigger mark on history than others.
With that in mind, we’ve compiled a list of 10 of the most famous big game hunters to ever live and exactly what made them into the legendary outdoor figures they are today.
This was not an easy list to narrow down, as there are many big names in hunting. In the end, we went by some of the most recognizable, both in name and action.
1. William Frederick Cody (Buffalo Bill)
Is there any name more synonymous with the American West than Buffalo Bill? Yeah, we don’t think so either.
Cody is best known for his exploits as a bison hunter. Legend has it he got his household nickname after shooting over 4,200 bison to feed workers on the Kansas Pacific Railroad between 1867 and 1868.
He is also said to have once won a buffalo shooting contest by taking 68 bison in just eight hours while using an old trapdoor Springfield Model 1866. This feat was made all the more impressive considering his competitor was using a more modern Henry repeater.
Of course these days, those sorts of things wouldn’t happen, considering what we now know about conservation and wildlife management. But it certainly helped Cody make a name for himself in the American West!
If you visit the Buffalo Bill Center of the West in Cody, Wyoming today, you’ll learn that Cody often wished he had more time for hunting, but his busy schedule with his Wild West Shows, which took him all over the United States, Canada and Europe, kept him away from the field. You’ll still be hard-pressed to find a more well-known American bison hunter than Cody.
2. Ernest Hemingway
Hemingway is a household name for his literature of course, having penned classics like “A Farewell to Arms,” “For Whom the Bell Tolls,” and of course, “The Old Man and the Sea.” Hemingway loved fishing of course, but he was also an extremely avid hunter.
Most notably, Hemingway took a couple safari trips to Africa. And while he was there he harvested some of the most famous and dangerous game animals in the world including lions, Cape buffalo, and a leopard. He was also successful in taking several kinds of antelopes, gazelles, and zebras.
On both of these safaris, Hemingway was accompanied by the equally-famous professional hunter Philip Percival, who just missed making our list.
In his later years, Hemingway spent a great deal of time hunting in the American west, especially Montana, Wyoming, and Idaho. While there he took many of the classic big game animals like deer, elk, bighorn sheep, and bears.
At least two of Ernest Hemingway’s homes, one in Florida and another in Idaho, still contain some of his trophies.
3. David (Davy) Crockett
It would be impossible to have a list of famous hunters without one of the most famous American frontiersmen of all time. After all, his name is one half of the most prestigious record keeping organization out there for big game, Boone & Crockett.
Davy Crockett was obviously best known for his military exploits and his death in the battle at the Alamo. But as far as his hunting adventures are concerned, they’re the stuff of legend.
There is some controversy surrounding some of his big game hunting tales, with folks often claiming they are too good to be true. The rumors that he killed a bear at the age of three and 105 in a single season are no doubt exaggerated, but someone doesn’t get a reputation like that and the nickname “King of the Wild Frontier” without being one hell of a hunter.
4. Daniel Boone
The other half of the Boone & Crockett name (It is not known if they ever met each other), Boone was no doubt the most famous fur trapper that ever lived. He was not a family man by any means; he fathered 10 children in his life, but often left his wife and kids alone for months or even years at a time while he went out on extensive game hunting trips. Obviously he wasn’t a trophy hunter, as he sold the hides to earn a living.
While Boone shot untold numbers of deer and trapped countless numbers of beavers in his day, he is also best known for hunting bears. No one knows for sure, but there are rumors he killed hundreds of them on his hunting trips. In fact, it is said he had a habit of documenting the occasion by carving his name and the year onto a tree. This led to a tourist phenomenon of visiting “Boone Trees” scattered all over Kentucky and Tennessee. The trees have all since died, but the legend still remains.
5. Saxton Temple Pope
By profession Pope was a surgeon, but he is better known for his contributions to bowhunting. A Texas native, Pope learned his bow making and hunting skills from a Native American named “Ishi,” who was the last known member of the Yana people.
Pope bowhunted bears, mountain lions, deer, and more with his handmade bows everywhere from the Alaska wilderness to the confines of Yellowstone National Park (with special permission).
But Pope is probably best known for writing one of the first definitive books on bowhunting: “Hunting with the Bow and Arrow” in 1923. Of course, these days his name is honored in the name of the bowhunting record-keeping organization Pope & Young.
6. Art Young
You can’t talk about Saxton Pope without also mentioning Art Young, the other half of that Pope & Young name.
Young was introduced to archery through another legendary American bowhunting figure, William “Chief” Compton, who in turn, introduced him to Saxton Pope and Ishi. The four of them undertook a number of hunting expeditions.
If not for the chance meetings of these historic hunting figures, one has to wonder if modern bowhunting would be anywhere near the million dollar industry it is today.
But while Young and Pope were the students of Ishi and Compton, they arguably helped advance modern big game hunting with archery equipment much farther than anyone dreamed possible. In Young’s case, he was a writer for Sports Afield and helped make the first bowhunting movie.
But the biggest thing he is noted for is harvesting dangerous game in North America like grizzly bears, brown bears, moose, bighorn sheep. He even took on lions with archery equipment in Africa at a time when not many hunters had the guts to even try.
7. Theodore Roosevelt
Plenty of American Presidents have hunted, but none has a reputation for hunting and conservation quite like what Roosevelt left behind. His African hunting exploits for dangerous game are the stuff of pure legend. He bagged 296 animals on one safari alone. This included nine lions and eight cape buffalos.
If you can name it, Roosevelt probably harvested it at some point during his hunting career. Elephants, rhinos, hippos, buffalo, giraffes, and more are just some of the animals he took during his many safaris.
He sent many of his animals to the Smithsonian Institution’s collections. The institution was so overwhelmed by the sheer number of animals sent back that now Roosevelt’s harvests can be found in museums all over the United States.
Roosevelt also wrote a number of books on hunting that are still popular to this day. In 1887, he founded Boone & Crockett. Roosevelt was also a champion of conservation and the preservation of wild areas. As President he established the U.S. Forest Service and helped protect untold acres of wilderness through the formation of 18 National Monuments and 150 National Forests.
When it comes to American hunters who have had the biggest impacts on the planet, perhaps none can challenge Roosevelt’s big game hunting accomplishments.
8. Colonel John Henry Patterson
Most of the big game hunters on this list built their legacies through decades of commitment and contributions to hunting. British colonel John Henry Patterson earned infamy from a single African hunt. When he left England in 1898, he was sent to what is now Kenya to oversee the construction of a railroad bridge by the Uganda Railway Commission over the Tsavo River.
But the project hit a major snag when two male lions without manes started killing and devouring the Indian workmen in the night. Patterson and the workers tried everything to protect the workers; fire, thorn fences, curfews, but nothing stopped the lions from coming into the camps and killing men.
Fortunately, Patterson had gained some big cat hunting experience in India during his time in the British Army. So he took matters into his own hands, stalking and shooting the two lions just 20 days apart. During the previous nine months the dangerous game animals terrorized the workers, they took an estimated 135 victims with them.
Patterson details the whole hunt in his excellent book: “The Lions of Tsavo.” He was later portrayed in film form by Val Kilmer in the movie “The Ghost and the Darkness.” Patterson continued his hunting exploits as a game warden in east Africa. But he will forever be known as the man who stopped the Tsavo Man Eaters. There are plenty of famous big-game hunters who made names for themselves in Africa, but Patterson’s is among the most well-known.
9. Jim Corbett
Another British soldier, Corbett is probably the most famous professional hunter who ever lived. Corbett earned fame for killing 31 tigers and two leopards, all of them man eaters. Included in that group are some of history’s most infamous man-eating big cats.
Corbett successfully hunted down and ended the reigns of terror of the Panar Leopard (400 victims), the Leopard of Rudraprayag (125 victims), and the famous Champawat Tiger (436 victims). Corbett often hunted these dangerous animals alone and he later detailed the hunts for these big cats in many of his books. Often he found the man eaters had damaged teeth that didn’t allow them to pursue natural prey.
Corbett continued to be a champion for conservation and the preservation of natural areas long after his retirement in Kenya. He even had a hand in establishing the first Indian National Park, which was later re-named in his honor and now holds a thriving population of tigers. Not many famous big game hunters have a National Park named after them!
Interestingly, Corbett did not consider himself to be a trophy hunter of dangerous game animals. In fact, it is rumored he only hunted tigers or leopards if they had killed someone. It is estimated the 33 man eaters he shot were responsible for a staggering 1,200 or more human deaths.
10. Fred Bear
Obviously we couldn’t leave the father of modern bowhunting off a list of the most famous big game hunters. Bear’s contributions to archery and hunting are almost unquestioned.
An avid archer all his life, he gave up on making it into Detroit’s burgeoning auto industry in the late 1920s and early 1930s and started his own archery company, Bear Archery. In the late 1940s, Bear and his wife actually lived in a tent for a time in northern Michigan in order to facilitate the growth the company. Even then, it took years for the sport to take off and get as popular as it is today. Talk about someone who was committed to what he loved and believed in!
Bear won Michigan’s archery state championships in 1934, 1937, and 1939. And he further showed his skills were no fluke as his business took off and he started traveling the world on hunting trips to pursue some of the biggest and most dangerous game animals using only archery gear.
Elk, deer, bear, moose, lions, and even an elephant, he pretty much hunted it all and inspired a whole generation of hunters to take up the stick and string.