The best hunters are the ones who make lasting positive changes to the hunting culture. With this in mind, here are the 11 best hunters of the last century.
It takes more than just being a skilled hunter and successfully hunting a lot of animals to make this list of the best hunters. While all of the hunters on this list are certainly very accomplished hunters, all of them have made (and some are still making) lasting contributions to the culture of hunting.
Some of these contributions were in the form of inspiring and motivating new groups hunters. Others include significant conservation achievements. One of the hunters on this list even used his hunting skills to protect and directly improve the lives of thousands of people.
Regardless, they have all made their mark in the annals of hunting history and have earned their place on this list of the best hunters.
Click through the slideshow to see the 11 best hunters of the last 100 years.
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Perhaps best known for being an unabashed champion of the .270 Winchester cartridge, Jack O’Connor was also an extremely accomplished writer and an important proponent of conservation. He authored over a dozen books and wrote for “Outdoor Life” for several decades, educating and influencing countless thousands of hunters.
Indeed, one of the reasons that the .270 Winchester is so popular today is that he had such a large and effective bully pulpit with which to sing its praises. Additionally, he was a very important voice for conservation in the United States, especially for wild sheep conservation. He was recognized for his hunting and conservation accomplishments by being one of the first recipients of the Weatherby Award as well as the Winchester Ourdoorsman of the Year Award.
The demographics of the hunting community are in the midst of a massive change as a new breed of young, urban-dwelling hunters join our ranks in an effort to get closer to their food. Steve Rinella, the host of the Sportsman Channel’s “MeatEater” television show, knows that the meat hunters get from wild game is about as “free range” or “organic” as it gets and understands that it is this way of thinking that is helping to fuel the growth of this new demographic in the hunting community.
Though he is not opposed to “trophy hunting,” it is his intense focus on the food aspect of hunting that really speaks to this new generation of hunters and is helping thousands of new hunters connect with their food.
Colonel Townsend Whelen was known as one of the foremost experts on rifle marksmanship in his day. He was particularly skilled with the 1903 Springfield and was a big proponent of the .30-06 Springfield cartridge. It was from the .30-06 Springfield that he developed the cartridge now known as the .35 Whelen, a potent cartridge that is an excellent choice for hunting medium- to large-sized game all over the world.
In addition to his accomplishments as a soldier and as a marksman, he also spent a great deal of time hunting in the some of the thickest and most isolated wilderness areas of Canada and Panama as a young man. He was extremely skilled at surviving in very primitive conditions and was capable of surviving in the woods for months at a time with nothing more than what he could carry on his back.
He was also a very prolific writer, authoring numerous books and magazine articles on hunting, shooting, and wilderness survival over the years. Due to this, Colonel Whelen has made significant contributions to the development of many modern hunting firearms and cartridges.
Fred Bear is known as the godfather of modern bowhunting. He carried on the work of Art Young and Saxton Pope and today has an almost deity-like status among bowhunters in North America. Bear designed and built his own bows and founded Bear Archery, which produced the first line of mass produced bows in history. He then used the bows that he designed and built on deer hunting trips in Michigan.
Films of these hunts became immensely popular and significantly contributed to the dramatic rise in the popularity of bowhunting in the United States and the rest of the world over the next few decades. He was also known as a staunch proponent of conservation and fair chase hunting and served on the board of directors of the Pope & Young Club for a time.
Ethel Leedy is one of only a handful of women to successfully take all 29 species necessary to complete the North American Super Slam. She took her last species, the sitka blacktail in the photo, at the age of 81. As far as we know, this makes her the oldest woman to successfully take the North American 29.
To top it off, she is still hunting and has taken many big game animals, including sheep and moose, past the age of 70. Not only is she an excellent role model for up and coming female hunters, but she is an outstanding example of what you can accomplish when you put your mind to it, no matter how old you are.
Jim Corbett was one of the most famous British hunters in all of India. During the early 1900s, he gained widespread notoriety for successfully hunting a number of man-eating tigers and leopards that were terrorizing the Indian population. Some of his hunts are chronicled in his book: “The Man Eaters of Kumaon.” There are few other people in history who are as experienced in hunting tiger as him. Due to his successful man-eater hunting efforts, he is still held in extremely high regard among the people of northern India.
In addition to the work he did protecting the Indian population, he was one of the most famous and influential proponents of tiger conservation in India. Partly due to his efforts, the government established a gigantic game reserve in northern India specifically to protect the bengal tiger population. In recognition of his efforts, the preserve was renamed Corbett National Park in the 1950s.
Jim & Eva Shockey
The Shockeys are perhaps the most famous and influential family in the hunting community these days. Jim Shockey gained significant noteriety as the host and producer of the television shows “Jim Shockey’s Hunting Adventures” and “Jim Shockey’s Uncharted.” His signature use of muzzleloaders on many of his hunts (he was the first hunter to take the North American 29 using only a muzzleloader) has helped revive interest in muzzleloaders among hunters. This has helped make him an influential figure in the muzzleloader hunting community, with nearly the status and respect that Fred Bear has in the archery community.
His daughter, Eva Shockey is probably the most famous female hunter in the world and represents a rapidly growing demographic in the hunting community. She has also proven to be an excellent role model for women everywhere by showing that she can not only succeed, but thrive in the previously male-dominated hunting industry. Currently, she is the co-host of “Jim Shockey’s Uncharted,” and has also appeared on the cover of “Field & Stream.”
Both Jim and Eva have also been very strong proponents of conservation through sustainable hunting and have worked tirelessly to promote sustainable hunting all over the world.
Roy Weatherby is best known for founding Weatherby Firearms and developing the Weatherby Magnum line of high velocity cartridges. Weatherby was also a very accomplished hunter and used rifles and cartridges that he designed on numerous hunting expeditions all over the world.
In addition to all of this, he founded the Weatherby Foundation in order to promote conservation through education. The Weatherby Foundation also annually presents the esteemed Weatherby Hunting & Conservation Award to the most accomplished hunter in the world and is perhaps the most coveted award among members of the hunting community.
Craig has written nearly two dozen books, hundreds of magazine articles for major publications such as “Guns & Ammo” and “Peterson’s Hunting” (among others), and hosted multiple television shows. These opportunities have given him an excellent platform to reach an incredibly large audience, which he has used extensively to promote conservation through sustainable hunting.
Additionally, he is an extremely accomplished hunter and may be the only living person to have taken every species of Africa’s Big 5 (buffalo, lion, leopard, elephant, and rhino) as well as all nine species of spiral-horned antelope in Africa (greater kudu, lesser kudu, bushbuck, common nyala, mountain nyala, common eland, giant eland, sitatunga, and bongo).
All of these are significant accomplishments on their own, but the fact that he did all that while serving for 31 years as an officer in the United States Marine Corps (he retired from the Marine Corps Reserve as a Colonel in 2005) makes it that much more impressive. While he is a great role model for all hunters, he is an especially important role model for hunters serving in the military. As a hunter (and fellow southpaw) who is also serving as an officer in the military, I can state with certainty that he is one of the hunters that I’ve looked up to the most and who has provided me with a great deal of inspiration over the years.
As a well-known writer for “Field & Stream” for many years, Robert Ruark became very well known in the outdoor community. Perhaps one of his best known works was the book “The Old Man And The Boy,” which was a collection of stories that he wrote for “Field & Stream” about his tales of hunting and fishing with his grandfathers that struck a familiar chord with his audience.
He also hunted east Africa with the legendary Professional Hunter Harry Selby. Ruark then wrote the book “Horn of the Hunter,” where he detailed his adventures on this safari. The book was extremely popular in the United States and helped fuel the explosion in popularity of African safaris there. In addition to all of these contributions to hunting, Ruark also wrote perhaps the best description of cape buffalo of all time:
I don’t know what there is about buffalo that frightens me so. Lions and leopards and rhinos excite me but don’t frighten me. But that buff is so big and mean and ugly and hard to stop, and vindictive and cruel and surly and ornery. He looks like he hates you personally. He looks like you owe him money. He looks like he is hunting you…He makes me sick in the stomach, and he makes my hands sweat, and he dries out my throat and my lips.
Robert Ruark, “Horn of the Hunter,” 1953
Elmer Keith may be best known for being the antithesis of Jack O’Connor (and was not a fan of O’Connor personally either). Where O’Connor loved the .270 Winchester with its light and fast bullets, Keith was a “bigger is better” kind of guy and was famous for pushing the limits of existing cartridges and developing newer, more powerful loads. While he did a lot of hunting with rifles, he was also an early proponent of hunting with handguns and was an extremely accomplished handgun hunter. He was instrumental in the development of the .357 Magnum, .41 Magnum, and .44 Magnum handgun cartridges (among others). Additionally, he made many contributions to modern bullet design, namely a number of semi-wadcutter bullets that are now known as “Keith-style bullets.”
Like O’Connor, he was also an incredibly prolific writer and wrote magazine articles on hunting and shooting for many years while publishing several books, all of which have dramatically influenced the hunting and shooting communities over the years. Though we was incredibly opinionated and outspoken (his autobiography is titled “Hell, I Was There”), he obviously knew a great deal about hunting and shooting and made a significant impact on the hunting community that is still felt to this day.
Honorable Mention: Theodore Roosevelt
Though most of his most famous hunting and conservation achievements technically fall outside the 100 year window covered by this article, no piece about the best hunters of all time would be complete without Theodore Roosevelt.
The lists of his contributions to hunting is long, but includes things such as founding the Boone & Crockett Club, instituting the modern American National Park and Forest system, and his famous 1909 African safari, where Roosevelt and his comrades took numerous species of big game which now make up the majority of the African exhibits in the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History as well as the New York Museum of Natural History.
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