Ben Carter of the Dallas Safari Club spoke with Wide Open Spaces about the organization's recent convention and more.
Fresh off the Dallas Safari Club's annual convention, Wide Open Spaces had the opportunity to talk with executive director Ben Carter regarding exactly what happened with a African elephant hunt that was pulled from the auction block, a story that has received plenty of attention over the past week.
Carter had already made it to Las Vegas, Nevada for the 2015 SHOT Show when we caught up with him, and he spoke about the auction as well as the convention, the Dallas Safari Club's (DSC) dedication to hunting heritage, and the state of the sportsman industry.
For those unaware, the DSC is a hunting conservation organization based out of Dallas, Texas. 6,000 members strong, the club has a worldwide contingency and holds its annual convention and auction every January. Carter said it's quickly become "the largest high-end hunting show out there."
"[The convention has] guides and outfitters from all over the world," said Carter, "with about 1,730 booths. Attendance was pushing 45,000 people."
Carter seemed as amazed as we were about the scope and size of the convention, claiming 850,000 square feet of space, which he said makes it nearly impossible to see in its entirety.
The Elephant in the Room
A highlight of the annual convention is the exotic hunting trips that are auctioned off by outfitters and guide services. Much of the appeal comes from the fact that the winning bids are often below retail price, so attendees can usually find a good deal on an amazing hunting or fishing opportunity. Some auction items involve earmarked funds for donation, but not all.
On the flip side, the outfitters offering up the hunts for auction are trying to earn a living, and that's where the issue of the cancelled African elephant auction enters the conversation. Meant to be offered up on Saturday night, the hunt was pulled by the donor, sparking some to believe it was due to pressure from the anti-hunting movement.
Carter took the chance to set the record straight.
"Once again, I'm not going to blame the media, but [for] the people that don't like what we do, not telling the truth, lying, manipulating are all in their bag of tricks," Carter said. "In this particular case, it was unfortunate that the timing worked out the way that it did. Our donor, who had donated a lion hunt in Cameroon [on Friday night, saw that] it did not sell very well at all, and I think there's a number of reasons for that."
"People are a little leery about going to that part of the world right now, because of Ebola as well as the bad things that have happened there," Carter said. He referenced civil unrest and violence as possible deterrents. "When that lion hunt on Friday night did not sell for very much, the donor, who was the same who donated the elephant hunt on Saturday night, he pulled it because he did not want to take the financial hit."
The lion hunt, estimated to be around $30,000, sold at the auction for $6,000. Presumably, the decision made was based on business, not other influences.
"It had nothing to do with the protestors," continued Carter, "and actually, the protestors were 12 people. Like always, I'm pretty sure none of them knew what they were protesting."
That led the DSC's executive director to address the idea of anti-hunters in general.
Anti-Hunters and the DSC
"It's ridiculous, the stuff that antis do to try and portray us as being bad guys," said Carter. "The protestors, as far as we're concerned, were entertainment for themselves, because no one was listening to them."
So how does the DSC and Carter handle anti-hunting sentiment in general? He made the usual points, stating that hunting is a sustainable way of providing food as well as conserving natural resources. All in all, his arguments could be summed up with one simple declaration.
"The things that we've got going on our side, that the other side doesn't have going, are the facts," he said. "The facts are overwhelming. Sustainable use management of wildlife is why we have the wildlife we have."
"This whole notion that hunting is a bad thing is so far off kilter that it's unbelievable," Carter stated. "It's an American heritage. When people landed on the shores here, there were no grocery stores. They had to go out and find their food... A lot of people that hunt, they're so much more connected to the land, and to nature, and to what goes on out there. I wish that more and more people could experience that, because then they would understand why we as hunters love what we do. It's not necessarily about taking the animal's life, but it's the whole experience."
Helping the Cause
Much of what the DSC does throughout the year involves working to fund efforts that surround their three-pronged objective; which includes conservation, education and the protection of hunter's rights.
"Over the last three years, we've actually collected over $4 million to support the mission statement," Carter pointed out.
He spoke about the Frontline Foundation, which the DSC started to provide financial relief to professional hunters and their assistants, trackers and skinners who are killed or seriously injured while providing professional hunting services. These people are rarely under the care of adequate, if any, health insurance.
There's also the Dallas Ecological Foundation, which the DSC uses as a way to teach outdoor education and to promote and fund the conservation of wildlife all over the globe.
Add up all that work and it's no wonder the Dallas Safari Club is at the forefront of the hunting world. Setting the tone and the example for the sportsman industry as a whole is close to Carter's heart.
Does he believe the industry is headed in the right direction?
"I think it's in a really good place," he responded. "I think that the community is very energized and engaged in making sure we can continue to have what we have right now." But it wasn't an entirely bright prediction.
"We've got to do a lot better job of educating people about what we do, and we need to weed out anybody in this community that doesn't do the right thing," contended Carter. "We've got to present a better picture, and present what we do in a better way, so others can understand why we're passionate about it. I think everybody that's a hunter and an outdoorsman needs to think about everything they do, and make sure that the actions they're about to take will look totally understandable to the general public, and they can get why we're doing this."
That's a perspective we can all learn from.