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We Got Jim Shockey to Open Up About His Award-Winning Hunting Career

jim shockey
Images via Jim Shockey

Read up to learn hunting icon Jim Shockey's thoughts on winning the Weatherby Award, opening a museum, and more.

To introduce our recent conversation with iconic professional hunter Jim Shockey, it'd be smart to learn a little bit about his recognition as the 2019 recipient of the Weatherby Award.

Start with this explanation that was published in one of the Weatherby Foundation's newsletters years ago:

"What's It Take To Win The Weatherby Award: It is easy, climb a few million feet, walk a few thousand miles, spend years away from home, family and work, usually in a foreign land. Travel for days on icy, gravel mountain roads in old Jeeps or SUVs full of other people's cigarette smoke. Endure hundreds of searches in airports, borders and military checkpoints. Get sick or hurt, lose luggage and suffer delays too numerous to mention. Sound like fun? It is. It is a passion and way of life for a few very fortunate people."

If there's a better description of Jim Shockey's accomplishments over the years, it'd be tough to find.

We got to talk with Jim in depth about winning the award, opening a natural history museum and, of course, his musical (and meaningful) side project.

On his recently released blues single "Howl with Me" and its origin:

"You know, I've had that little riff in my hands and my guitar for the last probably 25 years. But I never had the lyrics for it, and it was actually one of those days, I think Tim [Brent, Shockey's son-in-law] was being attacked [online by anti-hunters], and Eva was being attacked, and our granddaughter Leni Bow was having her life threatened. I was hiking like I do every day, and I was just, 'I've had it. Enough is enough.' And the lyrics came to me, honest to goodness, during that hour-and-40-minute hike. I got back all sweaty with my backpack on and grabbed my guitar. It's a pretty inspirational guitar--it's a '53 Gibson--and the song came out. I mean literally came out."

On his family's first impressions of the song that rose to No. 1 in the world on the iTunes Blues chart:

"Weezy [Shockey's wife] was listening in the other room, and she came in and said 'What's that?' I said, 'It's a song. The lyrics came to me on the hike.' And she actually said to me, 'Well that song was meant to be,' and she just walked away. I didn't know what she actually meant by it! Eva was around at that time, and I went and played the song for her. I didn't tell her; I just sort of had my guitar, and she was doing whatever she was doing while I was playing it. And she goes, 'Oh, who wrote that song?' And I said, 'I did.' She obviously liked it before, but then she said she didn't like it after that point and rolled her eyeballs."

On the message behind the song:

"When I play it, I know I'm not the only person who's had it, who's tired of being marginalized, tired about being pushed to the fringe, tired of being vilified in the popular press. You know, I'm tired of hiding who I am. This is who I am. You invade my house, and it's really simple: I'm not gonna try and talk you out of what you're doing. We're not gonna have a quiet sit-down with a cup of tea and try to be friends. You invaded my house and hurt my family; this is how I'm going to react. I'm warning you... And I also say in the song look, this is who I am. I've got a dark side and there's two cases, you can't push me around. I know there's a lot of people that the song resonated with."

On the political implications of his music:

"It's kind of funny, because we've got friends who are on, well, the far left, and they love the song for the catches and the hooks and they can't get it out of their head. But they're a little concerned about the lyrics. And I said, 'Yeah, but back in the '50s and '60s, it was the far right that was getting upset about songs that Jon Lennon was writing. And now it's the far left that's getting upset about songs.' It's funny how this tide has totally changed, and left has become right."

On future plans to release more music:

"I've got a second song that I'm working on that I've again had for years. I've had the first lines of it and never really was inspired to finish it, but I am now. So yeah, there's probably gonna be a song coming down the tube. I won't predict it's gonna make it to the charts, but I think people will relate to it who are of a like mind."

On winning the Weatherby Award:

"Sixty-five percent of the evaluation is the amount of hunting that somebody's done, particularly across the spectrum of hunting. That's not just hunting whitetail deer 1,000 times, but hunt zebra duiker in Liberia, or high-altitude argali in Mongolia, or down to the South Pacific to hunt the various species there. They want the Weatherby Award winner to have hunted as many of the big game species around the world as possible. There are maybe 390 free-ranging big game species around the world that are legal to hunt on any legal day. I think when they finally worked out how many I'd got, it was like 367 of those 390 species. They do put some value in the evaluation for hunting individual species multiple times, but the other 35 percent of the award is the effort that the hunters put in to conservation around the world. Really, the species are wonderful and the tally is wonderful, but I'm more proud of the 35 percent. Hopefully I scored high on the conservation, and helping the hunting world."

On the recognition for winning the award:

"This was never something that I was aiming for or had a desire for. I hunt because I hunt. That's who I am. I've literally spent my life doing it, and I wouldn't have changed it one way or another. In fact, I've hunted many species and places that Weatherby doesn't count for their criteria. But I'm interested. Like in Tasmania, hunting pademelon [a small forest-dwelling marsupial], that's an animal that's on their license. I mean absolutely, for me I'm fascinated by that. I want to go down there and hunt."

On the Hand of Man Museum, which includes much of his vast personal collection of artifacts:

"It's the Hand of Man Museum of Natural History, Cultural Arts, and Conservation. I can tell you, I'm not sure how many people have been through, but the guest book is overwhelming in positive responses. I actually blush a little bit when I read how excited the people were to give compliments to what they saw... This isn't a trophy room and a shrine to myself and what I've done in hunting. It's about travel, exploration, adventure, and natural history and discovery along the way."

On how much they charge at the museum:

"It's donation only, there's no fee. So if someone liked it, they can donate when they leave. If they didn't like it or can't afford to pay, I don't want that to be a limiting factor for someone deciding to bring their children to see this museum."

On who inspires him in the outdoor industry:

"Well don't tell her, but Eva and I have total respect for each other. I just love the way she's breaking down these barriers, and being an inspiration to so many people to be who you are. Try things. You don't have to fit into this box, in this new-age role where we aren't allowed to think, or dress, or eat differently. Really, they tell people what they can eat! That's ridiculous. And Eva's breaking down those walls. I'll never say it in public, and deny, deny, deny, but Eva is one of the people that inspires me to do better, and hopefully vice versa.

"That said, there are legends in our industry. Jim Zumbo, Larry Weishuhn, these guys have been there since the beginning of me entering this industry. I remember walking up to Jim Zumbo in the '80s. I literally walked up to him and I was shocked, and I said, 'You're Jim Zumbo, you're my hero!' To this day, Zumbo will make jokes about that, but it's the absolute truth. And Larry Weishuhn, there are no greater gentlemen than both of those two. Marty Malin down in Texas, he's always been a hero of mine. That's sort of the school that was there before I ever got into this industry.

On more contemporary inspirational folks from the industry:

"Guys like Joe Rogan, and Cam Hanes, and Steve Rinella, they're all breaking down barriers, and changing the perception of hunting and hunters for the positive. But you know what? I'm just as inspired by the local deer hunter who's out there working his tail off all week long so he can hunt Saturday morning, Saturday evening. He still has his family and keeps it together, and is paying his mortgage every month. Honestly, just walk outside and look. Really look. Step in the outdoors, and I'm inspired by that. There are many sources of inspiration for me, and all of them make me want to do better, try harder and make a positive difference."

On that notion of a local deer hunter and why they're just as important as a Weatherby Award winner:

"They're some of the best hunters that I've ever met! We talked about the Weatherby Award, and yes, they have to know a lot about hunting around the world. But I would stand any local deer hunter up against the Weatherby Award winner in the deer hunter's back 40, and say, 'Who's the better hunter?' Everybody is to be lauded for their knowledge, regardless of where and what they get to hunt."

On his on-going "retirement" from personally guiding public hunts:

"I've guided a lot of hunters over the years. We've outfitted more than 2,000 hunters over the last 30 years, and I've personally guided 350 hunters over those years. You know, there just comes a time. I'm 60 now, and I don't see as well or hear as well as I used to. You can ask my wife of 34 years that. I physically can still walk the walk, but when it comes to lifting moose quarters, the younger guys are better at it than I am. There's a measure of the five rules: safety, safety, safety, safety and safety. I may have the experience, which probably helps, but there are times when you just need slightly quicker reflexes or somebody's gonna get scratched by a cat, or chewed on by a bear. So there just comes a time when I have to say, realistically, I have to be responsible to my clients' safety, and I'm not as good as I could be. Believe me, as someone who's done this and never shook from any responsibility, I still think it's the right thing to do.

"I also look at the amount of time I have left. Say, the next 10 hunting seasons for moose in the Yukon, do I want to spend half that time guiding a client, or would I rather spend it with Eva and Tim, or Branlin [Shockey's son] and his wife Ashley, or their families. I guided Bran's father in law Chet last year for a caribou, but that's not really guiding. If he's gonna come with me, he's gonna take his chances, and odds are it's gonna be fine. But with 10 more years where I can reasonably guide, I'd rather guide family and close friends."

On whether or not that means the end of his outfitting business:

"I'm not getting out of outfitting, I'll do that until I'm, god-willing, 1,000 years old. That I'll do, but I'll send the younger guys out to do the heavy lifting. You know, Wojo and I, from the show, are planning to do this literally until the day we die. We've been training some of the younger guys to take our places going forward, so we can just enjoy our fall years and still be up there doing the outfitting part of it."

On what's on deck for him in the coming months:

"This year I've been pretty spoiled, and I've been able to hunt North America. I've really enjoyed it; those are my roots, and I'll hope to do more of it. I'll be in Germany in December. There's a hunt that Louise and I have been invited on, and unfortunately I can't tell you who it's with. I've been sworn to secrecy, but I can tell you that there's going to be a lot of royalty around that place where we're hunting. I'm hoping to be able to tell everyone about it afterwards, but it's out of respect for the privacy of the people involved. No video cameras unfortunately, but if I can, I'll be happy to share the story of the hunt afterwards."

Let it be known, we'll definitely be checking back in with Jim to hear about that.

NEXT: JIM SHOCKEY ON MEAT VS. TROPHY HUNTING, FEMALE HUNTERS, AND TV PROGRAMMING

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We Got Jim Shockey to Open Up About His Award-Winning Hunting Career