Except for the animals or anyone who is out there with Dick Cheney, hunting tends to be a very safe sport. In fact, according to the Consumer Products Safety Commission, the odds of being injured while skateboarding or riding a bike are four times greater than getting hurt while you are out in the woods scoping out Bambi, or freezing your rear end off in some blind trying to bring down a high-flying duck.
Which is why it came as something of a shock and surprise to read about the accidental death of Theunis Botha, a South African who is acknowledged as having been one of the premier big-game hunters anywhere in the world. His website contains testimonials from satisfied clients in the USA, Europe, Latin America and elsewhere, and he led hundreds of big-game safaris throughout Southern Africa beginning in 1983 and ending in Zimbabwe last week.
What happened evidently was that Botha and his hunting party came upon a group of breeding elephants in a national game preserve and several of the cows turned and charged. Botha got off a shot at one of the animals but then a cow attacked him from the side, lifted him with her trunk and then fell on him after the cow was shot by another member of the group.
One of the rules that big-game hunters follow is to always have multiple shooters looking at the target animal because there’s a likely chance that the shooter will be attacked by the target even if the creature has sustained what would eventually be a lethal wound. Which is exactly what happened in this case because Botha had another hunter at his back but who would have ever imagined that he could be hurt because the wounded animal then fell over on him? What a crazy way for an otherwise ‘normal’ life to come to an end.
What I find interesting about this story is not how and why Theunis Botha was killed. Rather, it brought to my mind the new hunting message going out to Gun-nut Nation courtesy of the NRA. The video begins with the following statement: “It is the dream of the animal-rights fanatics to suppress your most natural connection to the earth. These fantasies are the poisonous, perverted manipulations of social misfits who would take this planet hostage.”
Incidentally, the video contains some of the most remarkable scenic views I have ever seen on any digital platform and was obviously produced at great expense. Another one of the NRA videos contains a brief excerpt from a speech given by the animal-rights philosopher, Tom Regan, who borrowed Martin Luther King’s ‘free at last’ shout-out to describe a world in which animals are given the same rights to free existence as we grant each other. This video makes the tongue-in-cheek point that campaigns for animal ‘rights’ often align with other movements in support of ‘downtrodden’ groups, like gays.
Increasingly, it seems to me that the NRA has decided to present itself not just as an organization that promotes gun ownership, but as an arbiter of the social and cultural values which they believe should define the American way of life. Is this because they need to create new digital media content simply because online media materials quickly become so stale? Or do they really believe that by keeping themselves in the forefront of social commentary that they can augment a membership which if it is dependent only on gun owners will, by definition, decide that their gun ‘rights’ aren’t threatened in the age of Trump?
Either way, if they are convinced that their messaging requires them to identify new ‘threats’ to gun ownership, the death of Theunis Botha opens up a whole, new area in which the NRA might find a new threat whose presence needs to be eradicated or at least controlled. After all, is there anything more threatening to the God-given right to walk around with a gun than a full-grown elephant, a lion or a bear?