SSC MEMBER, AARON ARMSTRONG
By Grant Carson
The next time you hunt on a huge mountain or adventure to a remote region of huntable territory, look for Aaron Armstrong - ask for the guy who shot the biggest trophy and does his own taxidermy. A board member with Sacramento Safari Club, Aaron started plinking squirrels at age five in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Tagging along with his Dad on deer hunts and fishing trips, the unquenchable urge to hunt and be outdoors developed in Aaron. Like other hunters, he bagged classic upland birds after reaching double-digits. In his late teens, Aaron finally began pursuing deer and boar. “The rest is history,” he ardently exclaimed. To win the title of “experienced,” hunters must have the courage to defy the food-chain by taking on giant predators with grit and a couple-hundred grains of lead or steel. Aaron recounted these moments of danger when considering his most memorable hunts. “On my Alaskan hunt in 2005, a brown bear charged me at eight yards,” he described, “at that point I slipped an arrow through.” What a hunt! “All that, and we got it on video.” Aaron later described that he moves extremely close to an animal for a shot. When hearing about the bear charge, I laughed and said Outdoor Channel could use a host like him. Aaron prizes tough and impressive trophies.
One year later, he journeyed to Mongolia and bagged four excellent species: a Gobi Ibex, Altai Ibex, and two White-tailed Gazelles. I proceeded and asked him to select his favorite adventure from his reserve of global hunting stories; he chose his expedition for Mountain Goat in Alaska last year. “We flew to a high mountain lake, then set up camp in a classic backpack hunt,” he described. I could picture him in the last moments watching the little plane fade into the sunset after arriving at camp, reminding the hunter that there’s no going back, and he must conquer the hunt! “It was stormy and snowing for a day,” he said, “and as soon as the sky cleared, we headed up the mountain. We spotted an excellent billy that evening and advanced toward him. I made the shot and knocked him down. We packed him out the next day.” That’s how it’s done!
Aaron faithfully recognizes that the size of a trophy does not determine the quality of the hunt. Instead he believes that by simply being outside, hunters observe the exciting, impressive, and unpredictable “nature” of the outdoors. “During a hunt when I shot a black bear a few weeks ago, I saw a Red-tailed Hawk carrying a full-size rattlesnake in its talons. No activity besides hunting offers this kind of experience.” This is what I call “safari,” Swahili for “journey,” a term to describe the adventure, outdoor experience, friendship, and pursuit in an epic hunt. Trophy quality can’t compare to the outdoor experience.
I had heard that Aaron enjoys teaching his daughter to hunt, and he told me about their outdoor adventures, “We’ve both shot tom turkeys within one hour. To top that, in California B-zone, we both shot bucks within five minutes! This year, she took a Nevada Pronghorn at 150 yards with her .22-250 that scored Boone and Crockett.” Big trophies and supportive buddies always make a hunt memorable and encouraging to a young hunter. Aaron certainly understands the importance of passing on hunting to his daughter, considering that the American liberty to hunt was passed on to him by his family. For hunting to be passed on, youth must have opportunities to hunt in their own state. Aaron stressed this point when he compared the ability to hunt in California forty years ago to the
persecuted and improperly managed state of the sport today. “I was born and raised in this state,” he says, “I grew up trapping animals - something that can hardly be done today. You could hunt bear and bobcat with hounds then. I watched all this slowly filter away. Once the foot is in the door, it keeps going until the door is kicked down.” He continued to warn me of the dangers of bureaucratic incrementalism, the slow process which erodes the freedom to hunt. Is California wildlife better off with management by invested conservationists like Aaron and the 800,000 other California hunters who spend time in the field and spend their money to support the animals, or are the natural resources better managed by one-hundred twenty legislators and one governor who send tens of billions of gallons of water into the ocean during a drought? The answer is clear. This is the message SCI spreads throughout the world. Aaron and the rest of the SSC board understand the difficult road ahead of them for the conservation of all species, as President Don Giottonini remarked, “When’s the last time anyone’s seen a wild pheasant in California?” Well, Vice President Dan Cirillo is doing
something about that - that’s for another article. One of the most important treasures hunters can receive from their hunt are the memories of the adventures. The methods of keeping the hunting memories alive differ between hunters; for Aaron, taxidermy is the (almost) living proof of the adventure. “Taxidermy is art,” he expressed. “Some people hang pictures on their walls. I hang trophies on my walls. It’s a great way to keep the memories alive and pay respect to the animal. My taxidermy reminds me of the challenge of the hunt.” Aaron described how he appreciates and deeply loves the animals, “I’ve studied animals since I was five. I love writing about them and analyzing them, and observing them in their unique habitats.” I realized at this point that the qualities of the passionate Mr. Armstrong were those of a wildlife scientist, so I asked him if he considered himself a scientist, and he replied, “Ecology and biology, yes, a true taxidermist embodies all those things.” The science of hunting fosters a love of knowledge about wildlife, not just the study of an encyclopedic write-up of a species. No scientist, and no legislator, can know what is best for wildlife until he or she has hunted. This is all the more proof that hunters are best suited to manage the conservation of wildlife. How fascinating to think that animal mounts have so much science behind them. Taxidermy is more than just mounting a trophy on a wall, it is a form of art that pays respect to the animal, keeps the hunting memories alive, and promotes the excitement of learning about and conserving the next unique species. When thinking like Aaron, I consider taxidermy mounts like tangible pictures which transform the living room into an animal environment. These tangible treasures are better than a 3D wildlife documentary! As affirmed by every SSC hunter I interview, Safari Club hunters are compassionate conservationists who care for the health and betterment of wildlife through managed and sustainable hunting and the advancement of communities throughout the world through economic and humanitarian support. Aaron emphasized the complex scientific aspects of hunting, such as predator and prey balance, diversification of gene pools, and the harvest of non-breeding old trophies. All these benefits of hunting will never be matched by a bill from a legislator; the animals need hunters to thrive. I can’t wait to hear about Mr. Armstrong’s next hunt.