In the world of big-game hunting and adventure media, there is no bigger name than Jim Shockey. Jim is a renowned outdoor writer naturalist and a leading voice for hunting and conservation. He is the producer and host of the Jim Shockey’s Hunting Adventures and Jim Shockey’s UNCHARTED on Outdoor Channel.
Vogt Silversmiths worked with Jim to design a custom trophy buckle in commemoration of his epic 2019 Yukon moose hunt, featured on the currently airing Season 6 of UNCHARTED. Jim sat down with us to discuss his love for the outdoors, the spiritual connection hunters share, and the special meaning his trophy buckle carries for him.
Let’s start with an easy one! What’s your favorite animal to hunt?
Moose definitely. If my dad didn’t get a moose in the fall, we didn’t eat meat in the winter. I grew up in a trailer park in British Columbia. My family didn’t buy beef—I didn’t know you could buy beef from the store until I was in high school.
That’s why when I’m asked what my favorite big game animal to hunt is, the answer is always moose. It comes from that tradition of growing up relying on moose for my winter subsistence. It’s part of paying respect to my father and uncles—the men who taught me how to hunt.
Tell us more about that tradition of hunting.Growing up I was always bugging my dad to take me hunting. He would take me out to hunt gophers and rabbits—meat that probably didn’t pay for the gas it took to go hunting! But I always had a different relationship with animals than my father. My father looked at animals as hamburgers running across the field. He saw them as meat. For me, it never was that. I had a spiritual relationship with animals from a very young age. I understood that life begets death. I didn’t look at animals as meat. Where he preferred a hunt to be over from first minute of the first day, I wanted every hunt to last until the last minute of the last day. I loved being out in nature.
So, for your dad, hunting was a necessity, whereas you chose to become a hunter in a generation with more options, where hunting was a choice.
Exactly. My dad didn’t have the choice. I had the choice, and I chose to be a hunter. And a hunter not just for meat. There’s a far greater relationship between hunter and animal than just meat, in my opinion. It’s a part of the experience of being a hunter and hunting, and it’s important, but it’s not all that hunting is.
What do you wish people knew about hunters?10% of people hunt, 10% hate hunting, and the remaining 80% are in the middle. Most of that 80% want to know the truth.
People are tired of being force fed what they should believe. Today, they call it “fake news.” It just means they are tired of not knowing what the truth is. When you reach out to people with the truth, they will listen.
You’ll never reach an anti-hunter, it’s not possible. That’s an ideology. The cognitive dissonance of explaining to them the value of hunting, the logic of what it does to protect wildlife species, they just can’t compute that.
For a non-hunter though, you point out that every hamburger was once an animal, or, more likely, a dozen animals. Bits and pieces and parts mashed together. They were once alive, breathing animals. Those chicken nuggets were animals. Those fish—even “all-you-can-eat” prawns or shrimp—those were animals! The leather shoes, the belt, the jacket, even the seats in their car, those were all animals. Most people separate that reality from what they’re looking at on their plates or buying at the store. They don’t want to know the truth until someone points it out.
You have to consider the life those animals led at a factory or meat manufacturing plant. You don’t know what they ate or how they were treated, but you know it wasn’t the life of a wild animal.
The difference is, a hunter knows the animal that is providing sustenance to his family. He has a personal relationship with that animal. The hunter’s dollars went to protect that species. There’s a respect for the animal that the hunter eats.
Every time he sits down with his family, the hunter gives thanks for the animal sustaining him. This gratitude is shared by whoever he shares that meat with—his family, his friends, the hungry. He knows that the animal is a live animal, and there’s a huge responsibility that goes along with that. By that animal dying, you get to live. Hamburger eaters don’t have a concept of that sacrifice, that reality. It’s pretty simple because people want to know the truth. When you start explaining hunting in those terms, it doesn’t take a non-hunter long to understand, “Whoa, how can I be against hunting when I’m eating an animal I don’t know?”
You created your Vogt buckle to commemorate one such animal, and a hunt that was very special to you.
Yes, exactly. My wife is very picky about jewelry, but she loved the pieces she found at Vogt’s booth in Dallas—it’s unusual to find pieces she loves. She’s beautiful inside and out, a dancer and singer with so much talent! If I had one fingernail worth of her talent, I’d be insufferable. She’s so centered. She’s the center of our universe, and the hub of our wheel. We all revolve around her. She has a great eye for art and jewelry, and I like to think I do, too. I’m wearing my buckle right now, and every time I look at it, I remember that hunt.
That’s so beautiful! We love hearing that your wife enjoys her Vogt jewelry, and that you love your buckle. I wonder if you could share what this buckle means to you? I think some people outside the hunting world are confused by the concept of a “trophy” commemorating a hunt.
Nowadays, if you call an animal a “trophy,” people consider it derogatory to both the animal and the hunter. Really, it should be called selective hunting instead of trophy hunting. We’re looking for the oldest male animal, one that is not contributing to the biological furtherance of the species. That’s selective hunting.
But the word “trophy” means “the memory of an event or an accomplishment.”
Thousands of years ago, our ancestors would bring antlers home to their caves. I’m positive that if we went back in time, we would learn that those antlers were exactly that: A trophy; the memory of an event or accomplishment. And for them, a very important accomplishment, because it meant they would survive. A big animal meant more meat, which meant the family would live through the winter. If they couldn’t bring the animal’s antlers or tusks home, they would draw pictures of the animal on their cave walls.
Today, we take a photograph. But that photograph means the same thing as the cave painting. It’s a memory of an event or an accomplishment. It’s not about ego or chest-beating, as it’s portrayed in the popular press. It’s a memory. Why is the hunter smiling? Because they’re happy. It’s an innate response to an achievement that means survival. We can say we’re civilized, that we’ve gone beyond our instincts, that we’re somehow at a higher level, but honestly you don’t breed that survival instinct out of humanity in 10,000 years. The hunters are happy because innately they know they’re going to survive.
So, a belt buckle is my cave painting, my memory of the hunt, my trophy. When I look down and see the antlers of the moose embossed on this buckle, it brings back my memory of being in the Yukon—one of most remote places left on this planet—knowing that I will be able to feed my family and other families. I am reminded of one year and a day prior to this hunt, when my son-in-law harvested his first moose in this same spot. I am reminded of my father’s last moose hunt, which took place here. That’s what this belt buckle means to me. A wealth of memories become accessible because the belt buckle reminds me of that moment and all those other moments.
That’s why a picture of a hunter and his animal is more than a picture. That mount hanging on the wall in his house is more than a set of antlers. None of this is about egos. This buckle I’m wearing now, and will be wearing for the foreseeable future, is more than a belt buckle. It’s about all those memories in my memory bank that this piece allows me to access. It is my trophy, my memories, all wrapped into one beautiful silver and gold belt buckle with the word “Respect” engraved on the back of it.
What does that word “Respect” on your buckle mean for you?
Respect for the animals. Respect for my father and uncles. Respect for the lives they led, the hardships they met, the sacrifices they made to be successful hunters—which meant my family had meat to eat during the winter. Respect for my kindred spirits out there around the world, that 10% of the population who are hunters. Respect for the efforts of hunters to conserve wildlife species around the world. Respect for people who have different opinions than I do.
Another word for that would be tolerance. Hunters are portrayed as louts with no higher sensibilities. But I would say we’re some of the most evolved people on the planet. We understand what it means be vilified, marginalized, and misunderstood. We know what it means to live and let live.
Every time I reach down and touch my buckle, that’s what it means to me.
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