This is my friend, Bruce, with a real bruiser of a Vancouver Bull he just shot down in Hawaii. I know what you’re probably thinking. “A cow? Really? What the hell kind of hunt is this?”
If it’s not what you’re thinking (or close), then you either already know about Hawaii’s wild cattle, or you’ve got a serious case of incuriousity. When I first heard about hunting cattle on the Big Island, I know I was a little skeptical. But the more I heard about it, the more intrigued I became. I may never actually make it over there to hunt these things myself, but I’d sure like to. From accounts by Bruce and a couple of other guys with whom I’ve shared emails, it’s about as “real” as a hunt gets.
First of all, the hunt itself is not a picnic… at least if you’re doing it on public land. The Vancouver bulls live way back in the jungle. This is no walk in the hardwood bottoms or along some western ridge. It’s a hike that often requires the judicious use of a machete, extreme endurance, and a will to get where you’re going. If you’re lucky, once you get close, you’ll be able to use the cattle and hog trails to move a little easier. Of course, if you’re using their trails you’d better be careful. These cattle are truly wild, and I’ve heard they can be as rank as any Cape buffalo. Being charged by a pissed off bull (or cow, for that matter) on a trail in this dense cover would make for a pretty singular experience.
And, of course, should you find and kill one of these beasts… what then? Look at the size of that thing in the picture. But even the calves are hefty.
The truth is, most of the hunters who kill one of these cattle only take a limited amount of the meat. For one thing, it’s simple practicality. This isn’t the frozen, Rocky Mountains here. It’s a tropical jungle. You can’t leave meat hanging in a tree overnight, and expect it to be any good the next day. Depending on the time of year and how far back in the bush you are, you may be fortunate to get as much as you can carry back to the ice chest before it spoils.
Then why hunt them? If you only take a portion of the meat, seldom recover the hide, and often don’t even want the trophy, what’s the point in killing these animals?
It’s a fair question, and one that crossed my mind when I first heard about hunting Vancouver bulls. I won’t say that I eat everything I kill, but if I kill something edible I tend to want to utilize it. It seemed wasteful to me to shoot a 3/4 ton animal, and then only recover as much meat as you can pack on your back in a single trip. Even with two hunters toting a share, that leaves a lot of meat on the ground. But the truth is that this hunt isn’t really about the meat. It’s about removing non-native, invasive species and protecting a fragile (and already heavily damaged) ecosystem.
Cattle were introduced to the Hawaiian islands in the late 1700s by Captain George Vancouver as a gift to King Kamehameha I. The first group was quickly killed and eaten, or died from various illnesses. Vancouver gave the king another small group, and urged that he protect them until they could become established. Kamehameha issued a “kapu”, a royal decree, to protect the herd. Under that protection, the herd grew like crazy until the kapu was finally lifted around 1830. By that time, the cattle were razing farm fields, destroying native habitat, and killing or injuring people.
Hunting was established to bring the herd under control. This eliminated a big part of the herd, but many animals moved into the jungle and have survived there just fine. Because the damage was much less visible, hunting efforts dwindled. A few years back, Hawaiian environmental and conservation organizations saw that the remaining cattle were causing big problems in the native forest ecosystem (a system that originally evolved without any large mammals at all) and initiated new hunting opportunities. The hunts were supposed to run only a limited time, but as of yet, they have been extended. Apparently there aren’t enough people willing to do what it takes to hunt and kill these animals in sufficient numbers.
On the bull hunts, Bruce tells me that they often encounter wild hogs, another non-native, destructive species, which are also fair game. In fact, wild pigs are a pretty widespread problem in Hawaii, and hog hunting is not just a great sport, but it’s generally encouraged as a means of reducing damage to native plants. Bruce said that when his neighbors found out that he hunts, many of them started calling on him to protect their landscaping and gardens from the porcine invaders.
Travelling to Hawaii with guns is not a simple matter, so stateside hunters who are interested in this experience really need to do their homework. The best thing is to have a friend in the islands who already owns guns… or you can go with archery equipment. I don’t know of anyone who has hunted the Vancouver bulls with bow and arrow, but it should make for a pretty exciting experience.
I’m feeling a strong need to call my travel agent!