CHATFIELD, MINN. — This sleepy southeastern Minnesota farm town is light years away from Zimbabwe, yet the public hurricane that erupted over the killing of an African lion by a Minnesota hunter was felt here.
Phones rang and e-mails flowed into the Pope and Young Club’s headquarters and museum, and the national bowhunting group’s website (pope-young.org) crashed. Vitriolic messages blasted the group, apparently because the Minnesota hunter at the center of the storm is a Pope and Young member.
“I got a dozen messages on my recorder and that many or more e-mail threats,’’ said Glenn Hisey, executive secretary for the 8,000-member nonprofit group and the museum’s director.
Hisey, 75, said the messages were misdirected: Pope and Young focuses on North American big game, not African animals. “And we only recognize legally taken big-game animals under the rules of fair chase,’’ he said.
Eden Prairie hunter Walter J. Palmer, who killed the lion in Zimbabwe and now faces possible poaching charges, has several North American animals in the Pope and Young record book, Hisey said.
“If he pleads guilty or is proven guilty, we will take necessary steps,’’ he said.
Palmer’s name and trophy animals would be removed from the record book, because the conviction would cast doubt on all of his animals, Hisey said.
Hisey, an avid bowhunter, said the incident is unfortunate because it casts hunting in a bad light. “It never should have happened,” he said. “Somebody cut corners.’’
Ethical hunting is a core value of the Pope and Young Club, Hisey said. Even the club’s quarterly magazine is called Ethic.
The club says the fair chase philosophy “reaches to the very foundations of the hunting spirit. It should be a dominant factor in the personal hunting ethic of every responsible individual. It is key to bowhunting’s future.’’
The group, formed in 1961, is named after Dr. Saxton Pope and Art Young, often called the “fathers of bowhunting.’’ In the early 1900s, Pope and Young learned archery skills from the last known survivor of the Yana tribe in Northern California, a man called Ishi.
Guns had long since replaced bows and arrows for hunting, but Pope and Young were intrigued by the challenge of using a bow and arrow to take down big game. Their hunting exploits — and a book Pope wrote in 1923 — rekindled interest in the old-style way of hunting.
But it took years for state wildlife managers to accept archery hunting and to create special hunting seasons for archers, something that is commonplace today.
“Some states prohibited use of bow and arrows for hunting,’’ Hisey said. “They felt it was a toy: a stick and a string.”
Neighboring Wisconsin made a pivotal change in 1930, legalizing a bowhunting season. Minnesota legalized use of a bow in 1929, but a special bow season wasn’t held until 1943.
Other states slowly followed.
Eventually, in 1961, Glenn St. Charles of Seattle helped form the Pope and Young Club, which was dedicated to keeping bowhunting records and promoting conservation and fair-chase ethics.
“The purpose of the club is to preserve and protect the bowhunting heritage for future generations,’’ Hisey said.
About 1,000 volunteers measure and score trophy animals taken with a bow and arrow, and the club publishes those that exceed minimum scores. The group also annually gives out about $100,000 for outreach and education programs as well as operates the museum in Chatfield.
Why in Minnesota?
Pope and Young’s headquarters and museum are in Chatfield by happenstance. The museum had been at St. Charles’ business in Seattle. Offices for membership, record keeping and secretary were scattered in separate states.
“I got appointed executive secretary,’’ said Hisey, a Chatfield native, “so we moved the offices all to Chatfield in 1989.’’
With St. Charles aging and his family wanting to close the business, the museum had to move, so it, too, went to Chatfield into a building that now houses it and club offices. The museum opened there in 2004.
Minnesota is a good location, Hisey said. Interest in bowhunting has exploded in recent years, and the state now has more than 100,000 archery deer hunters. “We have more members and bowhunters in the Midwest than anywhere else,’’ he said, “because of the whitetail deer hunting here. The majority of our members can drive here.’’
The museum documents the evolution of archery hunting, and it is brimming with artifacts, including archery equipment owned and used by Pope and Young. There’s even a pair of ivory goggles that Young used to shield his eyes on a polar bear-hunting trip to the Arctic.
About 3,000 broadhead arrow tips — the world’s largest public display — line several walls. Scores of long bows, recurve bows and modern compound bows also are on display. So, too, are mounts of the 29 North American big-game species, including muskox, caribou, elk, grizzly bear, sheep, moose and whitetail deer, some from Minnesota — all killed by bow and arrow.
Dioramas depict Pope, Young, Ishi, St. Charles and Fred Bear, who founded Bear Products Co. and is perhaps the most visible bowhunter of the 20th century.
Hisey said bowhunters love the challenge that their sport offers over hunting big game with firearms. Bowhunters must get much closer to their prey. That means more missed opportunities than hunting with a firearm.
“It’s not for everybody,’’ Hisey said.
“For me, it’s the total experience that counts, not just the kill.’’