Republic of South Africa, March 2012, on the edge of the Kalahari Desert, close to Botswana: It was 110 degrees.
“We tracked a lion for three and a half hours in that heat,” Dr. David Scott says. “They have the largest lions in the world in that area. Anytime you hunt one of the big five [more on this to come] in South Africa, you have to have two professional hunters with you. It’s the law. I had one in front of me and one behind me, and we tracked and tracked and tracked.
“We came out of this very thick, dense bush, and the lion came right out of it, straight at me, growling,” he continues. “It was at my feet. It was less than two steps away from me.” Scott was 75 at the time. “I beat the professional hunters, both of them,” he says. “They both should have shot. She would have killed me before they could have done anything. I don’t know if they didn’t have their guns ready or what. But she took us totally by surprise; she ambushed us.”
But with one shot from his .460 Weatherby, the lion was dead — and luckily, not the good doctor.
“There was no time to get nervous or scared,” he says. “But I was sure nervous afterward. I always wondered what I would do if I was charged by a dangerous animal. Some hunters throw their guns down and run, and that’s the absolutely worst thing you can do.
“But I stood my ground,” he continues. “That was the first and only serious, deadly charge I’ve had at close range. It locked on me, and I killed it instantly. I shot him right between the shoulders. My professional hunters were slapping me on the back. They couldn’t believe it. ‘Doctor, that was an incredible shot!’ I did exactly what I needed to do; it was instinctual, really. That was a rush, I’ll tell you.”
Scott grew up on a farm in Osage County and always knew big-game hunting would be his passion. “I had read Outdoor Life and Field and Stream and always dreamed about being an international big-game hunter,” he says.
He had other passions. From his 20s to 40s, he was a voracious runner, running nineto 10 miles a day four to five times a week. He ran a marathon. He’s been on the sidelines of Jefferson City Jays football games for more than five decades as both the official and unofficial team doctor after playing for the Jays and graduating in 1954.
After earning his medical degree from the University of Missouri, he had a family practice in Jefferson City for 36 years and then served as medical director of the main prison from 1996 to 1999. “That was an education,” he says. At age 67, he went back to school at MU to take four classes to be able to work in emergency rooms. And he did, from Haiti to Warrensburg, Mo., before working in Rolla the past several years.
Those are Scott’s passions. But the love of his life is his wife of 53 years, Virginia, who made it all possible: in particular, his big-game ventures. Some wives get upset when their husbands are gone for a few hours to play golf or go fishing or hunting. That’s not Virginia, even though Scott would be gone up to 28 days at a time.
They married after his first year of medical school; she was in nursing school. “I told her that I had friends that went hunting, and their wives got mad at them before they went, while they were gone and when they got back,” he says. “They don’t understand that hunting’s in our DNA.
“I told her I would study hard, I’d work hard, and I will provide for all of our family’s needs and most of their wants,” he continues. “But I’m going to be a big-game hunter, and that’s expensive. That was our verbal prenuptial agreement. She’s never had a problem with it, ever. She is the best.”
That understanding led to Scott’s big-game hunts all over the United States and around the world — about 30 of the latter — including 10 in Africa (where he also took two trips and just took pictures), Mongolia, Canada, Central and South America and the Arctic Ocean. He’s taken 50 different species and a total of about 200 animals.
His home is an absolute shrine to the wild kingdom. “And I’ve given half of them away to the Museum of Natural History in St. Louis because I didn’t have any more room,” he says. He’s taken both of his daughters, all three grandchildren and his wife on his trips. “She was stalking animals with me, crawling on her hands knees through the bush.”
During his 44 years of big-game hunting, Scott has achieved golf’s version of the grand slam — plus one. He’s gotten the big five: elephant, rhino (by dart gun), lion, leopard, Cape buffalo. “Shot placement is the key on dangerous game,” he says. “You have to make sure your first shot is perfect. There are books where they show you where you need to hit each animal because each one is different.
“I don’t believe I’ve ever missed one because I don’t shoot running animals,” he continues. “I think it’s unethical. The chances of wounding them and them going off and suffering are too great. I can’t stand to see an animal suffer.”
And for you PETA folks who are still reading this, Scott’s efforts — and those of the other big-game hunters — do a lot more good than harm. “The license fee I paid for the elephant, back in 1970, was $5,000,” he says. “Half of that went to the government, and that pays for anti-poaching efforts, and the other half goes to the chief of the area you’re hunting. What he gets out of it is all the meat, and with that $2,500 he builds classrooms, he builds wells, he builds medical clinics.”
Like all of us, either now or eventually, Scott has been slowed by age. He hasn’t worked since February — he worked his last three months in Rolla in a wheelchair — and is scheduled to have both hip and knee replacement surgery this year. So his work and his passion will have to wait — until 2014.
“I’m going back to work; I’m just looking for a smaller hospital,” he says. “And I’ll probably go on two hunts next year, an alligator hunt in Louisiana that’s already booked and a trip to the Congo to hunt bongo. That will probably be my last African hunt. But I’ve said that before, starting in 1978. But why not?”
Indeed, why not?