Grafton hunter displays African-safari trophies in rec room
GRAFTON, N.D. -- To Ralph Kieley, Africa is not a continent. "It's a contagious disease," he said. "You go back and back and back." The proof is on the walls of what ordinarily might be called a den or rec room. In Kieley's case, the rural home's...
GRAFTON, N.D. -- To Ralph Kieley, Africa is not a continent. "It's a contagious disease," he said. "You go back and back and back."
The proof is on the walls of what ordinarily might be called a den or rec room. In Kieley's case, the rural home's hangout is named the "African room" because 43 species of animals are on display from his big-game hunting trips there.
The 67-year-old has been on 11 African safaris and hopes for a 12th later this year. That's in question because he recently had knee surgery and is taking chemotherapy treatments.
"The only animal in this room that I didn't shoot is the armadillo, which my wife (Jean) bought in Texas," Kieley said in a teasing tone of disgust thrown in her direction.
Asked to identify the horned mounts, he rattles them off: "sable antelope, klipspringer, blue wildebeest, impala, kudu, springbok, blesbok."
While most of the taxidermy work is of heads on walls, the room also includes a standing full-bodied lion and a prone full-bodied spotted leopard in the rafters. Elephant ivory tusks, weighing a combined 103 pounds, flank the fireplace. A table's legs are giraffe hooves. The floor is spotted with rugs of skin and fur.
The room's only item not out of National Geographic is the television set.
Love of the hunt
Kieley started hunting at age 10. He isn't spoiled by the more exotic game, as he still hunts deer and waterfowl in the area. Pheasant hunting remains his favorite pursuit.
"If I could hunt only one thing, it would be pheasants," he said. "It's the rush of seeing the pheasant get up right in front of you. I can't believe the adrenalin rush I get from that every time."
Another emotional charge came when he shot a charging bull elephant. "I shot it from 10 to 12 yards and his trunk was six feet away from me where it fell," he said. "I was calm the whole time.
"But, afterwards, I was shaking like a leaf."
He is not modest about his aim. "If I shoot at something, it falls down 99 percent of the time," he said.
Big-game hunting comes at a high price. In addition to the travel and hunting expenses, there are trophy fees for the game that can run into the thousands of dollars. And, sometimes, the taxidermy cost is more than the trophy fee.
Asked about the cost, Kieley answers: "A lot." But, "with no children and my wife and I having had good-paying jobs, I can enjoy myself now."
Kieley is retired, having sold Kieley Electric 10 months ago. But, typical of his age group, he still shows up most mornings to tinker.
"I've gone from CEO to janitor," he said.
Kieley knows first-hand that big-game hunting has its critics. He received "a couple of hate letters" after a newspaper story about his elephant hunt.
He wonders: "I shoot elephants; others shoot pheasants. What's the difference?"
Because hunters are looking for trophies, they're seeking the oldest males, he said. "They're past their breeding prime, about ready to be run out of the herd," he said. "A clean, humane kill is better than starving to death."
And for people who dislike all hunting, Kieley has a question: "Have you ever ate a McDonald's burger or worn leather shoes?"
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