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Staying on top of the game

City manager Vince Lupo's mild exterior belies his expert marksmanship and pursuit of big game all over the world.

By ALEX LEARY
Published June 9, 2003

PORT RICHEY - Vince Lupo has killed rabbit and pheasant in New Jersey, hunted geese in Delaware, clipped doves in Pennsylvania and bagged deer in New York, Alabama, Georgia and seven other states.

He has taken bear in Maine, shot elk in Colorado, stalked antelope, badger and prairie dog in Wyoming, dropped mouflon sheep and bison in Texas, and dispatched turkey and hog in Florida.

But to look at 61-year-old Lupo in his shirt and tie, on the job as city manager of Port Richey, one probably would not mistake him for a weekend hunter, much less a skilled marksman.

Closer inspection provides clues. Around his neck is a gold chain on which dangles a lion's claw. A black bracelet is not rope but elephant hair.

"Hunting is a passion, I admit it," Lupo said, pulling from his back pocket a bulging black crocodile skin wallet, which matches his crocodile-skin belt.

In fact, Lupo says he is the first man to ever use a lever-action rifle to take the African Big Six: elephant, rhinoceros, hippopotamus, lion, leopard and Cape buffalo.

That claim is displayed prominently at www.garrettcartridges.com the Web site of Garrett Cartridges Inc., whose .45-caliber Hammerhead bullets Lupo used during South African safaris in 2001 and 2002.

Lupo chronicled the quest on the Web site. The buttery, descriptive journals seem fantastic: He killed a charging leopard from 6 inches away; a charging lion he shot landed with its feet "straight up in the air."

"He's the most distinguished hunter I have as client," company owner Randy Garrett said. "The Big Six are the most substantial and most dangerous animals in Africa. It is the epitome of achievements as far as hunters are concerned."

Such repute does not come cheaply. Garrett said a hunter can spend up to $250,000 in pursuit of the Big Six, roughly half of which goes toward permits. Permission to take an elephant, for instance, can cost $50,000.

Hunter loves nature

Seated behind his desk at City Hall, Lupo gazes at the hunting pictures that line his walls and reflects why he does it, why year after year he dons camouflage, packs his rifle and heads for the woods with friends.

The camaraderie, the fresh air, the trees, the clouds - "everything seems to be alive," Lupo says. To see the sun rise or set is one of the great pleasures of his life.

He prefers not to be cast as a "bloodthirsty animal killer." Instead he draws attention to an "intense love of nature, extreme concern about our world's ecology, and the pitiful plight of many human beings around the world."

Lupo began hunting in his early 20s after a friend invited him on a pheasant hunt near their hometown of Trenton, N.J.

Soon he was a member of the Four Season Rod & Gun Club, and not long after was hunting across the Northeast and eventually, the entire country and abroad, including Venezuela (dove) and Greece (rabbit).

He had shown remarkable range but one territory eluded him: Africa. Lupo said he never seriously considered going there until Dale Massad, a Port Richey City Council member, asked him to join his charity, Africare Enviro-Med Corp., which Massad organized to provide health care and education to poor families.

At his home in Port Richey, Massad introduced Lupo to Danie Clifford of Mahlapholane Safaris in South Africa. Lupo was hooked. "I said, "You got me. I need the vacation anyway.' "

South Africa irresistible

Lupo said that at first he was not terribly interested in hunting during the May 2001 trip, which served as an introduction to Africare. But the South African tableau - the animals, the mountains, the sunsets - proved intoxicating.

Just in case, Lupo had packed his rifle.

There are dozens of animals to hunt in South Africa, and during his 18-day stay, Lupo took his share: impala, zebra, wildebeest, kudu, blesbok and steenbok, to name a few.

The skill involved in shooting those animals is akin to hunting whitetail deer in the United States - challenging but not terribly so. The Big Six are the real prize.

On May 30, 2001, Lupo began his quest to take them all when he shot a Cape buffalo. For three days Lupo, aided by professional guides, tracked Cape buffalo in a Land Rover. Then, through a clump of trees 80 yards away, Lupo said he spotted what looked like a "black train."

It was a Cape buffalo headed down a mountainside in long, slalom-like movements. Lupo raised his Marlin lever-action rifle. "Bammo! I shot him perfectly," he said.

The bullet penetrated the buffalo's right shoulder, clipped its heart and lungs and exited the other side, Lupo said.

The blast dropped the bull, yet it was not dead. It shook its head, mucus flowing from its enraged nostrils, and glowered at the hunters, Lupo said.

Again, Lupo raised the Marlin, sending a Hammerhead through the bull's chest from about 60 yards away. Its moan was deep and rumbling.

Lupo shot it a third time, "for insurance."

"He was at the top of his game," Lupo said of the animal. "For sure he would have killed other bulls to assert his dominance. . . . He now resides over my fireplace."

The meat, Lupo said, was donated to a trauma center he and Massad say they sponsored through Africare.

Meat cannot be imported to the United States, but the "trophy" parts of animals can, including heads, prepared by a taxidermist, tusks, hides and skins. The buffalo mount is one of several in Lupo's Tampa home, which also holds his extensive collection of custom guns.

In November 2001, Lupo returned for a three-week safari and promptly took a 220-pound male leopard. Upon doing this, Lupo wrote in his journal, he slapped high-fives with the guides, and that night they partied at the lodge.

A few days later, one of the trackers reported a waterbuck.

As he approached his kill, Lupo slipped on the wet grass. He broke his ankle and would soon be in a hospital, where doctors installed a titanium pin. Lupo carries an X-ray photo in his wallet.

Proper ammunition vital

Summer 2002 provided another opportunity for Lupo. He shot an elephant, rhino, hippo and lion. The Big Six were down. He was ecstatic, Lupo wrote in his journal. He said he wanted to kiss Randy Garrett, maker of the special bullets.

A lever-action rifle (think Chuck Connors in Rifleman) is a bit of a throwback, Garrett said. Most big game hunters use more powerful bolt-action firearms and magnum-caliber bullets.

Lupo said he looked to Garrett for the right safari ammunition. "I needed something that could get the job done."

The custom-made Hammerheads, which cost $2.50 a piece, are heavy and hard.

It is necessary to break through the thick skin and heavy bones, Garrett said. An inferior bullet may break apart on impact. "You'll have a wounded and angry, but not terribly hurt, animal.

"Of course, when you are hunting, you want to dispatch these animals as humanely as possible."

That may seem like odd statement to people who see nothing humane about killing animals as revered as the elephant.

"Sport hunting really means killing for pleasure. That in itself sounds like a perversion," said Peter Muller of the Committee to Abolish Sport Hunting in New Paltz, N.Y.

Muller criticized safari hunts as "canned." Even if the animals have free range, which is not always the case, Muller said, the hunters have the huge advantage of trucks. "Then it's not even really sporting hunt."

Big game hunters, Muller said, "must have a terrible inferiority complex. Does hanging a a dead animal over the mantel somehow make them feel more masculine?"

Lupo said he only kills animals, mostly males, he or someone else will eat.

The 13-ton elephant Lupo killed was given to villagers, he said, adding that the animal had broken out of Kruger National Park and was terrorizing a village.

Lupo is awaiting the arrival of the elephant's skin. He plans to cover a couch and easy chair with the unusual leather.

[Last modified June 9, 2003, 02:03:18]


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