Real(Tree) People: R. Lee Ermey

By author of Realtree Outdoor News

The Gunny talks hunting, guns, wild game, Realtree camo and more with Outdoor News blogger Barbara Baird

We had the opportunity to talk to R. Lee Ermey, aka Gunny, at the National Rifle Association’s annual convention, held in St. Louis, last April. We had heard he was an inveterate hunter, but really had no idea how entrenched the tradition of hunting was in his very core.

Ermey is a spokesman for GLOCK; television host of "Lock N’ Load" on the History Channel; and actor in many movies, including the epic “Full Metal Jacket,” “Apocalypse Now” and “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” remake. Gunny’s tough Marine drill sergeant persona is reliable and respected.

Baird: You’re going back to Africa this August, and you were there last year. What did you tag?

Gunny: I’m working on the Big Five. Last year I hunted a Cape buffalo, lion, lioness and a black wildebeest. This year I’m going for elephant, hippopotamus, crocodile and a leopard if we have time. I’m taking my new gun, a .416 Rigby rifle. This will be my third trip to Africa.

Baird: How’d you start hunting?

Gunny: I grew up in Kansas, pheasant hunting and whitetail. I lived on a farm, so I had to walk on a dirt road along a riverbank to get to the bus stop. It was a mile-and-a-half. I’d take my old single-shot shotgun, with five or six shot shells, and I would hunt my way over to the bus. I’d stash my old shotgun, my hunting vest and everything in a culvert, hop on the bus, get my reading and writing and ‘rithmetic fix for the day, hop back on the school bus and then, I’d get off the bus, fetch my hunting gear from the culvert and hunt my way home. This was in the wintertime. There were rabbits, there were quail, pheasants and ducks.

When I was a kid there were six boys in our family. We lived on a farm and we’d knock a cow in the head once a year, but we had big chest freezers and you’d find wild game in there.  That’s healthy …  I’m 68 and I’m doing pretty good. My grandparents – one made it to 102, one made it to 98, one made it to 86 (and she broke her hip) and one committed suicide when he was 70, so longevity runs in my family. I got four freezers full of wild game right now.

Baird: What’s in your freezer?

Gunny: I go up into the mountains of northern California every year, and there’s a herd of buffalo every year and I shoot an old bull, the trophy bull, and it’s the best hamburger in the freakin’ world. I don’t buy meat out of the supermarket freezer because I don’t like hormones and I don’t like the idea that these poor animals are standing knee deep in their own muck in a stockyard someplace. 

Baird: Who helps you eat all that meat?

Gunny: I tell my kids – and I’ve got six kids, and the reason I have six is because five are girls, but I continued to march until I got the boy – and I tell them to help themselves. They all have freezers at home. I have duck, quail, pheasant, jackrabbit, rabbit … and I’m sure you’ve heard that jackrabbit is stringy and not good meat? That’s bull_____. You get a nice young jackrabbit and it’s all dark meat and it’s better than cottontail.

Baird: I’m a South Dakota native and we have jackalopes. Have you ever hunted one of those?

Gunny: (laughing) No, I’ve never hunted them, but I’ve seen one occasionally in gas stations.

Baird: Do you ever wear camo as a lifestyle statement? You’re not going hunting, but you might just throw on a camo jacket or a hat?

Gunny: I do, and Realtree, as far as I’m concerned, has great camo. You can quote me on that. They do have the best out there. If I go outside and I don’t have a hat on, I feel as though I’m breaking a rule or regulation. You know, I grew up as a Marine and in the Marine Corps, you “hat up” every time you go outside.

Baird: But, you didn’t wear a hat when you were House’s dad when you were on that television show, did you? In fact, your character was never nice to House in that series.

Gunny: (laughing again) Well, House is a punk.

Baird: Do you have a favorite gun?

Gunny: I do, indeed. You know, for all North American animals, I hunt with a Winchester Model 1895 lever action, military. I don’t think there’s an animal in America that you can’t adequately take down with a .30-06 round. In a lot of cases, that would be overkill.

Baird: What type of hunter are you?

Gunny: The thing is, I never stay still. I never sit down and I go through stickers and thorns and crap and it doesn’t bother me, and I just plow right through the stuff. If they don’t go after me, I go after them. Now, my boy, he plows right through the brush with me.

Baird: Did you hear about the controversy with Donald Trump Jr. about killing an elephant?

Gunny: I think that is the biggest joke. These idiots that have never hunted … now, we don’t try to push our beliefs off on them, and they’re constantly trying to push their beliefs on us. We go to Africa and hunt old animals, not the young, virile ones. The professional hunter (PH) is not going to let you shoot some young breeding bull. … He’ll find the oldest one. They know their animals, they’re out there all the time. They’ll find this old, for instance, the giraffe I shot … he’s too old to breed, he’s the alpha male, and he’s big and he’s tough and he will fight the younger giraffes that want to breed and he will kill them, and meanwhile the herd is getting smaller and smaller because he won’t allow any of the others to breed and he can’t any longer. So he needs to be culled. So you shoot the animal, you take all the meat and you donate all the meat to the local village so they have something to eat. The money goes to the government and to the wages of the PH, and then, the government gives the village a portion of the money. It’s the second-largest industry in Africa and Africa is the poorest place in the world, and we feed these people by culling out their oldest, most decrepit animals.

Later, Gunny revealed that he shoots recreationally with Donald Trump, Jr. He also looked ahead and said he will be hunting for brown bear in Russia next spring. In the meantime, check out his website.