The Conklin Award was created in 2002 to honor the memory of Dr. Jim Conklin. Dr. Jim was known for his toughness, determination, resilience and caring. Possibly nowhere else did he better exemplify these traits than in his hunting career.

Doc started his hunting as many do, with hunts close to home. But as time and money allowed, his hunts began to take him beyond his home state and soon he was venturing farther and farther away. He hunted extensively in North America, hunting every species available with several duplicate specimens but soon his adventurous spirit would lead him elsewhere.

Africa called and Doc was there to answer. Kenya, Somalia, Sudan, Ethiopia, Gabon, and Liberia are but a few of the more exotic countries he hunted with great frequency. He hunted Africa on a grand scale taking the prestigious Big Five, the nine principal species of spiral horned antelope and many other specimens both common and uncommon.

Doc hunted South America and Europe with tenacity, but his true love was the mountains of Asia and that is where he is best remembered. He hunted and harvested more than fifty wild sheep and more than thirty different species. His capra collection numbers in the thirties with more than twenty different species. Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Iran, China, Mongolia, and Russia were indeed his playgrounds, and play he did as he was often among the first people to hunt these countries.

Doc also was one of hunting’s greatest defenders and a true steward for the wildlife of the world. His record for philanthropy and service to many conservation organizations is well documented and to be admired. As the Weatherby Award recipient in 1987, Doc was well respected and as a longstanding member of Weatherby’s selection committee he helped many others pursue this tremendous award.

In early 2001, a group of friends got together for a private dinner with Dr. Jim. He was not doing well and they wanted to raise his spirits and get in one more night of hunting stories. People that admired him came in from all over North America for this special night. In attendance were C. J. McElroy from Tucson, Rex Baker from Atlanta, Bruce Keller from San Antonio, and Hubert Thummler from Mexico City. These men joined Dr. Conklin, his family, and Pittsburgh friends Larry Rudolph, Ray Cappelli, Rich Meyer, Philip P. Ripepi, and Philip M. Ripepi in honoring Dr. Conklin one last time. It was a great night, but a somber one as well for many of the guests realized this was probably the last time they would see Doc.

On May 8th, 2001, Dr. Jim passed away and several of these men once again came in for his funeral. To show the respect he had in the hunting world, an Alaskan outfitter, Sam Fejes, even came in to pay his respects.

After the funeral, Larry Rudolph and Philip M. Ripepi were talking about what a great life Doc lived and what a shame it was that he left so little in the form of writing. They did not want his legacy to be forgotten. They decided to talk to their SCI Chapter (which Doc helped form) about presenting a special award in Dr. Conklin’s name at their annual fundraiser in 2002.

At that same time, the chapter decided to commit to funding $50,000.00 to the purchase of SCI’s Washington D.C. building. The Chapter agreed to the award and gave Larry and Phil a special night to present it, with the proceeds to benefit the SCI commitment. A committee of Doc’s friends was enlisted to create the award. This committee was Rex Baker, Dennis Campbell, Bruce Keller, Larry Rudolph, and Philip M. Ripepi. They devised a criterion, made all of the event preparations, and solicited a few auction items for the event. The first recipient was chosen, Don Cox, a close friend of Dr. Conklin’s and a great hunter.

The event was a success. In one night, enough funds were raised to pay off the entire debt to SCI. People came in from many different places to show their respect for Doc, his family, and Don Cox. Several donations even came in from people that could not attend. In truth, what had started out as a one-year idea showed Larry and Phil that they needed to do more. A quip by Rex Baker that evening that “we should do this every year” proved prophetic.

The original committee decided to have a meeting in June at Rex’s house to discuss the possibilities. At this meeting, a few rules were first established:

1)     No one was allowed to have their ego in the room.

2)     No one had more than one vote.

3)     None of us could ever win the award.

4)     None of us could ever get paid for what we did, not even travel expenses.

5)     When making a decision, think of what Doc would do.

These rules still apply today. With this established it was decided that a non-profit entity was in need so that every dollar made at the events would go towards conservation. This was completed a few months after the meeting with the creation of The Conklin Foundation.

To separate Doc’s award from others, it needed to have a mission statement that reflected how Doc hunted. Bruce Keller came up with a statement that none in the room could improve. It says: “The Conklin Award recognizes the world’s greatest active hunter who pursues game in the most difficult terrain and conditions, while exhibiting the highest degree of ethics, and is a strong participant in wildlife conservation.”

With this mission statement, the group was able to create a unique award criterion and eliminate any species they felt were easy for a hunter to obtain. What they came up with is a formula that remains veritably unchanged to this day. The formula can be summed up by saying that; The Conklin Award is not about taking a vast variety of species, many of which can be taken using a “diesel stalk.” The Conklin Award is for the active hunter who pursues wild game, under fair chase conditions, and in the most challenging habitats the world has to offer. The record book was squeezed, wringing out the easier species along with many of the non-indigenous, leaving only the toughest to take species to qualify for The Conklin Award. With what was left, a numerical value for each individual animal was then devised, argued over, and finalized. If it takes sweat, climbing, surviving harsh conditions, overcoming fear, or hunting something that can kill you, it is most likely a Conklin species. Unlike other awards, The Conklin also gives points for multiple specimens of the same species. In short, a person’s dedication to hunting the toughest to obtain species is rewarded above all else in judging for The Conklin Award.

Like Dr. Conklin, the selection committee felt it is of the utmost importance for each hunter to conduct themselves in the field with integrity and dignity. A “zero tolerance” for game offences and conduct unbecoming of an award nominee was quickly adopted.

James E. Conklin, M. D. was an ardent supporter of wildlife conservation. He was a true visionary with a real passion for getting our younger generation involved in the outdoors. The Conklin Award recipient is likewise expected to show participation in wildlife conservation projects and organizations. Participation in the form of philanthropic support and volunteering to aid these organizations must be showed in sufficient volume to even be considered as a nominee.

These three broad award components – difficulty, ethics, and conservation – constitute the basis of the Conklin Award.

The award by itself is a gratifying and tangible way of preserving the memory of Dr. Jim Conklin, but perhaps of equal or greater importance was the founding of The Conklin Foundation.

The Conklin Foundation has remained stalwart in its purpose, to provide funds to scientific research, youth education, and governmental initiatives that view hunting as a vital component of wildlife conservation. To date, The Conklin Foundation has donated more than $600,000.00 towards wildlife conservation.

The creation of the Conklin Endowment Fund in 2010 was the next step in a logical progression. Through this fund, the Conklin Foundation is working towards assuring that the Dr. Jim Conklin legacy will live on for generations and that critical conservation dollars will always be available to those that need it most and are ultimately deserving. Several endowment donors stepped forward with generous donations that established this fund and formed the first class of trustee directors for this new direction. As the principal of this fund grows, so will the amount of funds able to be donated on a yearly basis. This endowment fund is a way to securing the future of The Conklin Award, the Conklin Foundation, and our way of doing what is right and cutting through the red tape that can be associated with larger organizations.

What started off as a simple ideas: Make the right choice for the Conklin Award recipient, throw a heck of a fun party, and spend every dollar wisely has blossomed into a remarkable organization. The Conklin Award, Foundation, and Endowment Fund stand as a testament to the respect and legacy of Dr. James E. Conklin.