In the race for the Republican nomination for president, Donald J. Trump has appealed to gun rights advocates and Second Amendment defenders as someone who understands the issue. After all, both his sons are hunters.
To prove it, before the Iowa caucuses sons Don Jr., 38, and Eric, 32, were photographed by reporters pheasant hunting. Though the photo op was staged, their love for hunting was not. The pair are known to enjoy African safaris with as many as a dozen trips under their belts, which comes with a certain amount of controversy for the sons of a prominent business man.
One photo that surfaced in 2012 and has recently been circulating again on social media shows the young Trump holding the tail of an elephant he had apparently shot moments before. The elephant’s massive body lies on the ground next to him. The photo drew criticism by animal rights groups, which Trump Sr. seemed to have mixed feelings about.
“I am not a believer in hunting and I’m surprised they like it,” he told TMZ in 2012. But in response to questions about their hunting endeavors on the campaign trail, Trump defended his sons.
“My sons love to hunt. They are members of the NRA, very proudly. I am a big believer in the Second Amendment,” he said at a press conference. “They’re great marksman, great shots, they love it.”
It was after another Tuesday night victory in March that we received a call from New York where the oldest son of the billionaire and his two siblings are ostensibly running their father’s business since he embarked on the campaign.
Trump Jr., who goes by Don, would not talk on the record about the elephant hunt other than to say it was legal and necessary. Traditionally cutting off the tail of an elephant was a sign of possession. So who was he to decline a local custom?
In the course of our 20-minute interview the heir apparent to the Trump fortune defended African big game hunting and talked about his love for the outdoors, the craziness of the campaign and his father’s concealed weapons permit.
“My father’s had a concealed weapons permit in New York City, which is one of the hardest places to get one, ever since I can remember,” Trump said. “My brother and myself, we both have one. It’s a big part of our lives and we do all we can to defend those things.”
When it comes to hunting, there is no denying he is the real deal. A competitive long-range shooter, he enjoys hunting all kinds of animals from turkey, deer and big-game to fishing during the off-seasons. He and his brother both own property in upstate New York where they plant food plots to attract deer and construct their own tree stands.
“Those hunts are just as rewarding as some of the big ones,” he said. “Right now I’m sort of on the sheep hunting kick because I love throwing a 70 pound backpack on and going into the woods for 14 days, 1,000 miles away from a road. It’s a test, man versus nature, the changing conditions, the adversity and the tough climb.”
In recent years the father of five — all under 8-years-old — has enjoyed sheep hunts in Alaska, Mexico and the Yukon Territory with plans to return to the Yukon again next summer. He is also beginning to hunt as much as possible with his own kids.
A graduate from the Warton School of Finance, like his father, Trump spent 18 months in Colorado after college bar tending so he could fly fish and hunt for a year. These days he keeps a cabin on a river in the Catskills where he visits with his family almost every weekend in the summer.
“I haven’t spent a weekend in New York City in over a decade because once work is over I’m in the woods or I’m outdoors,” he said. “I’m taking my kids and exposing them to things because I look at hunting and fishing and the outdoor lifestyle as something that kept me out of a lot of trouble growing up that I could have gotten into as a wealthy city kid.”
Getting involved in politics and doing interviews has put the young Trump in the spotlight, which comes with its own pitfalls. Last week he was criticized for allegedly doing an interview with a white supremacist radio host. But what Trump says happened is totally opposite.
“Last week before Super Tuesday I gave 35 radio interviews. I called in to a nationally syndicated radio host who brought someone into the room without my knowledge who’s 1,500 miles away,” he said. “There is no amount of diligence I could have done.”
It was the day after another commanding victory in another round of Tuesday primaries that we spoke to Donald Trump Jr. Below is the remainder of our interview in Q&A:
LO: Your father jokes about the fact you and your brother enjoy hunting, saying he doesn’t know where you guys get it from. So where do you get it from?
TRUMP JR: My grandfather on my mother’s side was from communist Czechoslovakia. He was an electrician and a blue collar guy over there. He came over here and spent a lot of time with us growing up. He saw all the good that could come from our family and the success we had but also the pitfalls of it. So from a very young age he took me to Czechoslovakia for 6-8 weeks every summer. I spoke the language and had friends over there. It was basically, “there’s the woods, see you at dark.” He taught me how to fish, shoot an air gun, shoot a bow. It was an incredible lesson growing up in terms of seeing the other side, understanding what we had and how lucky we were.
But I got the bug and fell in love with it. So from that point on I read any book there was about the outdoors and found any guide that would take me under their wing and teach me how to shoot something else… I look at hunting and fishing as something that kept me out of a lot of trouble growing up that I could have gotten into as a wealthy city kid. Anytime I can give back to promote that and get other kids off the couch, off a video game and onto a boat or in the woods I try to do that and expose them to things they wouldn’t otherwise experience. So much of the media tries to stigmatize the outdoors and hunting and shooting. They are about as wholesome an activity as I can possibly think of, and I want to make sure they are around for the next generation.
LO: You have faced some criticism for taking part in African big game hunts. Is that something you enjoy doing and plan on doing more of?
TRUMP JR: I enjoy it, and I get it. The New York Times has recently done a bunch of articles talking about those types of hunts and how much that money generates for the economy and actually how much that helps the fauna and flora to flourish. It’s easy for someone in an office window somewhere to say everyone loves lions. Well you know who doesn’t love lions? A lot of the villagers there who have to walk five miles in the dark to the local river to go fishing. I’ve seen it. I’ve been to Africa a dozen times in very remote locations. You see the cattle being killed and slaughtered. When that starts happening they take some arsenic and they end up taking out a whole pride.
You don’t want to talk about a living thing as a commodity, but when various animals in Africa all of a sudden give it a monetary worth that is going back into those local economies that are funding anti-poaching leagues, you realize that hunters are the reason a lot of this is here. It’s no different than the Theodore Roosevelt model for conservation. Hunters in this country finance most of the fish and game departments. They may be buying deer licenses but there is money that’s allowing butterflies to live or bird habitat, not necessarily game species. It’s a trickle down effect to preserve the great habitat and wilderness we have in this country.
LO: Do you think your involvement in hunting and shooting sports has informed your father?
TRUMP JR: Without question, he’s always been a big believer in concealed carry. He was the only candidate in the wake of Paris and San Bernardino to say the next day maybe if there were bullets flying the other way it wouldn’t be a fish in a barrel situation. All the other politicians who pretend to be so pro 2nd amendment it’s just crickets from them. He understands these thing and how they work.
He’s certainly learned from us. The big joke around the holiday dinner table with us was the only job I would ever get in government would be the Department of Interior though he would be worried that I would walk off into Alaska and never be heard from again because I would enjoy it too much. So I think we have been able to have a strong influence on him, because we’re not just once-a-year type shooters, we are 3-times-per-weekend shooters or hunters. It is something we’re very passionate about between my brother and myself.
LO: What do you enjoy most about the outdoors?
TRUMP JR: That’s where I relax. I’m more effective when I’m not stressed and I am relaxed in that way. I make sure to spend time being outdoors and in the wild because it allows me to function. No one’s been on their death bed saying they wished they did one more real estate deal. It’s about being with family and friends. For me the best relationships I’ve made have been made around a campfire.
LO: Does your father strap on a pair of hiking boots?
TRUMP JR: He’s more of a golfer. I don’t see him dropping into the Yukon.
LO: Is it hard hearing a lot of the negative things being said about your father calling him racist or xenophobic?
TRUMP JR: I don’t mind when people have strong opinions. What I don’t like are lies and there are a lot of lies. When I look at the establishment and the GOP and they are worried that my father is going to change their cushy little system of taking care of each other, which he will. But spending $30 million in Florida on negative ad campaigns trying to attack someone who has an incredible career who’s built an amazing company, employs tens of thousands of people, he’s made billions of dollars. Trying to talk about that in a negative way. It would be like a Saturday Night Live parody but they are actually being serious about it.