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B&C Member Spotlight - Sasha Siemel

By PJ DelHomme 

“As far as I know, I am the only white man who kills tigres with a spear.” —Sasha Siemel


Sasha Siemel was unlike any member of the Boone and Crockett Club. Compared to his fellow members, he did relatively little for conservation. His name does not appear in the records because he never hunted in North America. However, Siemel had a very particular set of skills—skills that he acquired over a long apprenticeship in the jungles of the Brazilian state of Mato Grosso. There, a 60-year-old indigenous hunter named Joaquim Guato taught Siemel to kill jaguars with a spear. And kill jaguars, he did.

Born in Riga, Latvia, in 1890, Siemal left his home for the United States when he was 16. He was looking for adventure but also fleeing what he called Russian oppressors. “In the First World War, nine out of 10 Latvians of my age (military age) were killed. They were used as cannon fodder,” he wrote on his Boone and Crockett Club membership application. He learned to speak six languages, including Russian, Spanish, Portuguese, and English. A tall, physically fit man with a beard and full head of hair, Siemel could easily have been a stunt double for Sean Connery in the James Bond movies. Fun fact: Siemel was cast in the 1937 film Jungle Menace.

Siemel with his spear.   

After a couple of years in the States, he traveled south to Buenos Aries and found work in a printing shop. When he was 24, Siemel traveled to the jungles of Brazil, where he worked as a gunsmith and mechanic in the mining camps of Mato Grosso. This is where he heard about and tracked down Joaquim Guato, who killed jaguars (tigres) armed only with a spear. Men like Guato used a zagaya—a seven-foot, iron-tipped spear—not to throw at jaguars but to thrust as the jaguar lunged.

“The blade must be razor sharp, for beneath the blazing gold-and-black beauty of the tigre’s pelt is a skin tougher than that of the oldest Brahma bull. I’ve never known a dog to draw the tigre’s blood,” wrote Siemel in an action-packed article for Outdoor Life in 1967. Siemel preferred the spear over a rifle. If the hunter missed his first shot, the jaguar could rip through him. A man can continue to fight with a spear as long as he can stand, Siemel explained.

Guato agreed to teach Siemel, and the ensuing adventures are legendary. Much of it was captured in Siemel’s book, Tigrero!, first published in 1953 and subsequently translated into 16 languages.

To find jaguars in the thick jungle, Guato used dogs and followed their bays. As part of his training, Siemel tried to follow, but it wasn’t easy as Guato wove his small frame through the thickets in search of a treed jaguar. Eventually, Guato was killed by a jaguar that had earned the nickname Assassino. The animal’s distinctive track revealed only three toes on one front paw.

Siemel refined his skills as a Tigrero, or jaguar hunter, and ranchers hired him to kill jaguars and pumas eating their cattle. Over the course of nearly 50 years, Siemel killed more than 300 jaguars, 14 of which he killed by bow and arrow, 31 with a spear, and the rest with bullets. “Most of them were easy, because they treed, but some were cunning and brave, so I had to do quite a bit of spearwork,” he wrote. He also claims to have killed some 200 pumas.

Several years after Assassino killed his mentor, Siemel had the skills and knowledge to go after the jaguar that killed Guato. In a tale straight out of a Tarzan comic book, Siemel got a tip from the locals and tracked the 300-pound, three-toed tigre. In a spot not far from Guato’s death, Siemel killed the massive jaguar. Word of his skills spread through the jungle, and his status as a masterful hunter spread.

Patrick W. Frederick took the last jaguar that was entered in B&C records in Tamaulipas, Mexico, in 1983.   

Siemel believed he was providing a true service to the people of Brazil. Edith Siemel, Sasha’s widow, said that a full-grown jaguar will kill one cow every week. If you’re a big rancher with thousands of animals, that might not be much concern. But if you’re a small-time rancher, Edith explained, that can really add up.

“I never killed an animal wantonly or for his pelt. I knew he needed his pelt more than I did, but by killing over 500 of the big carnivorous cat, I saved the lives of many thousands of harmless animals,” Siemel wrote.

This philosophy, combined with deforestation and development that fragmented jaguar habitat, caused declines in their population from the southwestern United States to Argentina. The last jaguar to enter the Boone and Crockett records was from Tamaulipas, Mexico, in 1983. Today, an estimated 4,000-5,000 jaguars roam Mexico. In the U.S., only a few have been spotted in recent years. Most jaguars are found in Central and South America. In the early 1930s, jaguars were viewed as a threat to livelihoods and human life. And to be fair, they did eat people on occasion.

Siemel’s fame spread from the Amazon to the United States thanks to books like Green Hell, written by Julian Duguid, who accompanied Siemel on jungle expeditions. Duguid then wrote a biography on Siemel called Tiger Man. He was featured in the New York Times and wrote articles for Time, National Geographic, and Life. In 1936, Siemel became a professional member of the Boone and Crockett Club.


Siemel with a the distended jaws of a tigre skull.

In his early 1940s, Siemel once again had the urge to continue his travels. He toured the U.S. and Europe, giving lectures and showing films about life in Mato Grosso. He met and wed Edith Bray from Philadelphia, but married life and fatherhood failed to slow his hunting. He led expeditions back to Brazil, guiding hunters like Theodore Roosevelt Jr. for 28 days until he killed a jaguar.

Over the years, Siemel collected plenty of stories and even more souvenirs. He converted a century-old mill into a museum on Route 29 in Perkiomenville, Pennsylvania. There he displayed his trophies, firearms, and trinkets from a lifetime of adventure.

In the late 1960s, Siemel left the museum and returned to Mato Grosso for one last hunt in the jungle. He was 77 years old. He died three years later in 1970.

Occupations of Boone and Crockett Club members run the gamut—from industry leaders and conservation professionals to lawmakers and policy prodigies. Few leave behind stories like those of Sasha Siemel. Granted, not every member of the Club can or wants to be a Sasha Siemel. And frankly, that’s because there can only be one Tigrero!

Member Spotlights

Boone and Crockett Club members have come from a cross-section of famous accomplished people whose lives and careers have written and recorded the history of this country since the late 19th Century. They have been naturalists, scientists, explorers and sportsmen, writers and academicians, artists, statesmen and politicians, generals, bankers, financiers, philanthropists, and industrialists. Their diversity of ideas and activities during their careers have made the Boone and Crockett Club rich in its fellowship and achievements. To read more member spotlights, just click here

PJ DelHomme writes and edits content from his home in western Montana. He runs Crazy Canyon Media and Crazy Canyon Journal

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"The wildlife and its habitat cannot speak. So we must and we will."

-Theodore Roosevelt