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Video Leaks Of NRA's Wayne LaPierre Missing His Mark On Elephant Hunt

A screen grab from footage of the National Rifle Association's Wayne LaPierre and his wife, Susan. It was originally intended for a TV series sponsored by the gun rights group that never aired. Warning: Video below contains graphic content.
The Trace/The New Yorker
A screen grab from footage of the National Rifle Association's Wayne LaPierre and his wife, Susan. It was originally intended for a TV series sponsored by the gun rights group that never aired. Warning: Video below contains graphic content.

National Rifle Association CEO Wayne LaPierre's carefully cultivated image as a hunter and outdoorsman is taking a hit this week as a newly leaked video shows the longtime NRA leader repeatedly missing his mark during an elephant hunt. LaPierre's NRA bio prominently labels him "a skilled hunter."

The video of LaPierre hunting an elephant in Botswana was published by The Trace and The New Yorker, which say the hunt took place in 2013. The video includes graphic scenes, showing elephants being shot or lying wounded on the ground. The recordings had previously been mentioned in court filings, which reportedly said the footage was suppressed at LaPierre's request.

The video was recorded for an outdoors program hosted by Tony Makris, an executive at Ackerman McQueen, the NRA's former marketing firm. The two entities have been locked in a legal dispute – one of several challenges facing the NRA, including political infighting and accusations of financial misdeeds. Last year, New York's attorney general sought to dissolve the gun rights group, citing financial fraud and abuse.

The NRA did not respond to NPR's requests for comment about the video on Wednesday. But the organization has acknowledged the hunt took place as part of a TV series. In a statement sent to The Washington Post, NRA spokesman Andrew Arulanandam said the hunt was "fully permitted." Botswana banned such trophy hunts one year after LaPierre's foray, but in 2019 it resumed selling elephant-hunting licenses.

LaPierre's official bio highlights his experience as a hunter – a core demographic for the gun organization. His bio also notes the ties between hunting and wildlife conservation efforts. But the video of his Botswana hunt undercuts those stated affinities as he fires off-target three times from close range after initially downing the elephant. The video was leaked one month after Africa's savanna elephants were listed as endangered.

In the video, Susan LaPierre, the NRA leader's wife, also kills an elephant; the footage shows that her marksmanship was more successful, with her guides saying the animal was killed with one shot.

Wayne LaPierre's portion of the footage shows him waiting for an elephant to walk past him as he stands alongside Makris and a guide.

"Wait, wait, wait wait," the guide says just before LaPierre fires at the elephant.

The NRA chief was wearing earplugs. As he takes one of the plugs out, he asks, "We get him?"

"Yes, he's down," the guide replies.

But the elephant was still alive, lying wounded in the brush. As they approach the animal to kill it, the guide forces LaPierre's rifle up into the air, saying there are other guides moving out from behind the elephant.

"I'm going to point for you, where to shoot," the guide says. Walking about five strides over to the injured elephant, he crouches and says, "Right there."

LaPierre fires but doesn't hit the mark. The guide tells him to get down lower, to make the NRA leader's firing position more stable and ensure the bullet hits its mark.

"Same spot?" LaPierre asks. The guide replies, "Yeah."

After that third shot, the guide says, "I don't think he's quite done yet." He then asks Makris, who also hosts the TV program Under Wild Skies, if he wants to finish off the elephant. Makris demurs.

"What am I doing?" LaPierre asks.

"I'm not sure where you're shooting," the guide says.

"Where are you telling me to shoot?" LaPierre asks.

The guide then walks over to the elephant again and points to a spot at the elephant's ear.

"I can shoot there," LaPierre says.

Standing, the NRA leader raises his weapon again, looking through its large scope. The guide again tells him to kneel down, to improve the angle.

As the camera zooms in on LaPierre, he fires at the elephant for the fourth time. Again, the animal was left alive, its labored breathing clearly audible.

Looking around, the guide lets out a brief chuckle. He then taps Makris to finish the job.

"Go ahead," the guide says as LaPierre moves out of the front spot.

Makris quickly moves into position and fires.

"That's it," the guide says.

"Well done, my friend," the guide says to LaPierre.

"You dropped him like no tomorrow," Makris says.

"Thanks," LaPierre replies.

The footage then shows LaPierre standing next to the elephant's tusks, his hands on his hips as he stares at the animal.

The group then talks about where LaPierre's initial shot struck. And he acknowledges he hadn't heard the guide telling him to wait for the elephant to move further ahead.

"I wouldn't say it's a perfect shot," LaPierre says.

"He went down, so that's what counts," the guide replies.

In the portion of the roughly 10-minute video that shows Susan LaPierre on a hunt, she shoots an elephant in the head that had been standing still, looking in her direction. After taking the animal down, LaPierre ensured he was dead with a single shot to the chest. Her guides twice set up a simple tripod for LaPierre's rifle, to help steady her shot.

"I can't believe it!" she says as she hugs her guides. "Wow, my heart is racing," she later adds. "I feel great."

LaPierre is then told to cut off the animal's tail, "so you can claim your elephant."

She does so, holding it in the air.

"Victory!" she says. "That's amazing. That's my elephant tail."

The NRA is now attempting to incorporate itself in Texas rather than New York, where it was founded in 1871. It filed for bankruptcy in January, saying the maneuver would speed up the transition.

"The NRA is not insolvent," Wayne LaPierre said at the time. "We are as financially strong as we have been in years."

New York officials say the organization wants to use bankruptcy to sidestep legal accountability in the state's case, which accuses LaPierre and other top staff of misusing money to fund lavish lifestyles.

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Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.