HOUSTON (AP) — After spending the last four decades traipsing across six continents to the remotest corners of the world, Gary Ingersoll is not easily intimidated.
On a trip to the Sudan, Ingersoll, 74, of Spring Branch, tells of slogging through a swamp where his legs became covered in leeches, fetching water from a mission hospital coping with an outbreak of ebola, and hunkering down in a safe house as bullets flew during a coup attempt.
The Conklin Foundation in 2003 recognized him for hunting in the world's remotest places, saying that he "left few wild spots on earth untouched" in his quest for big game.
"I've seen things in the world that few others have. Hunting was always secondary to the adventure," Ingersoll said. "It's a great way to see the world and become that mountain man I dreamed about as a child."
At least 15 of the more than 330 trophies he's collected over the years have set world records, he said, adding that at least four of those records still stand.
His massive collection fills 3,000 square feet — with one room dedicated to North America, another to Africa and the last to the other continents — on his two-acre estate north of Interstate 10 off Bunker Hill. It includes several species that are now off-limits to hunters, including a 10-foot-tall polar bear from Alaska, a walrus with huge ivory tusks taken off St. Lawrence Island, located in the Bering Sea, and a large black rhinoceros in Kenya.
When he dies, Ingersoll wants to donate his trophies to a museum. For now he enjoys giving tours of his home collection to schoolchildren.
He is one of only a few hunters in the world to win the three most prestigious hunting awards.
Besides the Conklin award, in 1991 he snagged the Weatherby Hunting and Conservation Award, which is annually voted upon by one's peers, and in 2001 the Safari Club International Hunting Award, which requires a minimum collection of 300 species.
Ingersoll's 2010 book, "Born to Hunt," details some of his exploits, such as his trip to the Sudan during a brief truce in its civil war in 1977.
"My group was the first to go in there on a hunting tour since the fighting began about a decade earlier," he told the Houston Chronicle (http://bit.ly/1acPx6N).
Responding to criticism about big game hunting, Ingersoll defended the pursuit. "I only take the grandpas," he said, "weeding out the old animals that won't be breeding much anymore."
The Conklin Foundation, which views hunting as a vital component of wildlife conservation, identified Ingersoll as a generous contributor who occasionally was the sole underwriter of conservation projects.
On its website, the foundation said Ingersoll became only the sixth hunter known to have completed the so-called "North American 27" list of big game.
His interest in hunting grew from watching his father train champion bird dogs while he was growing up in a small town in Minnesota. He was also intrigued by the "Tarzan" movies and dreamed of becoming some sort of "mountain man."
But after striking out on his own at age 17, he grew more practical and worked nights to put himself through Mankato State University, where he earned a business degree.
He found he had a knack for sales and established a company that helped developers market Houston-area homes.
But his money-making skills were important only as a means of financing his hunting trips as well as numerous animal conservation projects.
Ingersoll is sometimes away from home for as much as six months of the year, he admits.
Elizabeth, his wife of 15 years, has been understanding. "We put it into our marriage vows that I would support his crazy passion," she said.
As Ingersoll nears retirement, he keeps wondering whether each trip will be his last.
"But then I just book another one," he said, like his trip this month to Turkey where he climbed to where the air was so thin that his heart was pumping in overdrive.
But then, he smiles, noting he also completed his collection of chamois, a type of goat. He snagged the last of the eight species there.