Area attorney passionate about big game hunting

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By Sheila Pursglove
Legal News

If you sneak up on an elephant, make sure you have an escape route – or you may find the tables turned and end up as the elephant’s prize.

That’s the advice from Edward L. Keller, who at 81 is not only an attorney with decades of experience under his belt, but also a big game hunter and member of Safari Club International and the Detroit Chapter of SCI.

“Elephant hunting is very exciting,” says Keller, of The Law Firm of Keller & Keller in Mount Clemens. “To approach to within a few yards of an elephant to ascertain if it is shootable or desirable, and then to either position yourself to shoot or back away undetected, is very exciting, especially knowing that the slightest error could result in you being the elephant’s trophy. This is probably why the military phrase ‘have you seen the elephant’ refers to combat.”

On one African hunt, Keller’s son George –who is extremely cautious – and his guide were approaching within a few yards of an elephant to see if it was a desired trophy.

“When the guide advised it was not, George almost knocked me down in his effort to retreat, only to come face to face with another elephant approaching in our path,” Keller says. “But for the elephant’s retreat, the incident would not have been funny or the topic of conversation.”

Keller, who grew up in a small village in West Virginia, started hunting deer at the age of 10. However, except for hunting black bear in Michigan, it wasn’t until 1968 that he started hunting North American big game after being invited on a group hunt in Alaska. There he shot his first Dall sheep, a moose and a caribou.

“I loved the mental and physical challenge sheep hunting required and decided to hunt a Stone sheep in British Columbia,” he says.

After getting the Stone sheep, he was twice successful in drawing a license and collecting a Rocky Mountain Big Horn sheep in Wyoming. All that was left to qualify for the so-called “Grand Slam of North American Sheep” was the Desert Big Horn. At the time, a permit to hunt this sheep was difficult to obtain, and very expensive.

In 1974, Keller attended the second Safari Club International Convention in Las Vegas, and became an associate member of SCI. At the 1976 SCI convention, he joined the Cleveland Chapter in order to participate in a drawing for the Desert Big Horn sheep permit. While unsuccessful in the drawing, during the convention he was persuaded to book an African hunt in Kenya – where a hunter from California arranged for him get the permit in exchange for a donation to the Mzuri Safari Club in California. Keller went on to bag his Desert Big Horn Sheep in Mexico.

“Now I’d not only achieved the Grand Slam of sheep, but was hooked on African hunting,” he says.

After bagging a lion and a cape buffalo on his African hunt, Keller then set out on his next quest – to collect the Big Five of Africa game (lion, buffalo, leopard, rhino and elephant). By the time he accomplished this, in five trips to Africa, he had not only become a member of the Detroit Chapter of SCI, but also was participating in the SCI Grand Slam and Inner Circle Award Programs.

He has qualified for 14 of the 15 Grand Slam Awards, and achieved 11 Diamond Inner Circle Awards. Since 1968 he has tried to plan at least one special trip a year, and has traveled to Africa 13 times and hunted in eight different African countries. He has hunted 10 times in Canada, five times in Mexico, four times in Spain, twice in England and Kyrgyzstan, once each in Scotland, Iceland, France, Austria and New Zealand. He has collected all species in North America except the jaguar, and most species of Africa, and has been especially fond of mountain hunting.

A past president of the Detroit Chapter and life member of SCI, Keller is proud of the organization’s dedication to the conservation of wildlife and the right to hunt. Chapters have annual fund-raisers, with outfitters donating hunts for auction. SCI has a Wilderness School, and contributes money for animal habitat projects, toward the promotion of legislation and defense of anti hunting. Examples of local Chapter projects include the Sensory Safari, Disabled Veterans Hunt, Wounded Warriors projects, and Sportsmen Against Hunters. The Detroit Chapter sponsored and worked closely with the DNR in the reintroduction of moose to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.

Keller’s passion for big game hunting has not only gone a long way to quench his thirst for adventure or challenge, but also has motivated him to work harder in his legal profession and to participate in conservation organizations such as SCI.

“I’ve always enjoyed a challenge whether physical or mental – hunting has provided both,” he explains. “More importantly, hunting takes you to out-of –the-way places, and exposes you to different cultures. You get to live and experience a different way of life, if only for a short time. Hunting has also afforded an opportunity for myself and family to develop close friendships in distant places and has made the world much smaller.”

His most tenuous situation was when hunting elephant near Gokwe in Zimbabwe, Africa. Terrorist followers of Joshua Nkomo began terrorizing and killing whites in the area. Keller and his group abandoned camp and slept in the bush.

“We cut down several-day-old leopard bait for food and traveled to a tsetse fly camp to call for help,” he says.

Robert Mugabe, president of Zimbabwe and a former leader of guerrilla movements against white-minority rule, sent his notorious 5th Brigade to clear the area. The 5th Brigade was feared almost as much as the terrorists for their atrocities against whites, Keller says.

One of his most fulfilling experiences was hunting polar bear by dog sled in the Arctic.

“When my hunting companion and I parted, to proceed in different directions, the loneliness I felt is hard to describe,” he says. “You realize you’re alone on polar ice, trusting everything to dogs, and for the most part a non-English speaking guide who you only knew for a few hours, and at the same time being very apprehensive about the safety of the ice, the food, your sleeping arrangements, your gun functioning properly and of course, the bear.”

Keller says his son George – who practiced law with his father for more than five years before becoming a Juvenile Referee for Macomb County – is his favorite hunting companion. George, who has hunted with his father since the age of 4, and shot his first deer at the age of 7, has made several trips to Africa, and at the age of 10 spent a month in Africa with Keller’s friend while Keller hunted elephant. During that period, George collected more than 65 animals including some bird species; 14 of the animals qualified for the SCI record book. A life member of SCI who serves on the Detroit Chapter Board of SCI, George has taken the Big Five of Africa and has hunted in Zimbabwe, South Africa, Cameroon, Canada, Mexico, Iceland, New Zealand, South America and Kyrgyzstan. His trophies share pride of place in Keller’s trophy room.

On one expedition, Keller’s friend took George bear hunting, while Keller was skinning a bear taken earlier.

“I’d been told that bear loved vanilla and that I should spray vanilla extract around the bait site – so I thought I’d also spray vanilla on the blind to cover human scent,” Keller says. “While in the blind George kept telling my friend, ‘There’s a bear.’ While my friend directed his attention to the bait, George kept reciting, ‘There’s a bear,’ and moving closer to my friend, almost on his lap – then my friend realized the bear had its nose in the rear of the blind. I’ve used vanilla ever since.”

Keller’s wife Carol, his personal secretary for the last several years, has accompanied him on several trips and has shot three or four animals in Africa.

“She’s always been supportive of my thirst for adventure,” he says.

The couple’s eldest daughter, Dena, has worked in the Macomb County Prosecutor’s Office for 15 years. Daughter Nikki works as a Youth Assistant Case Worker in Oakland County Circuit Court Family Division. Both daughters enjoy pheasant hunting and have taken red stags in Spain some years ago. Keller’s youngest, Tara, who recently accompanied her father to Nebraska on a deer hunt, worked as a tax lawyer for Ernst & Young and currently is a stay-at-home mom.

All four of Keller’s children received their undergraduate and graduate degrees from Michigan State University, and spent time working for their father.

“I’ve enjoyed very much having an opportunity to work with my children,” Keller says. “Being a mentor has served the suppressed desire to teach.”

Keller had a rocky start to his own student days, after switching his major at West Virginia University from political science to pre-law. A professor who had taught his mother in high school was upset when he cut classes to deer hunt – and advised his mother that Keller was wasting his time in law school.

“This made me determined to succeed,” he says.

Finishing pre-law he entered West Virginia University law school. After the first year, he was compelled to elect between going into the U.S. Air Force as a second lieutenant, or continuing law school and being subject to the draft. He elected the former and served during the Korean War.

When his tour ended, he joined his parents who had moved to Mt. Clemens, and he completed law school at the Detroit College of Law. He enrolled in graduate law classes at the University of Michigan, and accepted a teaching position at an Ohio law school, before changing his mind and seeking a position in the Macomb County Prosecutor’s Office, where at the time he could also engage in the private practice of law.

He then went into private practice full time with Frank E. Jeannette in Mount Clemens, until Jeannette became a judge in 1968 – and Keller relocated to his present location on Groesbeck Highway in Mount Clemens, where he has continued in the general practice of law, devoted mostly to criminal, family and probate law.

 “I’ve enjoyed the practice very much,” he says. “However, after 54 years, I’ve decided to devote my time and energy to Beacon Cove Marina in Harrison Township, where I’m a managing partner. This investment occurred around 1980, and came about through duck hunting with my present partners.”

Keller also loves downhill skiing and basketball, participating in both until a knee replacement at the age of 76 put a stop to those sports. But his passion for hunting continues unabated.