The Thrill of the Hunt

Carlos Herrera stands in the family room of his Kendall home, encircled by the hauntingly vacant stares of more than two dozen dead animals. Herrera killed each of them -- deer, elk, caribou, moose, impala, buffalo. Twenty-eight animals in all, their heads cut off and stuffed, their eyes replaced with glass orbs, their range now restricted to the walls of a suburban home. Slipping off his tie and pouring a Heineken into a frosted mug the maid has just delivered, the president of the politically powerful Latin Builders Association describes how he began hunting in the Everglades over a decade ago as a way of socializing with other developers. Soon, however, Herrera found that the primordial appeal of the kill transcended business. "It shows what a man is made of," he says with a smile. "This is a challenge to me. This is when your manhood comes out. It's nature and you."

Since those early trips to the Everglades, he has gone on safari in Africa twice, and regularly hunts in Canada and South America. In addition, Herrera and a group of other investors own 1900 acres in Colorado -- a private game reserve. "It's absolutely beautiful," he says of the property, though recently he's been thinking about selling his share. "I got what I wanted out of the place." He grins and motions to one of his mounted trophies. "This is a royal crown elk. It was the biggest one caught in the past seven years." He gazes longingly at the animal. "That's a beauty of an elk. Twelve points." Pausing again, he seems lost in the memory of the hunt. "That's why I have it here, above the television, so all I have to do is just look up at it."

Continuing the tour, he points to a fallow deer whose antlers stretch out over the pool table (on top of which lies the striped hide of a zebra Herrera killed in South Africa nine years ago). "I spent a week tracking that deer in Argentina," he recalls, adding that his guide thought he was crazy to go after that particular animal -- a creature, to hear Herrera tell it, that had gained near mythic stature among local gamesmen. "The guide said no other hunter had been able to kill him," Herrera recounts, his chest swelling with pride. "So I said, 'That's why I want him.' I spent four hours crawling about 1500 yards on my stomach with a rifle to get a shot at that deer. I shot him at about 600 yards, which was a hell of a shot."

Between the elk and the deer is the massive head of a Cape buffalo, which Herrera brought down in Zambia during his second trip to Africa, in 1992. He had been tracking a small herd of buffalo and was preparing to shoot when his guide tapped him on the shoulder. A larger herd had circled behind them, and the guide was afraid that if Herrera fired, the animals to the rear would charge and all of them, including Herrera's eldest son (thirteen at the time), could be killed. But Herrera says he was undeterred. He told his son to crawl into a narrow trench as a precaution. Then he took aim at the largest buffalo in the rear herd. "I said, 'I don't care if I'm going to get killed, I'm taking the biggest one down,'" he boasts. "I shot him in the chest when he was about 60 yards away. He died about 25 yards in front of us."

The most striking exhibit in Herrera's lifeless menagerie is a fully stuffed leopard. As Herrera talks about the 110-pound cat he killed three years ago, he stands next to it, lightly stroking its tawny spotted coat as if he were petting the family dog. "You have to be very careful hunting these," he warns. "If you don't kill them with one shot, they'll go after you." The animal has been posed on a small platform, its paws resting on the throat of another animal. "That was a good trip," he says. "We got the leopard and the Cape buffalo both. I had wanted a lion, but we didn't get one. I saw a couple who were not big enough or nice enough for me to kill."

Despite his obvious affection for blood sport, Herrera has not been hunting in two years. He's been too busy stalking a trophy of a different sort. The 38-year-old Cuban immigrant now has his sights set on one of the biggest business deals in Dade County history -- an exclusive contract to convert portions of Homestead Air Force Base to civilian use.

Following Hurricane Andrew's destruction of the base in August 1992, community leaders scrambled to keep the federal government from closing the facility entirely. Their efforts were at least partially successful: U.S. Customs and the 482nd Fighter Wing of the Air Force Reserve were reinstated on about 900 acres of the 2900-acre base. The Department of Defense has since said it is willing to give the remaining 2000 acres to Dade County for development as it sees fit. (Included in the property are a terminal building, the control tower and accompanying runway, a golf course, and about 1000 acres of surrounding land.)