Recently I became aware of a taxidermy technique that’s mind-boggling to me, though I admit it does not take too much to boggle this mind.

I was visiting a neighbor who had some trophy game heads on the wall.

“Wow,” I said of a particularly nice elk. “He was a big one, wasn’t he? Just look at those antlers.” I assumed my Wapiti friend had shot the beast and had him mounted for bragging purposes.

Then my neighbor, smiling broadly, clued me in to a little (and little-known) secret: the elk was big, yes, and the antlers were fine.

But those particular antlers did not grow on that particular elk.

“What?” I asked. “Elk can raise headgear for one another? Sort of like a woman having a surrogate baby for an infertile friend?”

“Nope,” my friend assured me. “It’s not like that. Actually, a taxidermist does this.”

Hmmm. I was stunned.

“So ... er ... taxidermists have surrogate babies? Wow - who knew?” I replied.

“Oh come on,” my friend responded, having little patience for my whimsey.

He said the process did not involve surrogate anything.

“You know jackalopes?” he said. “Do you think those jackrabbits really grow those horns?”

And of course I didn’t. I was born at night, but not ... well, you know.

“Yes, taxidermists create the jackalopes, just like they created this ‘trophy’ animal,” he said.

Then I noticed his elk had a price tag dangling from one of his (trophy-sized) points. He was for sale. To tourists.

Ah. The picture was coming clearer. Tourists are fair game for anything you can talk them into buying, aren’t they? Why else would they part with their hard-earned cash for soap that looks like dirt, jewelry fashioned from elk poo, or the mounted brown and white rump end of a deer with eyes affixed to make it look like an owl?

It’s almost like tourists want to be tricked. They suspend disbelief when they travel, trusting, for example, that the House of Mystery really does defy gravity and can only be built on that special spot on the planet where the laws of physics do not apply, or that the hotel they stay at really is haunted by the ghost of a murdered 1800s dance hall girl who wanders the halls nightly calling out “Wooo-woooo” as she searches for her killer.

After all, these things make such great tales to tell back home in Faded Curtain, Iowa.

Then my friend explained the whole elk thing to me.

Say a hunter has a hungry family to feed, so he goes in search of a plump elk on which they can dine.

Blooey. Goodbye “meat” elk.

But he saves the head, which is a good one, even though it has small antlers. That doesn’t mater, since the hindquarters are big and meaty.

But while he’s out hunting, he comes upon a pair of shed-off elk antlers doubtless dropped by a true trophy animal. Or he buys them, or has saved them from a previous year.

He takes his nice elk head and the trophy antlers to a taxidermist and, voila, presto chango, a “trophy” elk is created.

The hunter hangs this on his living room wall and soaks up the compliments.

The big phoney.

Though, of course, I applaud the concept, since I tend to object to killing trophy animals. And, plus, it removes from the gene pool a fine, large male animal that otherwise would go forth and multiply, fathering new generations of trophy animals.

And now he can, thanks to the taxidermist.

Silly me, I thought hunters were too pure to cheat in that way and then hang the fruits of their cheating above their fireplaces.

 

Originally Published in The Cody Enterprise. January 13, 2010.