Long Shots: Elk Hunting and Elk Shoulder Mounts

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posted on April 11, 2014
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undefinedIn 2006, I shot what was then the biggest bull elk of my life with a Kimber M8400 Classic .300 Win. Mag. The bugger green-scored 344 inches. The shots I made are, to this day, the longest I’ve ever taken on game—I put three out of four rounds into a pie plate at 500 yards. I doubt such conditions will ever present themselves again. Readers of American Hunter might remember the story; it’s called “Pushing the Limit,” and it appeared in the September 2007 issue.

I killed that bull the last morning of a week-long adventure, and my hunting buddy and I needed to head for the airport in Albuquerque ASAP. My last words to the outfitter when I left camp: “I want the bull caped for a shoulder mount. Eventually, I plan to make a shoulder mount. But I can’t afford that now. So tell the taxidermist to cape it and save the skull. Tell him to leave the horns attached to the skull, so I’ll have a European mount to hang on the wall until I find room and money for a shoulder mount.”

I was ticked when I opened the trophy shipment and discovered a cape and a skull plate with horns. No skull. No way to hang a European mount properly. I had a decision to make: hang a skull plate, which makes the horns look kinda wimpy, or spring for a shoulder mount and hope that soon I would have a proper place to hang it. Considering everything about it, I really wanted to memorialize the hunt—same as any hunter. The meat was home … I wanted the rest of "everything" to go right. Reluctantly, I sprung for a shoulder mount—about $800.

At the time, I lived in a big house that had a room with 26-foot-high ceilings—the perfect spot for a game room. In 2008, I took the mount home from my taxidermist’s and set it inside the house. I didn’t hang it, though. I hung several mounts, but I didn’t get the whole “trophy room” thing off the ground before I moved into a condo I’d bought years before and let out to renters.

See, the condo was supposed to be my savings account for my son’s college education. But about the time he headed to college, the economy—and the real estate market in particular—was in the toilet. I couldn’t get what I wanted for either property, so I switched gears and started downsizing. I moved into the condo and rented out the house. I fully planned to move back into the house and sell the condo within two or three years. That never happened; I sold the house last summer.

The two-level condo has a 20-foot-high ceiling—also a good spot for a game room. I figured I could hang the elk there—except it wouldn’t fit through the front door. (I should have sprung for removable antlers.) So I moved the shoulder mount to NRA Headquarters, into my office. I couldn't hang it at HQ, either. The elk measures 5 feet from shoulder to muzzle. Think about that: 5 feet of elk jutting out from the wall of one’s office. Never would’ve worked. For a couple years, everyone who entered my office was taken aback by the big critter jutting out from my conference table. Eventually, in part to quell the rumors but mostly to make space, I moved the shoulder mount to a spare office down the hall.

That worked fine until a couple weeks ago, when I was told we were hiring a new body in NRA Publications and I needed to clear out the office by today, April 11, 2014. What to do now? I didn’t really like the idea of selling the mount. Most buyers seem to be restaurant decorators who don’t want to pay anything close to market price (whatever that is), or fraternities. There were retailers … . In the end, I couldn’t bear to part with the antlers. I mean, it’s a helluva bull. Besides, I couldn’t bear the thought of “my bull” wearing a “Go State” hat or some ridiculous sweater for homecoming.

I was wondering how to separate horns from mount when a buddy, our armorer, Chris Olsen, told me how taxidermists position antlers on shoulder mounts. They leave the antlers attached to the skull plate. Shoulder-mount forms are molded with a cavity to house the skull plate. Taxidermists position the skull plate in there, secure it with screws, and then cover the whole shebang with drywall mud, auto-body filler or whatever before stitching up the cape. All this time, I thought they removed the antlers from the skull plate and screwed them into the mount one at a time.

So today I did something few hunters must ever consider: I destroyed an $800 shoulder mount. It wasn’t hard to peel away the skin; a knife and screwdriver came in handy. A hammer and same said screwdriver knocked away hide and hair from antler bases, and worked well to chisel away the dried mud that covered the screws. A screw gun liberated the skull plate, and the antlers remain intact. The hard part was finding the gumption to do it.

So I saved a trophy I couldn’t bear to see fade from my life. Sue me if you like, but I was out of options. I can always mount the antlers again with another cape from another elk. Surely I’ll hunt elk again; surely there will be more elk capes in my future. But the reality is I don’t think any other house I might buy will come with the kind of space I’ll need to hang an elk shoulder mount.

The last I saw of the mount, it sat forlornly in the trash bin behind HQ. This wasn’t my plan. I never even hung the thing on a wall. Damn.

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