The man who shoots a Cape buffalo faces the same dilemma as the man who shoots his mother-in-law: What do you do with the body?
Paul Asper, 51, says you should stuff the buffalo. But he hedges on the disposition of the dispatched in-law.
Asper is curator of the National Taxidermists Association Hall of Fame and Museum, a tiny shrine tucked away in Haneyville, Pa. He made a fortune distributing snowmobile and motorcycle parts in the early 1970s and sold out at the time of the energy crisis. Now he mostly indulges his lust for hunting. But big-game hunters like Asper who want to preserve their trophies have a problem. An eight-foot Yukon moose is not exactly a loving cup for the mantel.
So Asper decided to store the treasures from his globe-girdling hunts in a huge, empty warehouse he owns. (The warehouse is very near the site where Asper bagged his first trophy—a gray squirrel—at the age of 12.) He called the exhibition portion of the warehouse the Fin Fur & Feather Museum and donated another part of it for the taxidermists' Hall of Fame. The reason that the organization chose a Pennsylvania woodlot as the place to honor the masters of the art is simple: It didn't have a better offer. But it turns out that 15,000 people a year are willing to trek to the Black Forest of Central Pennsylvania to look at dead animals.
Asper claims he's a conservationist, and maybe he is. He went to conservation school and spent five years as a district game protector. Like many hunters, Asper claims he kills animals to conserve them. Hunters, fishermen and trappers, he says, are "the only consistent supporters of wildlife programs."
The museum is a monument to Asper's conception of wildlife support. The trophy cases are full of plane-ticket stubs, expired visas and snapshots of Asper kneeling next to carcasses. The world's largest collection of life-size mounted sheep and stuffed examples of all 27 species of North American big game recognized by the Safari Club International can be seen there. Asper bagged the 27th, a Wyoming moose, last month with a .270 Ruger at 200 yards. Many of his trophies are displayed in vaguely realistic replicas of their natural habitat.
A lot of the animals are best known as the triple-word scores in Scrabble or as seven across in the Sunday crossword puzzle. There's a sitatunga, a duiker, a bongo, a chevrotain, a dik-dik, a hartebeest and a ptarmigan. The wapiti Asper killed in Outer Mongolia is the biggest on record with the Safari Club, as are his Gobi argali, the tahr and fallow deer. Alas, his Sudan roan has fallen to No. 2.
The Hall of Fame, in a small adjoining room, is a modest affair. Its prize relic is a kob popped off by Teddy Roosevelt. A bronze plaque at the entrance commemorates the 29 taxidermist inductees. Most of them are now dead, though none are on permanent exhibit.