My son was giddy when I picked him up early from school. We’d been talking about this day for months, uncertain when it would finally come. It snuck up on us at last. Driving together in the pickup we had thirty minutes until we were all reunited.

I’ll admit, I was giddy too. There are few good explanations. I’ve been a meat hunter my whole life. Primarily shooting game to fill the freezer. Cow elk, whitetail and antelope does, they have comprised most of my quarry over the years. But the feeling of killing a mature bull elk has little comparison to any of my other hunting experiences. It has never been my objective, but twice I’ve been lucky to have it be the end result.

A high school economics class turned into an amateur taxidermy shop was our destination. An innovative teacher created the “Bugs and Bones” program to help his students gain real world business experience. Only in Wyoming, would that mean running a skull cleaning business. For a nominal fee and a willingness to wait a little longer than you might with the pros these students produce fantastic european mounts.

Amongst the noise of dremel tools, boiling pots of water, and twenty some teenagers scurrying around wearing aprons and goggles we walked through a mess of bone and horn. A crocodile scull just getting finished captured my sons attention. He was allowed to touch the teeth which captivated him until he was distracted by a mule deer and then a bison. From the back room a skinny sixteen year old found our elk.

Now, staring up at the mount on the wall the emotions and memories return. I recall the sight of the fallen bull on a steep hillside, replacing the doubt and uncertainty that had filled my entire being while searching for the majestic animal after what I presumed was an errant shot. Kneeling next to the bull in fading light I placed my hand on his grizzled coat, the coarse oily texture embedded in my mind forever. My father was soon by my side. Together we marveled at the bull and put in the hard work to carry him out of the mountains.

We have retold the story countless times in the months that have since passed. Like the stories my grandfather and uncles told me, it will become part of our oral history. Now we also have a physical reminder to help initiate the next round of story telling.

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