A beest of a journey

I’ve never been one to have the animals I’ve taken preserved by a taxidermist.

Perhaps it’s because my husband has enough stuffed critters in the house for the both of us. Or maybe it’s because I’ve never really killed an animal worth mounting (at least in my eyes).

The first (and only) shoulder mount I’ve ever commissioned was this blue wildebeest taken in South Africa. My impala and springbok are rockin’ it as European mounts, but I felt this big daddy deserved more. Check out a slideshow of his journey to America by clicking on one of the images below.

Sure, I have tail fans and beards of some of my turkeys on display. The rest of the feathers have gone to crafty friends who don’t hunt but like to make wreaths, ornaments and whatnot with animal parts.

The two deer I’ve harvested carried less than 6 points between the two of them. No wall hangers there.

That all changed when I went on my first African safari last year — two weeks hunting plains game on the Eastern Cape of South Africa with SHE Expeditions and six other gun-toting women.

A hunt of a lifetime like that warrants the utmost in memory preservation.

My favorite hunt was when I took down a behemoth blue wildebeest at 250 yards with a single shot. I never knew I had it in me!

It was an empowering experience to harvest an animal big enough to feed my family for several months. Of course, I couldn’t bring the meat home, but I left a deposit with African Pride Taxidermy that would ensure I’d have a reminder of “the beest” — and all the memories that surround him — for many years.

The wildebeest made to South Carolina about five months ago. I hate to admit that it sat on my dining room floor until yesterday. I just couldn’t decide where to hang it. (Maybe THAT is why I’ve never been into taxidermy.)

“The beest” now hangs in my office above my right shoulder (securely anchored in a wall stud, fingers crossed). No doubt, he’s a conversation starter, and I’m more than happy to share my treasured Africa experience with anyone who dares to ask.

And because I feel guilty for not putting the wildebeest in his rightful place before now, allow me to share with you his journey in pictures…

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A turkey hunting love story

Spring turkey season isn’t about love. It’s a series of hookups between love-‘em-and-leave-‘em toms and hens stepping up to their motherly duties.

But this week, while hunting at the Vermejo Park Ranch in the mountains of New Mexico, I witnessed a real life turkey hunting love story.

Cally and Annetta Morris invited me to hunt with them at the ranch, all of us guests at the property owned by Ted Turner. And from what I’d heard about the place, the beautiful scenery, the abundant wildlife, I jumped at the chance to be a third wheel.

I’ve hunted with Cally and Annetta of Hazel Creek Taxidermy/Decoys before, and I knew it would be a pleasure (and not the least bit uncomfortable). It seems to me the only thing they love more than hunting is each other. And I’m drawn to that kind of warm fuzziness.

Cally and Annetta Morris LOVE to hunt (and they think each other is pretty special too).

Their relationship is about as far from a turkey courtship as you can get. They’ve been together since before their senior prom, and will celebrate their 23th wedding anniversary this year.

What makes this couple so special is that they’re together all the time — and they like it. They’ll log about 8,000 miles going to about 7 states this spring alone, hunting and filming for promotional DVDs for the company, giving seminars and spreading general goodwill.

With all that togetherness, surely they know each other inside and out. I decided to put them to the test and have them answer a few Newlywed Game-style questions. Of course, they had to answer them separately. No cheating here.

Let’s see how they stacked up.

What is the exact date of your wedding anniversary?
Annetta: May 18, 1989
Cally: May 18, 1989

(That’s a promising start.)

What was the first game species each of you killed?
Annetta: Cally’s was probably a deer in Missouri, perhaps a doe, since I remember his first buck. And he probably took it with a gun, since he would’ve been pretty young at the time.
          He said: My first kill was a cottontail rabbit when I was 9. That was the first year I was allowed to have a .22 rifle.
Cally: Hers was a turkey. It was the most wonderful day of my life, and I’m not talking about the turkey hunting… (wink, wink). She was 17. We started dating in May, and she killed it that October.
          She said: A fall turkey in Missouri. But he should remember, because he took me on that first hunt.

What would you be doing if you weren’t traveling the county hunting all the time?
Annetta: He would probably want to spend time at the beach.
          He said: I can’t even fathom not hunting, but I would probably be working on our farm and taking Annetta to the beach.
Cally: She would be training her horses and doing girl stuff.
          She said: I would hang out at the beach for a month.

What’s the one song you crank up on the radio when you hear it riding down the highway?
Annetta: He always turns up “Good Girl” by Carrie Underwood (because he knows I can’t stand it).
          He said: “Shotgun Rider” by Dallas Davidson. I crank that one to the roof!
Cally: She’d crank up “Texas Was You” by Jason Aldean.
         She said: “Springsteen” by Eric Church. But he’d probably pick a Miranda Lambert or Lee Brice song for me.

What would be your dream hunt?
Annetta: If money were no object, Cally would get his desert ram, because that would finish his slam.
          He said: I’d want to shoot a 400-inch bull elk with my bow. A close second would be a 190-inch big horn ram.
Cally: Anything by Prada. Just kidding. She’d want to shoot a 40-inch Dall sheep.
          She said: A Dall sheep in the Northwest Territories.

If you were keeping score, Cally had the most right. But it goes to show that if you spend every waking hour together (and those hours start before sunrise), there’s still so much to learn about the love of your life.

But I think Cally and Annetta would agree that’s part of the fun.