With the heart of hunting season getting underway this month, we asked the Buckhorn Exchange’s co-owner and general manager, Bill Dutton, for the scoop on the legends (and there are quite a few of them) behind the restaurant’s taxidermied decor. Should these inspire an itchy trigger finger, just remember: These days we keep our crosshairs on less exotic species.
The oldest animal in the restaurant is a 110-year-old golden eagle with a six-foot wingspan; it’s suspended above the front window booth. Legend has it Lakota Chief Sitting Bull gave Buckhorn founder Henry “Shorty Scout” Zietz permission to hunt the animal on his land. (Today, hunting a golden eagle is a felony and can earn you up to two years in prison or a $250,000 fine.)
The Buckhorn’s largest animal, which hangs in the main staircase, once held the world record for the largest American buffalo ever shot (approximately 2,000 pounds). Zietz, who died in 1949 at the age of 84, shot the beast near Genesee.
The back wall of the first floor is home to a zebra, a greater kudu, and a roan antelope. The trio arrived at the Buckhorn Exchange from a successful African hunting safari in the early 1900s. The story goes that Zietz befriended President Teddy Roosevelt when he guided him on trips throughout the Rocky Mountains. Zietz was present on the safari with Roosevelt, who brought along a taxidermist to stuff the animals they hunted.
Kodiak Grizzly Bear
The newest addition to the Buckhorn Exchange’s collection hails from a big-game taxidermy collector in Minnesota. The Kodiak grizzly bear, which resides in the restaurant’s upstairs dining room, has quickly become a favorite backdrop for selfies.
The 14 antelope heads mounted as a pack all came from Zietz’s efforts over the years at the famous One Shot Antelope Hunt in Lander, Wyoming. The goal of the 75-year-old competition—which still happens each September—is for every member of a three-person team to shoot and kill a pronghorn antelope with one shot from a rifle.
After shooting the restaurant’s 12-point bull elk, Zietz’s son, Henry Jr., walked up to inspect the animal. It wasn’t dead yet, and the angry elk reared up and knocked out the young hunter’s front teeth. According to lore, a vengeful Henry Jr. had the elk’s teeth removed during the taxidermy process and would often keep them in his front shirt pocket.