As you cross north into Wyoming from Colorado you’ll notice the silhouette of a bison along the highway.
Travel another 150 miles or so, and you’ll spot another one high on a range of hills a few miles south of Douglas, Wyoming.
Nothing exceptional here. The trend of placing black silhouettes against the skyline is gaining popularity across the Great Plains and Rocky Mountain West.
A final silhouette, a mile north of Douglas on Interstate 25, is a bit more spectacular. There in all its glory is the outline of the legendary jackalope.
For those who don’t know of the jackalope, it is the unofficial mascot of Converse County, Wyoming. The jackalope is a rare variety of Wyoming wildlife with the body of a large jackrabbit and the antlers of a whitetail deer, or occasionally the horns of a pronghorn antelope.
I’ve taken eastern friends hunting this elusive quarry for more than four decades.
As a kid, it was great sport to get your cousins from the city to experience country living. On two memorable occasions, I was able to get younger cousins to enjoy the shocking experience of urinating on an electric fence. I’m sure they remember it too; it’s a rite of passage for 10-year-old boys to pull this trick on younger, pilgrim-style cousins.
A few years later, we had the usual crop of eastern pilgrims (“pilgrims,” the name we applied to novice, or greenhorn hunters and anglers just arriving in the Cowboy State) arriving on the University of Wyoming campus.
Rudy hailed from some forgotten town near Camden, New Jersey. As a proud resident of “Jersey,” as he constantly told everyone who encountered him, he knew everything, had experienced everything, and was a master of everything in his view.
Yep, the perfect foil for a little jackalope hunting.
For those of you who have taken friends, or soon-to-be ex-friends, snipe hunting, it’s the same concept. The only difference is that snipe are an actual species of bird, relatives of rail. These skinny-legged birds leave tracks in the mud alongside ponds, and lakes across the west, with some states having hunting seasons, and limits on them.
You hunt snipe with a shotgun; you go “snipe hunting” with a flashlight and a burlap bag. There is a difference.
Jackalope have hunting seasons, too, my hunting buddies and I were quick to point that out to Rudy.
There are two species of jackalope, single-tailed, and double-tailed. The double-tailed are a much rarer species and require special, limited quota licenses to hunt. These licenses were once only available in Douglas or Glenrock, the two biggest towns in Converse County in the 1970s, but you can buy them online today.
At the end of 9th Street in Laramie, the city abruptly came to a halt with a pair of decaying, three-unit apartment buildings. They were open to the howling winds that roll in off the plains surrounding the Gem City.
The street becomes decayed asphalt, and eventually gravel as it follows a set of powerlines leading into town from the north.
After the second wide loop of road, the Laramie landfill is on the right.
This landfill is a haven for jackrabbits and a great place to hunt the elusive jackalope.
We stopped the truck, took our collection of weaponry out of the bed, and began the hunt.
My bolt-action, wildly inaccurate Coast-to-Coast .22, with the four-power Tasco scope, led the entourage. Rudy was shooting a borrowed lever-action Marlin .22 with open sights. We only let him have one .22 long rifle cartridge at a time, since he’d never been hunting before, and by his actions, was the kind of guy who would make the regional news claiming he didn’t know the gun was loaded.
It was late afternoon on a windy September day when we spotted the first jackalope.
Rudy drew down on the jack, but Frank, Andy, and I all yelled at once, “Don’t shoot, it’s a doe!”
Sure enough, the “doe” jackalope scampered off into the brush.
Wouldn’t you know it, every jackalope we spotted that afternoon was a doe.
We let Rudy know that the fine was hefty: a minimum of $1,000, and a loss of hunting privileges for a year if you were caught harvesting a jackalope doe.
As darkness began to fall, we loaded up and headed back to the Crane Hall Dormitory. No jackalope that afternoon.
We took him two more times, and he never got a shot at a jackalope buck, though the does were plentiful.
“The bucks are running in packs,” I told Rudy. “They must be holed up somewhere where we can’t find them for the rut.”
None of us were sure whether he ever discovered that those doe jackalopes were just jackrabbits. Rudy never mentioned it if he did.
Over the course of the next three years, we took new arrivals and a few girls who wanted to learn how to hunt in quests for the legendary jackalope.
I’ve even taken a few pilgrims out for jackalope in the intervening years, though we’ve never taken a buck.
I have a mounted three-point (six-point eastern count) jackalope in my office. A proud trademark of the time I bagged one at a gift shop at Wall Drug, in South Dakota.
Randy Tucker is a retired history teacher and freelance writer from western Wyoming. He has a lifetime of experience in farming, ranching, hunting and fishing in the shadow of the Wind River Mountains. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.