Don’t miss this amazing exhibit of taxidermy and guns

IMG_1902 (2)You’ll have a hard time moving beyond the astonishing antlers of an Irish elk, an animal that has been extinct for 11,000 years. The huge antlers were found in a peat bog in Ireland and hung for 180 years in a huge old castle, even being featured in The Hobbitt. They were recently donated to the Maine State Museum by Bruce Bent.

Apparently the elk’s antlers were huge in order to impress the ladies. Well, they impressed me too!

As Drs. David and Paula Work took me through the museum’s fabulous collection of taxidermy, I was delighted to learn that some of the best items were donated by Drs. Bob Shelton and Paul Wade, old friends of mine.

IMG_1910 (2)And it was great to see things from the collection of Dort Bigg. Dort grew up on a small farm on my road in Mount Vernon and became a prominent and wealthy attorney in New Hampshire. He lived his retirement years in Turner, and filled his barn with animals he hunted all over the world, including a full mount of an elephant. Well, it was almost a full mount. Dort had to cut a piece out of each leg to fit the elephant into the barn!

I’d been wondering what happened to Dort’s collection, and it was good to see some of it in the state museum. I took my Dad, for his 75th birthday, out to Dort’s in Turner, where Dort gave us the full tour, telling fabulous hunting stories along the way. Dad was as thrilled by that day as I was.

IMG_1919 (2)From Klir Beck’s loons to some of my friend Paul Wade’s collection to the beautiful red fox to a stunning bobcat done by taxidermist Steve Jandreau and donated to the museum by the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine, you will want to spend a lot of time enjoying the exhibit.

But you’ll also want to get to the museum’s other exhibit featuring guns and early Maine gunsmiths. Laurie LaBar is in charge of that exhibit, and her stories about each and every item made my visit very special.

IMG_1927 (2)From an early Hall breech loading flintlock rifle made in Portland between 1812 and 1816, to brass castings circa 1870, to beautiful Oxford County rifles, I was captivated – particularly by an 1870 knife-pistol made by Andrew Peavey. It operated as a .22 caliber pistol and was made in Montville.

If you’ve ever read William Krohn’s book, Manley Hardy – the Life and Writing of a Maine Fur-Buyer, Hunter, and Naturalist, you’ll be excited to see one of Hardy’s pistols – a pistol he used to shoot 80 moose!

IMG_1925 (2)And there’s a multiple shot gun created by one of Hardy’s friends, Charles Wheeler of Farmington. The museum also has one of Wheeler’s lengthy 6-piece hardwood salmon rods. I can’t imagine casting that thing.

Later that afternoon, I met with Jennifer Dube, the museum’s fundraiser, and Bernard Fishman, MSM’s director, to plan a talk about my book on Maine Sporting Camps that I’m scheduled to give on November 16 at the State Library and Museum for the Kennebec Historical Society. I was really excited to learn that at 5:30 pm that night, before my talk begins an hour later, they’ll be opening these exhibits for all who attend to enjoy. Put this on your calendar!

George Smith

About George Smith

George stepped down at the end of 2010 after 18 years as the executive director of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine to write full time. He writes a weekly editorial page column in the Kennebec Journal and Waterville Morning Sentinel, a weekly travel column in those same newspapers (with his wife Linda), monthly columns in The Maine Sportsman magazine, two outdoor news blogs (one on his website,, and one on the website of the Bangor Daily News), and special columns for many publications and newsletters. Islandport Press published a book of George's favorite columns, "A Life Lived Outdoors" in 2014. In 2014, George also won a Maine Press Association award for writing the state's bet sports blog. In 2016, Down East Books published George's book, Maine Sporting Camps, and Islandport Press published George and his wife Linda's travel book, Take It From ME, about their favorite Maine inns and restaurants.