They are often mistaken for “dust devils,” those elusive puffs of dust
skipping away toward the horizon, and nowadays reports of them mostly
come from tourists crossing the western plains on their way to
vacations in the Rocky Mountains.
But the pioneers, pushing their wagons west on parallel trails, saw
them, too. And before the pioneers, the Red Men knew of them. The Red
Men, though, knew what they really were - there is no word in the
Indian tongue for “dust devil.”
And ask anybody who lives in those parts today - be he red or white or
black or any other color - if he knows of the jackalope, and he will
smile bravely, no doubt masking a fearful pounding of his heart. For
that’s what they are, these great clouds of dust - the trail of a
jackalope, elusive as a puff of wind, fearsome as a tornado.
Yes, just ask any native of eastern Wyoming or the Dakotas, or western
Nebraska, or down on the plains of Colorado; he will smile wistfully
and perhaps, if you buy him a drink, he will tell you the jackalope’s
The jackalope is a hybrid animal, a cross between the small antelope
and the relatively large jackrabbit. The product of that strange union
is the little-seen, much feared jackalope. Curiously, while both its
parents are extremely timid, any hunter will testify that the jackalope
offspring has justifiably earned the label, “warrior rabbit,” for its
ferocious charge and surly personality. The beast is all the more
dangerous for its gentle outward appearance - Charles Kuralt of CBS
News has called its smile “insouciant,” and many others, who don’t know
what that means, have actually called these killers, “cute!”
The jackalope has an even more startling characteristic than its temper
and antlers, however - like a parrot, it can imitate the sounds of the
human voice. Cowboys and backpackers in the West frequently report that
while they are singing around a campfire at night they are sometimes
joined in the words of the chorus by a distant jackalope - often in
harmony, usually in the tenor line.
It is primarily by use of its voice imitations that the jackalope has
avoided capture. Hunting parties of several hundred people have been
organized in efforts to capture a live specimen, but jackalope drives
are universally thwarted when the trapped bunny shouts, “There he goes,
over there by that tree.” The hunters, of course, dash away in pursuit,
only to find that they have been duped, and telltale puffs of dust by
then are moving toward the horizon miles away.
The first discovery of the jackalope was reportedly made by Roy Ball, a
trapper, in 1829 near Douglas, Wyoming. Ball also bagged the first,
which was stuffed and stood for many years in the front window of
Douglas’ LaBonte Hotel. Unfortunately for science, that first jackalope
was reportedly stolen a few years ago, under very peculiar circumstance
that the citizens of Douglas will discuss only in private and hushed
tones, if at all.
Douglas, in the east-central quarter of the state, is acknowledged to
be the jackalope capital of the world and the center of the creature’s
distribution, which ranges many hundreds of miles in all directions.
Indeed, there are unverified reports of sightings even east of Wall,
South Dakota. The famous drugstore there purports to have photos of a
flying jackalope on sale, but some scientists say the photos are fakes,
that some enterprising hunter for commercial purposes has simply
drugged a real jackalope, pasted some partridge feathers to its tail
and taken a picture. These researchers say that it would be impossible
for a real jackalope to mate with a partridge.
Most verified data on jackalopes comes from these scientific
researchers, who, appropriately, are residents of Douglas. Nearly a
hundred miles from Douglas the highway signs begin to warn the unwary
traveler of jackalope crossings and encourage the curious to visit
Douglas to learn more about the “horny bunny,” as it is affectionately
called by those who know and love it.
The main street of the town sports a gigantic statue of a jackalope,
and its image can be seen on T-shirts, paperweights, decals, bumper
stickers, and postcards in nearly every one of the town’s shops.
Advertisements carry photographs and drawings of the ’lope. It may have
been only a coincidence, but when I visited Douglas, Joan River’s
Rabbit Test was showing at the local movie theatre. It is not
easy for a visitor to Douglas to miss the point.
I should perhaps note here, however, that not all commercial
applications of the jackalope have worked out. At least two ventures
were made in Douglas to market jackalope milk, which is naturally
homogenized by the violent running and jumping action of the animal.
Consumption of the jackalope milk is forbidden to women by Wyoming
state law, however, and the enterprise has therefore fallen under
charges of discrimination. Actually, the law has something to do with
the notion that jackalopes mate only during lightning flashes.
In view of the fact that the jackalope is relatively rare and is a
clear danger to the novice sportsman, few hunting licenses are issued
for jackalopes in any one year, and those are distributed on a very
selective basis. The season is generally restricted to a single day,
and the penalties for illicit hunting or possession of any part of the
animal, dead or alive, are awesome - ranging up to as much as two weeks
in Casper, Wyoming, a small community to the southwest. That particular
punishment, I was told in Douglas, is being contested in the Supreme
Court as cruel and unusual.
Thus, trophies are rare even for professional hunters, and few mounted
examples find their way to the market. But I wanted to see one of these
legendary creatures in the flesh, whatever the cost. I had been told
that if any jackalopes were available, I would find them at Ralph
Herrick’s Bighorn Taxidermy Shop, just outside Douglas. I went to his
place in hopes of actually seeing a mounted jackalope.
Ralph didn’t happen to have one at the time, but after a pleasant
morning’s conversation, he asked if I would like to go out into the
Wyoming wilds to try my hand at bagging a jackalope for myself. Well, I
had, in my wildest dreams, hoped to see a jackalope, perhaps capture
one on film, but I had never imagined that I might actually look down
the big barrel of a 50-caliber Henry rifle at one of those bouncy
bunnies. (The Henry, the classic buffalo hunter’s rifle, is generally
accepted as the best weapon for stopping the jackalope. Purists do
frown on the use of exploding shells or landmines in hunting the
elusive animal.) Herrick is acknowledged to be the best hunting guide
in the Douglas area, so how could I possibly have passed up such an
He took me to the Douglas Chamber of Commerce where I applied for a
jackalope hunting permit. I passed the written test handily (it
requires that the applicant have an IQ of at least 50 but not more than
72), and the clerk handed me my license, along with a form suitable for
recording last words. We jumped into Herrick’s four-wheel drive pickup
truck - the only vehicle beside a horse capable of getting into
jackalope country, the rugged canyons southwest of Douglas - and
Herrick outlined the plan.
Ranchers in the Douglas area were reporting a rogue jackalope attacking
and destroying breeding bulls and the packs or large dogs specially
trained to hunt bear and mountain lions. The bulls had taken to
cowering in fence corners, it seems, and dogs that escaped with their
lives had suffered such trauma that they would flinch and whine every
time they encountered a grasshopper.
Moreover, once a jackalope has tasted blood, it becomes virtually
fearless - dangerous to man and beast alike. The rogue ’lope had to be
destroyed before it did any more damage, and Herrick and I had been
given the assignment, he explained.
Jackalopes shun the daylight and are therefore spotted mostly by
cowpokes leaving bars at 2 or 3 in the morning. But it would be far too
dangerous to hunt jackalopes at night, so we were going to go after
this one in broad daylight. Herrick said that we would either try to
flush this one out of its den or, failing that, lure it out with the
traditional bait for jackalopes, a mixture of bourbon, beer and baloney
After a few hours of kidney shattering driving, Herrick stopped the
truck, frowned, and announced, “This is as far as we can drive.”
We hiked a few miles across rugged, barren landscape, Herrick
occasionally spotting a jackalope dust trail in the distance, but to my
distress I only saw them when he pointed them out to me. That worried
me. It is crucial, of course, to spot the creature well in the
distance, for once the hunter penetrates the jackalope’s range of
charge - which can be as much as 300 yards - there is little time to
bring a rifle to bear. Momentum alone will carry a mortally wounded
jackalope the last 40 yards of its lightning-quick attack -sometimes
with fatal results for a hapless hunter with slow reactions.
Compounding the jackalope’s speed is its habit of backing into its den,
thus preparing to exit like a horned cannon ball.
Several times Herrick and I were startled by lunges at us from nearby
brush, but fortunately they were only diamond back rattlesnakes,
neither as dangerous nor as fast as the ’lopes.
It is a strange feeling, now, to be writing this, for there is not much
of a climax to the story. There was a flash of gray at the top of a
nearby ridge. There wasn’t even time to shout a warning. Herrick and I
both wheeled and fired, the two big Henrys going off with a single
report. The recoil threw me off balance and I staggered backwards into
a clump of sage. I felt a momentary flash of pain, and I fell.
When I recovered my senses and the smoke and dust cleared, I had my
trophy, a fine three-point jackalope buck, whose charge had been
everything it was reputed to be. I had been saved only by inches, my
fall, and good fortune, for the dying beast lay behind me. It
had torn the top from one of my leather hunting boots, sliced a gash in
my leg, then hit a sandstone block behind me splitting it into three
pieces. It was an awesome, terrifying experience.
Now some of the circumstances and events described here may have been
shaded by my memory for there was no time to take written notes.
However, it is certain that Herrick is America’s principal producer of
mounted jackalopes. When I interviewed Herrick, a good part of our
conversation, I recall, was indeed conducted in that pickup truck and
while we were on foot in the hills. While our purpose was to find the
jackalope, Herrick was also gathering up a five-gallon bucket of
rattlesnakes which he insisted on showing me in some detail and at
uncomfortably close range. I cannot remember precisely how many
jackalopes we saw in the Douglas hills that day, bit I do recall coming
back from the expedition perspiring more freely than the cool mountain
There are doubters about jackalopes, but the people of Douglas bear
witness, if not wetness. As for me, I look at the jackalope on my
office wall, its face forever fixed in a mysterious, smile, and I
remember that it is precisely that smile that makes the Mona
Lisa and the Sphinx two of the most treasured of man’s creations.
permission to reprint this article
please contact the author at