Connor Liljestrom, 14, hoists a hefty set of elk antlers over his head on the town square in Jackson, Wyo. (pop. 8,747), as bidding begins during the 41st annual Boy Scouts of America Elk Antler Auction, the only event of its kind in the world.
"OK, who'll give me $10 a pound to start?" asks auctioneer Jim Loose as he scans the crowd for bidders, ultimately selling the 21-pound pair of antlers for $400 last May.
When the three-hour auction is over, more than $100,000 is raised from the sale of 10,000 pounds of antlers shed last spring by bull elkand gathered by local Boy Scoutson the 25,000-acre National Elk Refuge north of town.
The money funds Scouting programs, and provides winter forage for the 8,000 elk and 1,000 bison that migrate to the refuge each fall when snowstorms blanket the Rocky Mountains. The antlers will be turned into furniture, wall decorations, knife handles and jewelry by artisans from across the West.
"They used to stack them up, pour gasoline on them and burn them," says Scout leader Dan Deakin, 37. "Then somebody had the grand idea of making something out of them."
The antler auction kicks off a two-week celebration of Jackson's wildlife, wilderness and Western heritage that includes Elkfest, the Mountain Man Rendezvous & Traders Row, and Old West Days.
Originally called Jackson's Hole, the town is named for David E. Jackson, who ventured into the isolated, high mountain valley in the 1820s to trap beaver for felt hats that were the rage in Europe at the time.
"The beaver were big; the quality of the fur was great," says Dale "Rabbit" Bollman, 51, of Basin, Wyo., who sold his handmade pouches and leather goods during last year's 28th annual Mountain Man Rendezvous.
Wildlife and scenic beauty long have attracted people to Jackson, which at an elevation of 6,200 feet is encircled by Grand Teton National Park and the Bridger-Teton National Forest, and dominated by the grandeur of the 13,000-foot peaks in the Grand Teton range.
American Indians hunted buffalo in the shadow of the snow-capped mountains; rugged mountain men trapped beaver and other furbearing animals in and along the icy streams; and hardy homesteaders and cattlemen eked out a living on the sagebrush-covered plains despite the harsh winter weather.
Today, Jackson is a resort community and getaway for outdoor enthusiasts who hike and ski the surrounding slopes; raft and kayak whitewater rapids on the nearby Snake River; and photographor at least try to catch a glimpse ofmoose, wolves and grizzly bear.
"Not everyone gets to see a bear; if they do, it's a rare treat," says Ezra Peters, 28, who offers wildlife and scenic tours of Grand Teton and Yellowstone national parks for BrushBuck Guide Services.
Jackson's frontier flavor is accented by its wooden downtown sidewalks, elk antler arches on the town square, half-dozen guest and dude ranches, and the Jackson Hole Shootout, which in its 52nd season is the longest running Old Western-style gunfight re-enactment in the nation.
The legacy of Jackson's Hole will endure as long as the elk, modern-day mountain men and Old West enthusiasts gather in the Rocky Mountains each year to preserve and savor the traditions of the American frontier.
"This is my 23rd year coming to this rendezvous," says Bollman, while etching a Northern Cheyenne Indian design on a rawhide pouch with a small knife. "I plan on coming back as long as they have them."
The 42nd Boy Scouts of America Elk Antler Auction is scheduled May 16.
Visit www.jacksonholechamber.com for more information.