White moose gets extreme makeover

Posted: Friday, May 13, 2005


  Fairbanks Moose Lodge representative Ray Hollinrake, left, and taxidermists, from second from left, Charlie Livingston, Kevin Hickman and Ray Bryant stand next to the white moose mount made from a 30-year-old hide at Livingston's shop in North Pole, Alaska, April 13, 2005. Hollinrake went to Livingston's shop with the tanned hide and told him he wanted to have a full-body mount made to be displayed at the Moose Lodge. AP Photo/Fairbanks Daily News-Mi

Fairbanks Moose Lodge representative Ray Hollinrake, left, and taxidermists, from second from left, Charlie Livingston, Kevin Hickman and Ray Bryant stand next to the white moose mount made from a 30-year-old hide at Livingston's shop in North Pole, Alaska, April 13, 2005. Hollinrake went to Livingston's shop with the tanned hide and told him he wanted to have a full-body mount made to be displayed at the Moose Lodge.

AP Photo/Fairbanks Daily News-Mi

FAIRBANKS — When Ray Hollinrake of the Fairbanks Moose Lodge showed up at Charlie Livingston's taxidermy shop in North Pole with a 30-year-old tanned white moose hide and told him he wanted to have a full-body mount made, it almost blew Livingston's suspenders off.

''I looked at it and said, 'Oh boy, holy mackerel,''' recalled Livingston in his best Mississippi accent.

To begin with, the 63-year-old taxidermist had never seen a white moose in his 35 years of mounting heads, horns and hides in Alaska. Second, there was absolutely no way he was going to be able make a full-body mount with a 30-year-old hide.

''I didn't want to do it,'' Livingston said.

But with a little persuasion from fellow taxidermists Kevin Hickman and Ray Bryant, both of whom Livingston mentored, he agreed to try to create a head mount of the 54-inch bull.

''I said, 'I don't think this is going to mount. The only chance we've got is if we do this, this, this and this,''' Livingston said.

So skeptical was Livingston that he made Hollinrake sign an agreement that Livingston wouldn't be held financially liable if the hide fell apart in the process.

''I told him, 'If I go ahead and get this thing ready to mount and it turns to goo, I'm not going to be held accountable,''' Livingston said.

After Hollinrake agreed, the three taxidermists got the glue out and went to work.

The two-deck headline on the front page of the Sept. 13, 1974, issue of the All-Alaska Weekly reads, ''Fairbanks Hunter Bags Silver White Moose.''

The story, written by editor and publisher Tom Snapp, described how Arthur G. Scott bagged ''one of the rarest of trophies'' when he shot and killed a 54-inch ''silver white'' moose.

According to the story, which was accompanied by two photos, Scott learned of the unusual moose the year before from friend Joe McHenry, then-owner of the Nenana Airport Service, but the light-skinned bull evaded them.

''They had to be satisfied with bagging just two regular moose,'' Snapp wrote.

The next hunting season, the Scotts decided once again to see if they could bag the white bull.

The trip was marked by trouble. The engine of their snow track vehicle quit as they were going across a river, and the vehicle was washed in a hole. As the water inched up over the vehicle, Scott, his son, Bryan, and daughters, Gennelle, 20, and Carrie, 17, had to spend 24 hours on top of the machine, according to Snapp's story.

''Finally, some people came with a blazer and a weasel and pulled out their vehicle, and for three days, the Scotts worked on the snow track to get it going again,'' Snapp wrote.

The two girls returned home. Scott and his son went in search of the white moose. They built a landing strip on a gravel bar and Scott flew in his Cessna 170 with gasoline, food and supplies. They set up a base camp on the gravel bar and another on a nearby ridge to survey the surrounding valleys.

After a few days with no sign of the white moose, the Scotts decided to start hunting other moose. That morning, they had just broken camp and were moving along a trail they had been traveling every day when they spotted the white moose lying in a hole near a thicket of spruce.

''When he stood up and started to walk out, Scott let him have it with a 30.06 right behind the shoulders,'' Snapp wrote.

Upon returning to town, Scott took the hide and antlers to a taxidermist, but for some unknown reason, a mount was never made.

According to Snapp's story, Scott was offered $30,000 for the head, antlers and hide of the rare white moose, but the Fairbanks hunter swore the trophy would never leave Fairbanks.

And it didn't.

After Scott died, his brother inherited the hide and antlers. When the brother came across the old trophy as he was packing up to leave the state after retiring in 1999, he donated it to Fairbanks Moose Lodge 1392.

Nobody knows for sure just how rare white or albino moose are in Alaska.

Like other mammals, including humans, white or albino moose are the result of a double recessive gene that is passed down through generations.

''They're in every species but they're very rare,'' said state wildlife biologist Rod Boertje.

White moose rarely turn up in winter moose surveys conducted by biologists.

''I've never seen one except in pictures,'' said Boertje, who has surveyed tens of thousands of moose during his 23-year career with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game in Fairbanks.

There is evidence that a strain of white moose exists in the area of the Alaska Range where Scott shot his trophy in 1974, however.

According to his 25 years' worth of studying moose in Denali National Park and Preserve, as well as reviewing studies done by other biologists, Vic Van Ballenberghe figures there have been about a dozen different white moose spotted in and around Denali dating back to the 1930s.

Retired park service biologist Will Troyer, who has written about white moose sightings in Denali Park, recalled seeing three different white moose in the park one year. One was near the park entrance, and the other two were in the western portion of the park. There was also a white bull moose at Wonder Lake in the 1960s, Troyer said.

''There seems to be a gene in the population there that's held them in there for years and years,'' he said from his winter home in Phoenix.

The last white moose seen in the Denali area was in 1990. A white cow moose with brown spots on her body hung out for a few weeks next to the Parks Highway near Healy, where several people, including Van Ballenberghe, photographed it.

The appearance of the moose near Healy prompted the state Board of Game to pass a regulation that prohibits shooting ''white-phased or partial albino'' moose — defined as being at least 50 percent white — in Game Management Unit 20C, which includes the area Scott shot his white bull 30 years ago. It is the only area in the state with such a regulation.

None of the white moose he has seen were true albinos, said Van Ballenberghe. All of them had brown eyes and brown spots. A true albino moose would have pink eyes and be completely white.

The moose that Scott shot was 85 to 90 percent white, Livingston said. It has a large brown patch on the side of its neck and its hide was dotted with brown spots.

''I've never seen anything like it,'' he said.

It was Hollinrake, an administrator with the Loyal Order of Moose, who finally dug the hide out of a box in the attic of the bar tucked behind the Regency Hotel on 10th Avenue.

When the hide was donated, the lodge was financially strapped and couldn't afford to do anything with it, Hollinrake said. Instead, the hide was stuffed in a plastic bag and put in a box. It was stashed in a shed for a few years before being put in the attic.

''I happened to be in the attic and found it and I said, 'Let's see if this thing is any good,''' said Hollinrake. ''I said I'd pay for it out of my own pocket if I had to.''

He took the hide to Livingston's shop in North Pole. Hickman, who leases space from Livingston, was the first to lay eyes on it.

''I thought it was cool,'' said Hickman. ''You just don't see something like this very often.''

But when Hollinrake inquired about a full-body mount, Hickman expressed reservations.

''With a 30-year-old hide? No way,'' Hickman told him.

He told Hollinrake that he would show the hide to Livingston and go from there. When Livingston first laid eyes on the hide, he questioned Hickman's sanity.

''I said, 'My God, Kevin, what have you done?''' laughed Livingston.

That was in October. Livingston, Hickman and Bryant were buried up to their eyeballs in work so Livingston told Hollinrake he would inspect the hide more carefully when he got a chance and get back to him.

It wasn't until last month that Livingston finally informed Hollinrake he thought they might be able to pull off a head mount. But it wasn't going to be cheap, Livingston told him. The price tag would be $1,500.

Working as a team, the three taxidermists attacked the job like a pack of wolves taking down a moose. Bryant prepped the form the hide would be attached to while Livingston worked on the ears, eyes, nose and lips and Hickman handled hide preparation. For its age, the hide was in excellent shape.

''Whoever tanned it did a good job,'' said Hickman.

Rather than submerge the hide in water, they had to wet it down with sponges to make it pliable enough to work on. Livingston compared the wetted hide to a piece of cardboard that you try to pick up after it's been soaking in water.

''The hide was so delicate,'' said Bryant, who recently retired from the Air Force and moved to Maine to open his own taxidermy shop. ''Charlie said, 'Boys, we gotta get this on or we're going to lose it.'''

Livingston figured they had six hours to get the hide on the form before it started to dissolve. They started working on it at 9 a.m. and finished at 2:50 p.m. with 10 minutes to spare.

''As we were working on it, it was coming apart,'' said Hickman.

The Moose Lodge's rare trophy will be displayed prominently in the entrance to the lodge to go along with two other regular moose head mounts, as well as two antler mounts. Because the Moose Lodge is a private establishment, Hollinrake is still trying to figure out how to handle requests from the public to see the mount.

Hollinrake couldn't be happier with the end product. Not many Moose Lodges around the country have a regular moose head mount, much less a white one, he said.

After his initial skepticism, Livingston was impressed with how well the mount came out.

''It really looks great,'' he said, admiring the finished product in his shop last week.

As it turned out, the price tag for the mount was $90 more than Livingston had quoted Hollinrake.

''That was for all the glue we used,'' Livingston said with a chuckle. ''We glued the holy, living hell out of this thing. They'll never get it off there in a million years.''

How long it remains white, however, remains to be seen. The worst thing in the world for a white mount, whether it's a Dall sheep or a white moose, is cigarette smoke, said Livingston. The Moose Lodge is not a smoke-free establishment by any means.

''We're working on that,'' said Hollinrake.

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