A small herd of antelope, elk, caribou, moose and deer have invaded Dave and Norie Trout's farmhouse north of Wadena. The animals pose no threat, however, since their days roaming the forests are long over.
They were hunted, enjoyed at the Trouts' dinner table, and now their antlers and horns adorn the walls of the family room as reminders of wilderness adventures with family and friends in Wyoming, Colorado, Quebec, Idaho and Minnesota.
The small family room pays homage to the Trouts' love of the outdoors. Sliding glass doors provide a view of the countryside and an opening for Dave to take aim at aggressive bluebirds attempting to consume his birdseed. A large hot tub that dominates the room looks ready to sail down the river pictured on wallpaper on the north wall. And pictures of game animals and hunting trips line a canoe-shaped book case.
Hunting is a life-long love for Dave, 59. But his long-distance hunting adventures began in 1979 when he shot an antelope in Wyoming.
"[That was] the first year we went out west [and I] kind of got hooked on it," he said. "I thought, 'well I gotta keep on doing this.' So I did."
Dave said he doesn't know which mounted animal makes him the most proud.
"Well, every darn one of 'em is just so neat," he said.
"There's a story behind them all," said Dave's son, Jeff.
Humorous tales of hauling a moose home behind a Volkswagen Rabbit and noisy hunting partners reflect the fun spirit that is the heart of the Trout's hunting trips. The trips are not carefree vacations, though. Hunting during cold, snowy weather in uninhabited wilderness requires an adventurous spirit as well as a respect for the environment and wild animals. The challenge of hunting in the forest has taught lessons in survival, strengthened family bonds and led to new friendships.
A large rack of moose antlers reminds Dave of a hunting trip that contained its fair share of fun and adventure. During a trip to northern Minnesota in 1983 he aimed and fired at a moose, but the only trace of the animal was a trail of blood. The prospect of an injured moose on the loose was not comforting to Dave and his hunting companions.
"Moose, when they're wounded, can get kind of angry," Dave said. "I thought 'I don't want to go into the dark too far.'"
He did continue to pursue the moose and eventually discovered the animal injured in the hoof and bleeding the trail Dave tracked.
After killing and cleaning the moose, Dave was faced with the challenge of bringing it home. There was no way he could fit the 1,000-pound animal in the hatchback of his VW Rabbit. A boat trailer borrowed from his brother who lives on the Iron Range provided a solution.
"I layed two planks on the boat trailer and tied him down ... and then I came home," he said.
The trip home with a moose strapped down behind his VW Rabbit was not uneventful, however.
"Do you realize how big a moose is?" Dave asked. "He was twice as long as my car. I got all kinds of signals on the way home. I had thumbs up, people honk[ed] their horns and all kinds of things. That was pretty neat."
He mounted only the antlers, he said, because the entire head of the moose would have filled half the room.
Dave's youngest son, Jason, acquired his own moose story this fall. Dave, Jeff and some friends accompanied the first-time moose hunter to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area. They could not use vehicles and had to transport themselves up the river in a canoe to hunt. In spite of the difficult terrain, Jason shot his moose. But not without some friendly mischief generated by his father.
"[Jason's] just lucky to get it because he had him along the whole time," Jeff said nodding toward his father. "He's like a little kid out there making noise, drinking his hot chocolate. Jason's always hollering at him."
Dave chuckled and responded, "That's part of the fun."
Getting away from their jobs and having a good time is an important part of the hunting experience for Dave and his hunting partners.
"We just try to go out and have a lot of fun," Dave said. "It always ends up that way somehow."
Jeff said hunting provides a true vacation from a hectic work environment.
Dave agreed. "You don't even think about other people," he said. "It's just you ... or the other people you're hunting with. It's a very relaxing, very unique experience." While hunting provides a reprieve from career responsibilities, it is not without its own work and challenges.
There is a lot of preparation before they can drive off with the flat-bed trailer enclosed with a boat lift cover that Norie dubbed the "gypsy wagon." The trailer provides living quarters with a stove, sink, cupboard, table and heater. The Trouts also use the trailer to haul four-wheelers. For transportation they also rely on horses, canoes and their own two feet.
Dave said one of the most important hunting preparation steps is to get in shape.
"'Cause it is quite strenuous walking," he said. "Although after you've done it awhile, you learn to walk in the mountains."
He said following the trails blazed by game animals is one of the most important techniques he has found.
"The animals know where to go and the easiest route to take," he said.
When walking in the snow and cold, Dave has learned a good pair of shoes is one of the most important accessories.
"Without that you don't go many places," he said.
It's a lesson he learned the hard way. When he first started hunting he couldn't afford GORE-TEX shoes, he said.
"So you just took your everyday shoes and golly darn they'd be wet when you went to bed," he said. "And you'd get up in the morning and they'd be frozen stiff and you'd put your feet in there. You learn ... that next time I go I got to get me a pair of good shoes."
The Trouts have also learned to cope with the hazards of hunting in isolated wilderness.
"When we used to go to Idaho, we'd be out there for two to three weeks and you'd never see another person all that time," Dave said. "You're really on your own."
He recalled a year when the tent collapsed after a heavy snow fall.
"You just fix it the best you can," he said. "Sleep the rest of the night and then in the morning you take care of the problem, and just thank goodness nobody did get hurt."
Spending time in the wilderness has inspired the Trouts' admiration for nature and the animals that live in the wild.
"You learn a lot of respect," Jeff said. "If it's your first time hunting antelope you've got to do research on it."
Dave said he and his four sons have learned to hunt together throughout the years. They have never had guides, he said, but taught themselves the terrain and hunting strategies for the different animals.
They chose to hunt in Idaho because of the elk population and the cost of a hunting license, he said.
"So we did a lot of homework on the area," Dave said. "Got out a topographical map, studied them. Did all of that ... stuff for the first time you go. And [then] you just go and bite the bullet and do your leg work. You get to learn the country that way, too."
Jeff said they learn something new every time they go hunting.
"That's what's so neat about it," he said. "It's different every time you hunt. You could go to Colorado every year, but every year it's different."
One element of the hunting trip that has remained the same over the years is the opportunity to form new friendships.
"We meet a lot of beautiful people when we go hunting," Dave said.
Jeff clarified his father's remark by adding "personality-wise" when describing the "beauty" of the Trouts' bearded, un-showered hunting buddies.
They have made lasting friendships with Idaho ranchers and even some Californians while elk hunting, Dave said.
"We met these people from California and you know everybody has ... an idea of what California people are like," he said. "These people aren't nothing like that. They hardly claim to be Californians. They're from northern California, not southern. They were really nice people."
Dave said they even encountered other Wadena hunters during a trip to Colorado.
After returning home to Wadena, the Trouts enjoy the fruits of their labor in the form of caribou steaks, cow elk roasts, venison sausage and other meats. Dave only hunts the animals he enjoys eating, he said.
"If I don't like it, I don't hunt it," Dave said. "Everything that I do hunt we use."
When it comes to choosing animals for mounting, Dave's only set criteria is the size of the head and rack. He said he chose to mount the caribou because he knew he would never hunt that particular animal again.
"I ain't rich," he said about the cost of hunting in the far off reaches of Quebec.
He chose the caribou on the wall because of its unique rack, he said.
"See all of his fingers?" Dave said pointing to the unusual curves of the animals antlers. "So I thought this will make a beautiful animal to mount. [And] it wasn't so huge that it would take up a lot of room."
Dave and Jeff recently talked about what animals are missing from the wall, he said. Dave has never applied, but would like to get a bear permit.
"Grizzly would be the most exciting," Dave said.
Jeff said bighorn sheep would also be a neat animal to hunt.
Dave agreed, but said, "I don't know if I could do that anymore, I'm too old."
The bighorn sheep live on steep trails, and hunters have to climb and descend for hours or days at a time in pursuit of the animal, he said.
"It's very, very rugged," he said.
Dave has enjoyed pursuing animals since he first learned to hunt sparrows when he was child growing up "a mile and a half from where the crow flies" from his current home, he said.
"I just always hunted," Dave said.
It's an activity that he learned from his father and has shared with friends and passed down to his sons and daughters-in-law, he said. As his grandchildren grow older he also hopes to teach a love of the art of hunting to them.
"It's a family memory," Dave said. "Anything you do with your family you're creating ... things that they remember you by."
It is especially important to share fun experiences with and tell stories to his grandchildren, he said.
"And then when we're gone, they tell their kids," Dave said.
For Dave, seeking fun and memories is more important than hunting the animals that hang on his wall. Killing an animal is not the real reason a person goes hunting, he said.
"[It's to] sit and enjoy the outdoors, see the different areas [and] experience the life in the mountains," Dave said. "I always figure when you get an animal that's just a bonus."