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Dave Olson, Published March 29 2010

Six continents worth of hunting trophies come to Dalton museum

DALTON, Minn. – Steve Slack started hunting ducks and pheasants with his dad at the age of 4 in his home state of Iowa.

Now 60, Slack has hunted an endless variety of game on six continents and is one of about five dozen people who have received the World Hunting Award bestowed by Safari Club International, the world’s largest hunting organization.

After a lifetime of stalking bears, lions and a horde of other game, Slack’s trophy count tops 500.

Many are on display at the “Preserve the Tradition” Museum of Natural History, which Slack opened about two years ago near Dalton.

The idea for the museum came to him after he suffered a heart attack six years ago.

When he got home from the hospital, he asked his wife, Judy, a fellow hunter, what she would do with his trophy collection if he died.

At the time, much of his vast menagerie of stuffed creatures was stored at their Chanhassen home.

His wife’s answer? She wasn’t quite sure what she would do with the mementos of his many hunts.

So the couple decided to build the “Preserve the Tradition” museum on land they own in Otter Tail County and turn it into a nonprofit organization to promote what Slack says is “our inalienable right to hunt and fish.”

‘Like merit badges’

Slack said the initial response from the public has been slow, but he said interest in the museum is growing, and it receives regular visits from area students and 4-H members.

It is also available for special events, and various activities are held there during the year, such as the “Out of Africa” program on April 10, which will feature African music and dance.

Slack said his sense of life accomplishment grew with the size of his trophy collection.

“It’s like being a Boy Scout and getting your Eagle Scout Award. All those trophies? They’re like merit badges,” said Slack, who began hunting in earnest when he was about 35.

He started by going after North American big-game animals, of which there are 33 species.

Then he moved on to other parts of the world, including Africa, where he hunted large game, from elephants to hippos.

Slack said he felt fear on only a few occasions while tracking down dangerous animals.

One of those moments was during an elephant hunt.

The quarry was an old bull that Slack and his hunting party had tracked until they were close enough to determine whether it had tusks worth collecting.

When they saw that one of the elephant’s tusks had broken off, they lost interest.

But it was at that moment the elephant took an interest in them.

“We started to back off from it and he turned and looked at us,” Slack said.

“One of the trackers got scared and started running. You don’t run from an elephant,” said Slack, adding that the elephant began a charge like ones you see on TV.

“You know, where they come with their ears like this,” said Slack, holding his arms out wide.

The elephant was 50 yards from the hunting party when it stopped.

“He gave out his big call and just kind of looked at us and said, ‘You’re too close,’ and turned around and walked away,” Slack said.

Bongo gets a pass

Hunts can cost tens of thousands of dollars, and they aren’t always successful.

Slack once hunted bongos, large antelopes, in the jungles of Cameroon, Africa, with the help of pygmy guides and their hunting dogs.

The dogs brought an animal to bay, and Slack’s guides held it down on the ground for Slack to claim.

Despite the time and expense that went into the hunt, Slack said he wasn’t going to end it that way.

“I go, ‘No, I’m not going to shoot it,’ ’’ said Slack, who is retired after spending years working as a manufacturer’s representative through a company he founded.

The job took him to many places in the world, including China.

But Slack said when it comes to hunting and fishing, few places compare to Minnesota.

“I thought I died and went to heaven when I moved to Minnesota,” he said. One reason he built his museum and its outdoor archery range was to share his passion for the outdoors with younger generations.

And it’s appreciated, said Ranae Edwards, a 4-H coordinator with the University of Minnesota Extension in Grant County.

“During the summer months, it’s ideal to bring kids out here once a week,” Edwards said.

“For about two hours, they (young people) learn and practice archery. Once they’re done, we come over here and do classes on wildlife, hunting. Just fun things for kids to learn,” Edwards said.

Planning Mexico hunt

Walking into the museum and being confronted with its multitude of freeze-frame fauna can be disconcerting, but Slack said no one has ever been overcome by fear.

“I’ve had two young ladies that were not necessarily enthralled with it,” Slack said. In that situation, the young women toured the museum with their parents but spent the rest of their visit outside.

Regular admission to the museum is $3 for kids and $7 for adults.

“Believe, me,” Slack said, “it doesn’t pay the expenses.”

Bears, lions and other large game take up the main room that one sees when entering the museum.

There is also a small-mammal room and areas devoted to birds.

The latter hold examples of “every duck, goose and swan that you can legally hunt in North America,” Slack said.

He plans a trip to Mexico to complete his “world slam” of turkeys.

“I need one more. I’ll have that in April,” said Slack, referring to the Gould’s turkey, which he expects to find in the Sonora Desert.

In addition to animal and bird specimens, the museum collection includes human artifacts that include a grouping of weapons and other items Slack purchased from a Maasai warrior during a trip to Africa.

“The reward you get out of hunting international is not just collecting the animal. The reward is the people you meet and the countries and the places you get to see,” Slack said.

If you go


Readers can reach Forum reporter Dave Olson at (701) 241-5555