January is traditionally the month of terrific sales and does John McGowan have a deal on a kudu for you.
You know, kudu. Those twin-pronged African antelopes.
McGowan is selling some of his prized mounted kudu heads for only 500 bucks. Act fast. Somebody already got the Cape buffalo.
If $500 is a little out of your dead critter budget, he’s got pygmy antelope oribis - a steal at $150 - mountain reedbuck for $350 and man, you oughta check out this guy’s wildebeest.
Four hundred takes it away.
McGowan’s home in the Spokane Valley is an exotic game showroom, filled with animals the man has bagged during 44 years of hunting in Africa.
In this place, the walls literally have eyes.
There’s a fully mounted leopard. Rhino horns. Two sets of enormous elephant tusks. There’s eland and a tiny creature called a dik-dik. There are lion skins and something called a kafue lechwe.
Safe to say Jane Fonda won’t be addressing any Sierra Clubbers here.
Not all McGowan’s treasures are up for grabs. Oh, no, he says, gazing lovingly at the head of a particularly loathsome warthog he shot. Most of them “are too dear to part with.”
But after 37 African safaris, McGowan, 63, had to face facts. He’s running out of wall space. The retired stockbroker will be moving soon, so he decided to sell a few of his 100 trophies at bargain prices.
“I know my heads,” he says, when asked if he ever forgets where everything is. “I’m down to about 80 now.”
I learned about McGowan while scanning the “miscellaneous for sale” ads in the newspaper the other day. You can find a lot of unusual items shopping the post-Christmas sales.
South Hill resident David Fredericks, for example, is trying to get rid of a 1955 Marilyn Monroe calendar, a snail fossil “millions of years old” and a set of new snow tires on Chevy rims.
A woman in Airway Heights ran an ad on two 8-foot totem poles and a genuine wooly mammoth tusk. “Sorry,’ she says when I call, “you’re too late. The mammoth tusk went two days ago for $2,500.”
It was McGowan’s offer that really caught my eye: “African mounted heads … 927-1264.”
I dialed to make sure he was talking about animals and not hapless missionaries. “No, not shrunken heads,” McGowan assures me, extending an invitation to come see what a lifetime of hunting in South Africa and Zimbabwe has brought him.
He hasn’t done all his shooting with rifles. McGowan believes he may own the nation’s largest private collection of African wildlife photographs. Several times a year he arranges private photo safaris for people who want to see what life in the bush is really like.
He has chronicled his treks and observations in several books and numerous magazine articles.
“It was a total adventure,” McGowan says of his first trip to Africa with his father in 1952. “You didn’t know if you were going to get killed by natives or be mauled by some beast.”
McGowan’s closest call came 20 years ago when a wounded leopard suddenly leaped at him from the tall grass. “When something happens that fast you don’t have time to be frightened,” he says. “All I could see was orange and black coming at me.”
He says he crouched, pulled a handgun and fired, plugging the animal in the chest. “His body landed all over me,” adds McGowan, who will be headed back to Africa for more fun in May.
Animal rights zealots will be thrilled to hear this, but McGowan says it is hunters who have saved Africa’s game. The big money they pay to hunt - sometimes as much as $60,000 for a single trip - has given African officials tangible reason to prosecute poachers and manage their animal herds.
The once decimated “African animal population is up 50 times because of hunting,” says the man with the cut-rate kudu. “It doesn’t appeal to everyone, but hunting is very exciting.”
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color Photo