Lions and tigers and dik-diks
Offbeat museum of exotic animals hidden inside Oroville sporting-goods store
If I were writing a book called Offbeat Oroville, Huntington’s Sportsman’s Store would be a must-include.
As a “sportsman’s store,” Huntington’s is filled with what you might expect—brand-new rifles, handguns, rugged Carhartt clothing, camouflage jackets, fishing gear, elk and moose bags, ammunition, hip waders and Browning-brand caps.
But—and here’s where things go offbeat—the large store’s walls are also jam-packed with exotic, taxidermied game, all the way back to the rear area of the shop, which is dubbed the “C. F. Huntington Museum,” named after the grandfather of co-owners Buzz Huntington and his brother Fred Huntington Jr.
Javelina and warthog heads and South African duikers and dik-diks share space with elephant tusks and gazelle, zebra, hyena, eland, gemsbok, rhinoceros and water buffalo heads. There’s also an entire black-maned lion, shot and killed by the late Fred Huntington Sr., while on safari in Zambia in 1968. There’s even a stuffed bald eagle, perched on a branch, killed in Alaska in 1947, when it was still legal to do so.
Huntington’s is a place where “impala” has nothing to do with cars and a “chamois” is a goat-antelope, not a polishing cloth.
Recently, 67-year-old Buzz Huntington was kind enough to take an hour out of his work day to take me and my 8-year-old daughter on a tour of the museum part of his store.
“I’m an exotic hunter,” offered Huntington. “My brother is a North American hunter. I’ve hunted all over the world. A lot of the collection here was collected by my father.”
The amiable—and fittingly named—Huntington has been hunting since he was “probably 13, 14.” He shot his first deer at age 15, and started hunting exotic game when he was invited by a friend to go on a hunting trip to Africa when he was 24. He’s been on 10 hunting trips to Africa, most recently to Namibia in 2006. “When you go to Africa, it’s hard not to go back.”
Interestingly, Huntington never went hunting in Africa with his father—an avid gun collector, and hunter from the age of 10, who hunted all over the world, including in Iran before it was “closed down,” as Huntington put it.
“When hunting in exotic places, it’s not a good idea to take your whole family, because someone could end up dead,” is how Huntington explained dad’s reluctance to bring children along. “But he generally hunted in stable places.
“My father was a rhino shooter,” said Huntington, as we stood beneath a large, stuffed head of a black rhinoceros, killed—according to the plaque beneath it—in Kenya in 1971. “He loved that sort of stuff.”
Near the rhino head stands a whole bongo—not a drum, but a huge, antelope-like animal in a glass case, shot in the Sudan in 1977.
“Those are very, very hard to hunt,” advised Huntington. “They are very reclusive and extremely hard to see because they are in dense cover.”
Mixed in with the safari-type game are stuffed specimens of more locally acquired animals—mink, beaver, turkey, a dark-colored squirrel with a white tail from the Grand Canyon, and a river otter. The river otter was brought to Huntington after it was found dead after being trapped in a weir in a local rice field (he has the Department of Fish & Game’s permission to keep it), and the turkey, Huntington purported, is “the first turkey ever killed in Butte County,” in Bangor, in 1973.
The museum is also loaded with Native American artifacts, opium paraphernalia from Oroville’s old Chinatown, collections of old bottles, dolls, irons, bullet boxes and powder tins, old photographs (of Gen. Custer, and the prince of Iran on a hunting trip in Cody, Wyo., among others), and a massive collection of antique handguns and rifles, including a four-bore, double-barrel elephant gun from the 1890s and a case containing a pair of flintlock “dueling pistols,” from the 1830s or ’40s.
It may not be considered a politically correct place to visit by some, but sometimes the most interesting things aren’t—and a visit to Huntington’s is really, really interesting.