All the usual suspects – rifles, pistols, shotguns, – were featured at Whitehorse’s fifth annual Summer Gun and Hobby Show, held last Saturday at the Gold Rush Inn.
There were also some displays you might not expect – the assorted swords and bayonets, the large piles of sheep hides, the enormous compound bow that the uninitiated might mistake for something from a sci-fi movie.
And on a smallish table in the back corner, a very imposing warthog head glared up at the ceiling in hairy indignation. Beside it lay a full black bear pelt, its jaws open wide in a snarl. Two small piles of elephant dung, encased in plastic, sat on either end of the table for no apparent reason.
“I’m the only person in the Yukon territory with elephant dung,” said Neil Cross, by way of explanation.
“I’m an unusual person,” he added.
These treasures are mementos from a safari Cross went on in Zambia in 1986, where he hunted lion, leopard, buffalo… and warthog. He said he’d left his other trophies at home, including the full leopard mount in his garage.
“I don’t know what to do with them anymore,” he said.
Despite appearances, Cross doesn’t consider himself a trophy hunter. He’s been hunting since the age of 15 – as a boy growing up in England, he used to shoot rabbits with a pellet gun for a bit of extra meat.
He’s hunted bear and sheep since he moved to the Yukon 30 years ago, but these days, he’s partial to moose. He said hunting, for him, is as much about the meat as the trophy.
“The easiest thing is to pull the trigger,” he said. “The hardest thing is when you put the gun down and you have to take your knife out and clean everything up and pack it out wherever you have to go. That’s a hard job.”
For Cross, hunting is only half the equation. For as long as he’s been hunting, he’s been collecting guns, too. At Saturday’s show, he had about a dozen rifles on display, several of them made by British manufacturer Westley Richards in the early 1900s.
He also had a few Winchesters, “all over 100, 110 years old,” he said.
His prized piece, a new custom-made Westley Richards rifle worth $120,000, sat gleaming in its oaken leather case beside the warthog.
These are not guns to be used for hunting, though Cross insisted they would all work well. These are collectors’ items, the product of a lifetime of buying, trading, and selling.
And Cross wasn’t the only person at the show who’d come to show off an impressive collection.
In a back room, Len Andre’s collection of historical weaponry stretched the full length of one wall. He’d used small swastikas to label German pistols from the Second World War, and a hammer and sickle to mark hefty Red Army rifles.
He had a number of World War I weapons, too, including a ceremonial sword – not to mention row upon row of sharp bayonets.
The display represents 20 years of collecting, Andre said.
“And I don’t want to say how much money, because my wife might find out,” he added. “I always say it’s a disease, it’s not really a hobby. Because you can’t seem to stop once you get into it.”
Andre gets most of his pieces in Whitehorse, by word of mouth. To maintain them, he said, he just sprays them with WD-40 a couple of times a year to keep the rust off.
“The biggest enemy of guns is rust and politicians,” he joked.
Andre’s not a hunter. He does shoot his guns during historic military rifle shoots at the gun range, where every participant has to use a gun made before 1957. But that’s just for fun -“none of these things will shoot worth a damn as far as accuracy is concerned,” he said.
More than anything, it’s the history of the guns that appeals to him.
“My dad was in the Second World War,” he explained. “This is all a walk through history.”
But not everyone who came to the show was interested in the collector items. Bastien Ipas came to the show for a replacement barrel for his hunting rifle.
“I’m looking for something for everyday use, to go outside, something that can be weather-resistant,” he said. “I’m not looking for something nice or fancy.”
Organizer Donovan Dewis said most people who come to the show, like Ipas, are looking to buy something they can use.
“There’s not a lot of choices in the stores in Whitehorse,” he said. “When you come here, those guys probably look at guns that they see only once a year.”
Dewis said this year’s displays came from as far afield as Vancouver and Calgary, and sales seemed to be going well.
“From what I understand, anybody who’s selling has sold at least something off their table today,” he said.
Back by the warthog, Cross said he wasn’t expecting to sell much. When you’re asking for many thousands of dollars for a rifle, Whitehorse isn’t the best place to be.
But he seemed to enjoy the slightly awed expressions on the faces of people passing by his table. For him, guns are more than just tools – they’re things of beauty, too.
“If you’re a true gun collector… it’s like a Picasso painting,” he said. “They’re a work of art.”
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