Big-game hunter Mickey McKenzie has brought home trophy elk, deer, bison and other exotic animal mounts from around the world to turn a portion of his Sulphur Springs residence into a virtual wildlife museum. He opens the display to various youth organizations, such as the Boys & Girls Club of Sulphur Springs, pictured above, providing an educational resource and wildlife experience that's up close and personal.
Staff Photos By Angela Pitts
King of the Jungle
Mickey McKenzie's big-game hunts around the world let him assemble a virtual wildlife museum to make any sportsman jealous
By PATTI SELLS, News-Telegram Feature Writer
August 25, 2008 - Area youths get to take a walk on the wild side thanks to big game hunter and longtime Hopkins County resident Michael "Mickey" McKenzie, who brings home trophy elk, deer, bison and other exotic animal mounts from around the world, creating a wildlife museum any sportsman would be impressed with.
"These are my souvenirs," said McKenzie with a big smile on his face. "Rather than T-shirts, these are what I bring home."
McKenzie's hunts have taken him from the safaris of Africa to the mountainous and coastal plains of New Zealand, the Amazon rain forest, the frozen tundra of Alaska and the Arctic.
An entire room is set aside for mementos from McKenzie's African adventures. "Every one of them has a different story. They're all exciting,"?he says.
"The most enjoyable thing about having something like this is being able to share it with people," said McKenzie of the private collection housed in his Sulphur Springs home.
McKenzie, chairman and chief executive officer of GSC Enterprises, Inc. since 1993, is also on the board of directors for the Boys & Girls Club of Sulphur Springs. He feels his exhibits provide an educational resource and wildlife experience for young people in the community.
"Some of these kids will never go to Africa or these other countries. Some of them may never have even been to the zoo," said McKenzie, explaining why he opens his doors to various youth-oriented organizations.
The life-sized mounts, textures and suspended action of the creatures provide an up-close experience for the youngsters in a private atmosphere where they can really connect and ask questions, according to McKenzie.
New Zealand red stag, elk, South Pacific water buffalo, boar, dingo and kangaroo from Australia all adorn the walls of his country home, along with an alligator from Central Florida, a mountain lion from British Columbia, caribou from Alaska, moose from Wyoming and even a rare Pre David's deer from England.
"This used to be my garage, but after I brought my first couple of mounts home, I took one of Barbara's pictures down from over the mantel and thought 'that looks real good.'" I could tell real quick by the look on her face that I was going to have to have my own room," he laughed.
He added 10 feet of new space to the already three-car garage, plus cathedral ceilings.
"I thought that was all I would need," he recalled. "It filled up so quick."
The avid hunter added another entire room set aside exclusively for mementos from his African adventures.
Rhino, hippo, cape buffalo, an elephant and 17-foot giraffe occupy this space, as well as a lion, leopard and many other exotics from his nine safari encounters.
Every one of these animals has its story, according to McKenzie.
"You remember them. You remember what time of day it was, who you were with, what the circumstances were, the weather conditions," he explained. "Every one of them has a different story. They're all exciting."
One of his most dangerous hunts was for the rhinoceros. Rather than shooting the animal with a rifle, he chose to use a dart gun, not realizing the close proximity needed to make such a shot.
"I was 15 to 20 yards away. That's close. And they are really smart, mean animals," he said. "They can all be dangerous if you're not careful."
Another bone chilling experience came in a very different setting from the dry heat of the desert -- the hunt for a polar bear in the Arctic tundra.
"Temperature on a warm day is 15 below. A cold day is 45 or 50 below. You dress for it, but it's still very, very cold," recalled McKenzie, who said he was lucky enough to get an Arctic fox on that same trip.
Nowadays, luck or no luck, McKenzie said what draws him to the sport is his love for the great outdoors.
"I can go hunting now, and whether I have any luck or not, I just love and enjoy being away from telephones and fax machines and computers," he admitted. "Hunting is just so much more relaxing than sitting behind a desk."
His lack of a hobby is what prompted him to begin the sport of big game hunting in 1990.
"All I'd ever done was work," explained McKenzie, originally from Houston, coming to Hopkins County just after college. "I didn't have a hobby. I didn't play golf. I didn't do anything like that."
Constantly hearing the hunting and fishing adventures of his colleagues while on business trips in San Antonio, he finally expressed his interest to participate.
"That's all it took -- one trip to the Hill Country. I got me an Axis deer and a Corsican ram.
"That just did it right there," he said with emphasis.
White tail deer from different places, brown bear, beaver and birds of many species can be found in his humble abode.
Fishing has him hooked, too. The ones that didn't get away are forever immortalized on his walls, which have little space remaining.
"There are so many places I would still like to go," said McKenzie. "So many in the world think everything is endangered, but it's not. Anybody who likes to hunt and enjoys hunting wants to see the animals survive more than anybody else -- for the next generation."
While poaching is undoubtedly a major problem for some countries, McKenzie stressed that animals are a natural resource and commodity for the ones that police and regulate the sport of hunting.
"In countries where you hunt, including the United States, they know what the animal population is within a broad range," he explained. "They never will let it get to the point where hunting actually hurts the population."
He said countries that are interested in the future of wildlife recognize what a viable source of income hunting can be and protect the animals and keep game counts, allowing a certain number to be harvested each year.
"And that can mean a lot of money to a country," said McKenzie. "With game counts and policing, animals can provide a valuable resource that returns year after year. They don't have to water it, they don't have to feed it, they don't have to fertilize it -- they don't have to do anything but protect it."
And according to McKenzie, for every dollar spent -- whether on a piece of equipment such as a rifle or a tent -- a portion of the proceeds goes into conservation.
He said the same goes for money spent on an organized hunt, also.
"The real conservationist are the ones who put the most money into it all over the world -- and that is the hunter," McKenzie emphasized. "The worst enemy of both animals and hunters is the poacher. Whether it be a white tail deer from the highway or somebody else's property, to illegal animals in Africa, poaching is intolerable. Nothing I have ever killed has been illegal. That's one thing that real hunters and sportsmen understand. They want to stay within the legal limits."