Colossal caribou: Historical society receives gift from hunter

May 4—Lary Smock's recent donation to the Crawford County Historical Society has left a massive void in his home, but it's one that Smock is happy to grow accustomed to.

He'll no longer have the same memorable encounters on a daily basis, but now generations of Crawford County residents and visitors will have a chance to come face to snout with a piece of natural history.

They may need a footstool for a literal face-to-snout encounter, but even without one, the sight is impressive: A neck-mounted Quebec-Labrador caribou trophy that is among the largest of its kind ever recorded.

"It takes up a big chunk of the fireplace, but it's a high ceiling," Smock noted of the trophy's new location in the microfilm and newspaper room of the society's Tarr Mansion headquarters at the northeastern corner of Diamond Park. "It looks real good."

An unexpected encounter with the imposing Arctic member of the deer family as one enters from the lobby can be disconcerting. The caribou head is immediately to the right and above, jutting out several feet from the wall, but what truly induces double-takes are the antlers that reach skyward from the head.

So large and developed as to appear almost cartoonish, the antlers don't quite reach the 12-foot ceiling, but the sight gives the impression that with an easy flick of his neck, the caribou could leave his mark on the plaster if he needed to.

The slender main beams on either side extend upward, ending with a threatening blossom of pointy tines. In between are enormous frontal and brow tines. The palmated frontal tines — colloquially referred to as a "double shovel" formation — extend above and around palmated brow tines known as "double bez." The elaborate headgear likely caught the eyes of fellow caribou as much as it does human spectators and certainly provided more than enough shade for the bull during the late summer months in his northern Quebec home just before the annual migration and rutting season.

The caribou was harvested amid one of those migrations by Smock's father, Robert Smock, on Sept. 16, 1986, during an expedition to Pons River, Canada, about 750 miles north of Montreal.

Shortly after it was eventually returned to the family's Crawford County home, Robert Smock put the trophy in the back of a pickup truck with a camper shell and traveled to Harrisburg. There it was evaluated by experts from the Boone and Crockett Club, a hunting and conservation nonprofit founded in 1887 by Theodore Roosevelt and George Bird Grinnell.

Two plaques that accompany the mount in the Tarr Mansion display tell the results: The antlers' more than 40 points, impressive development and combination of lengthy main beam and imposing frontal and brow tines produced a score of 399 3/8.

The score was good enough for 15th on Boone and Crockett's all-time list when it was recorded. Today, it remains 104th on the list, according to Lary Smock. The all-time top-scoring rack from the Quebec-Labrador variety of caribou came from a bull shot in 1931 in Nain, Canada, about 275 miles east of Pons River on the Labrador coast. The antlers received a Boone and Crocket score of 474 6/8.

Robert Smock's prize fits in well with the mission of the historical society, according to Executive Director Josh Sherretts.

"The Historical Society is actively collecting artifacts that demonstrate the exciting moments and memories of Crawford County's past," Sherretts said. "Items like the caribou connect us through the stories that accompany them. We are pleased to be its perpetual home."

Lary, 63, grew up hunting with his father, who likewise grew up hunting in Crawford County with his father. Robert Smock was treasurer of the Meadville Sportsman's Club for 23 years, according to his 1987 obituary.

In addition to time spent in the woods of northwestern Pennsylvania, both men made trips to western states for big game hunting as well as Canada for black bear or big game. Lary wasn't with his father on the trip to Pons River but recalled hearing how a long flight to hunting camps in the wilderness area could be followed by days with no sightings of caribou. After some waiting, however, the hunters might see thousands passing by.

He also recalled the trophy hanging for years in the family home. More recently, it has occupied a place of prominence in his own home, though with much lower ceilings than the Tarr Mansion, the display didn't have quite the same impact, he said.

With family members having left the area, Lary Smock began wondering what to do with the long-time presence.

"What a nice place to leave it," he thought when he decided to give it to the historical society. "It can hang for quite a few years now."

The Crawford County Historical Society, 869 Diamond Park, is open from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday.

Mike Crowley can be reached at (814) 724-6370 or by email at