EDEN — Visitors to Walt Prothero’s house are immediately greeted by a smorgasbord of North American mammals — the heads of moose, deer, elk and mountain goats cover the walls of the room just inside the front door.
One room over, the decor takes on a distinct African theme. Zebra skins, elephant tusks and a crocodile skin lie on the floor. An African lion stands, baring its teeth. The walls are covered with the heads of a warthog and various types of exotic sheep and antelope.
Yet another room is adorned with animals from around the world: A snow sheep from Siberia, a Persian gazelle from Iran, four varieties of ibex from Spain, and even a polar bear from the Arctic.
Over the course of more than five decades spent hunting around the globe, Prothero has amassed the largest private collection of big game trophies in Utah — about 150 different animals in all, representing dozens of species from far-flung corners of the world: Mexico, Mongolia, Namibia, to name just a few.
Prothero, who teaches biology and English courses at Weber State University, has been into hunting ever since picking up a BB gun at age six. His first serious outings were in Arizona and Mexico, where he bagged his first whitetail deer and cougar.
“I’ve just always had an innate desire to hunt,” he said. “It’s a good excuse for traveling and seeing new places.”
He started taking his trophies to a taxidermist when that practice became popular starting in the 1970s, and the result is essentially a museum of the world’s big game mammals that is still growing. While some were taken close to home, such as a desert bighorn sheep from Southern Utah, most of his excursions take him overseas.
Prothero has gradually built his collection in the log cabin home he also built, which is often heated using wood he chops on a near-daily basis.
He hunts with friends occasionally, but it’s usually just him, his partner of 26 years, Cheri (who is also an avid and proficient hunter), and guides who know the area and the local rules.
He has experienced plenty of challenges and close calls over the years. He’s been charged by cape buffalo, elephants and grizzly bears. On his two-week polar bear hunt, the temperature never climbed higher than 31 degrees below zero. The lion he bagged had to be tracked and stalked for three and a half weeks.
There have been human-related challenges as well. He was once thrown into a Siberian jail by officials who thought his passport was a fake, and on a 2008 trip to Russia — which was in the midst of war with the republic of Georgia at the time — he was escorted to a military base and interrogated by KGB agents.
“I usually don’t have too many problems, but it’s always possible,” he said.
Whenever he can, Prothero plans his trips in ways that will benefit the local residents of the places where he hunts. The lion he shot had been killing a local tribe’s cattle, and his elephant was already targeted for elimination after it went rogue and was trampling crops.
“The government was going to shoot it anyway,” he said. “Instead, I paid $10,000 for the tag, and that money went to the local people.”
The $25,000 he paid for his polar bear tag went to a local Inuit village.
He said his favorite place to hunt is in the various countries of central Asia — places like Mongolia, Siberia, and the republics of the former Soviet Union. He avoids places like South America because most of the big game species found there are not native to the continent.
“I’m kind of a zoological chauvinist,” he said. “I like to hunt where the animals are native to the area.”
In addition to being a professor and avid hunter, Prothero is also a prolific writer, and his travels have given him plenty to write about. He has written hundreds of magazine articles, eight books (he’s currently working on his ninth), and has been an editor at such popular publications as Field & Stream and Outdoor Life.
His overseas trips can be expensive, running into the $50,000 to $60,000 range in some cases. Income from writing supplements his university salary, and Cheri also works.
“We don’t have kids to pay for, so we’re able to make it work,” he said.
While it wasn’t something he set out to do specifically, Prothero has accomplished something that only 150 other hunters worldwide have been able to achieve: The Triple Slam, a distinction recognizing those who have successfully hunted the four species of wild sheep in North America; the 12 species of wild sheep in the world; and all 12 species of wild goats on the planet.
Most who achieve the Triple Slam are multi-millionaires or billionaires, he said.
“I just incidentally got it over the course of wandering around,” he said.
While he has achieved just about everything he ever set out to do as a hunter, Prothero said he has no plans to stop anytime soon. He’s getting ready for a trip this month to Slovenia and Hungary in pursuit of red stag and chamois.
“All the things I wanted decades ago I’ve gotten now,” he said. “I don’t have any real specific goals left, but this is something I’ll never stop doing.”