A jackrabbit with antelope horns, the fabled jackalope has captivated the American West since the 1930s — but is this animal actually real?
Half-antelope, half-jackrabbit, the enigmatic jackalope darts through stories of American folklore. The creature is purported to have the body of a rabbit and the horns of an antelope. Legend states that this horned rabbit is elusive, powerful, and able to carry a tune.
But where did the jackalope legend come from? While some maintain that the creature does exist, most acknowledge that the legend of the jackalope started with two brothers in Wyoming. Over the years, it’s become one of the state’s most beloved mythical creatures.
What Is A Jackalope?
As the legend goes, jackalopes are jackrabbits with the horns of an antelope. But they’re also much more than that.
For starters, these horned rabbits are powerful — and so fast that they’re almost impossible to catch. But anyone who does catch a jackalope should use caution. One Wyoming “expert” suggested that hunters wear stovepipes on their legs. Otherwise, they risk getting kicked, clawed, and gored by a rabbit with antlers.
The jackalope does have one weakness, however: whiskey. Anyone hoping to catch a jackalope should leave the spirit out for them to find. Jackalopes love whiskey and, once intoxicated, they become easier to catch.
Not only are jackalopes fast and powerful — with good taste in liquor — but legend states that they’re also highly intelligent. They can understand human speech, and even mimic it. The creatures like to sit near campfires and startle humans by singing back their campfire songs.
As if strength, speed, and intelligence weren’t enough, female jackalopes are also purported to produce powerful milk. Their milk has medicinal and aphrodisiac properties. Interested parties can find the milk in some Wyoming supermarkets — although The New York Times doubts its authenticity. “Everyone knows how dangerous it is to milk a jackalope.”
But if the jackalope is so powerful, why aren’t they all over the United States? Believers claim it’s because they have limited mating windows.
They only mate during lightning storms.
Are Jackalopes Real?
The answer to the question “Are jackalopes real?” is hotly debated. But most acknowledge that the creature came from the mind of a Wyomingite named Douglas Herrick.
As the story goes, Herrick came up with the creature after a successful hunting trip with his brother Ralph in 1932. When they got home, the Herrick brothers tossed their trophies on the ground — and then something incredible happened.
“We just throwed the dead jack rabbit in the shop when we come in and it slid on the floor right up against a pair of deer horns we had in there,” Ralph recalled. “It looked like that rabbit had horns on it.”
He remembered that his brother’s eyes lit up. Douglas Herrick exclaimed, “Let’s mount that thing!”
Before long, Wyomingites grew to adore the rabbit with antlers. Herrick sold his first mounted jackalope to the owner of the La Bonte Hotel in Douglas, Wyoming, where it remained proudly on the wall until a thief snatched it in 1977. Meanwhile, the Herrick family cranked out tens of thousands more for eager buyers.
“Lately I can’t make ’em fast enough,” Ralph Herrick told The New York Times in 1977.
Because of this, Douglas Herrick is generally acknowledged as the brains behind the jackalope. But others insist that the creature existed long before the 1930s.
One tale claims that a fur-trapper spotted a jackalope in Wyoming in 1829. Others point to the fact that the Buddha briefly discussed horned rabbits — although it’s important to note that he did so to deny their existence. And perhaps the oldest sighting of a jackalope comes from a 16th-century painting.
However, scientists believe that some of these early “sightings” might have been of something quite different. They suspect that people who saw a rabbit with antlers actually saw creatures affected by Shoppe papilloma, a type of cancer that causes horn-like bumps to grow from an animal’s head.
Wyoming’s Favorite Mythical Animal
Ever since Douglas Herrick came up with the jackalope in 1932, his hometown of Douglas, Wyoming has embraced the creature as its own.
Not only does the town have at least two jackalope statues, but the creature also appears across the city — everywhere from park benches to fire trucks. Douglas has also posted signs reading: “Watch out for the jackalope.”
After all, they are purported to be quite fierce.
Unsurprisingly, Douglas’s embrace of this rabbit with antlers confuses some tourists. Ralph Herrick remembered one time when a California tourist asked for tips about hunting the creatures and spoke earnestly about his desire to start breeding jackalopes.
“I told him that they shed their antlers that time of the year, and you can only hunt them during the winter,” Herrick said. “Luckily, he hasn’t been back.”
Any tourist that wants to try their hand at catching a jackalope needs a license, of course. Fortunately, the Chamber of Commerce in Douglas issues official jackalope hunting licenses. But they’re only good for two hours on June 31 — a day that does not exist. And applicants must have an IQ between 50 and 72.
However, Wyoming is the right place to go for jackalope hunters. In 1985, Wyoming Governor Ed Herschler designated Wyoming the jackalope’s official stamping grounds.
Despite the state’s love for the creature, there’s one thing legislators can’t agree on. For years, lawmen have tried to make the jackalope the official mythological creature of Wyoming.
The legislation was first introduced in 2005 by Dave Edwards. But it failed to pass. In 2013, lawmakers tried again — with the same results. And yet again in 2015, the push to recognize the jackalope as Wyoming’s official mythological creature fizzled into nothing.
Legislators haven’t given up, however. “I’ll keep bringing it back until it passes,” said co-sponsor of the bill, Dan Zwonitzer.
Does the jackalope exist? In the end, the belief in cryptids — like Bigfoot, the jackalope, or the Loch Ness monster — is in the eye of the beholder.