Nestled in the downstairs of a former vet’s office is a unique piece of Hillsboro history. Jeff and Tara Beery currently possess a large collection of exotic taxidermy animals from around the world. They come from the late Karl Freed, a big game hunter and former owner of Hillsboro Home Improvements.
Freed was an unique character with a number of unusual hobbies, including hunting exotic animals. He was also a successful athlete, once landing third place in the world at couple’s figure skating. A portrait of him and his partner in costume next to a pair of black skates sits downstairs among dozens of mounted animals.
Among Freed’s possessions are animals of all shapes and sizes. Some of them are mounted on the wall, like the head of a massive Pacific walrus from Alaska. Some have been fashioned into rugs, like a rare jaguar from British Honduras. Some of them are animals rarely seen, like the now endangered saiga antelope and its strangely sloped nose. All of them have a story, and they’ve all been immortalized by meticulous taxidermy and preservation. A map hanging on the wall is filled with tiny pins pointing to the location of each hunt. Nearly every continent is speckled with dots.
While many of the animals are relatively peaceful grazers like deer, antelope and sheep, others are much more dangerous to hunt. African buffaloes are considered some of the most deadly wild animals, but that didn’t seem to defer Freed — the head of two are prominently displayed in his collection. An elephant, a jackal, several bears, and a moose are just some of the animals he successfully hunted.
But the true gem of the collection has to be the towering big cat in the center of the “Africa room.” The massive African lion is positioned in a way that looks as if he is reared up and ready for attack, his mouth agape in a silent roar. Standing just below the beast’s outstretched paws only intensified the story Jeff and Tara Beery shared.
Freed was able to obtain a permit to hunt an African lion, something he had long dreamed of doing. With the help of a guide and a local tracker, his team of hunters located a lion in tall grass and decided it was to be their target. Members of the posse swept through the grasses to flush out the creature so Freed could shoot it down.
“The lion comes out of the grass like a freight train, right towards the tracker,” Jeff Beery said. “He shoulders his gun and looks through his scope of his .7-mm rifle… but the sun is so bright, he can’t see a thing. So the tracker shoots once, but the lion just keeps on coming. He shoots twice, but the lion keeps coming. He hits him… and bites right on the shoulder and starts death-shaking him back and forth.”
Luckily for the tracker, this particular lion was an older male and had lost two of his canine teeth. Instead of tearing, the lion’s teeth were stuck in the tracker, pivoting but unable to inflict too much serious damage.
“He’s an old male who used to run a pride,” Jeff Beery said. “He’s never hunted, because the lady lions do the hunting. So these are the ones that are typically man-eaters. They either starve or they have to start eating people.”
Freed was able to steady his gun and shoot the lion straight through the heart, saving the tracker. Two days later, they completed the journey to get the injured tracker medical attention, and Freed was able to go home without harm and with a lion carcass in tow.
“But here’s the kicker,” Tara Beery said, before Jeff Beery took over and explained that once the tracker had healed, Freed asked him why the lion didn’t fall after it was seemingly shot twice.
The tracker’s response? “I wouldn’t want to ruin your mount, so I shot over his head,” Jeff Beery said.
“Now that’s dedication,” he laughed.
Isabella Warner is a stringer for The Times-Gazette.