Jason Parrish, owner of 5 J’s Taxidermy and Elk Farm, loves to tell the story of how he traded an alcohol addiction for an antler addiction.
“I was in the taxidermy business, dabbling in it a little bit, but never fully got into it because my alcohol addiction dominated my life. It was all about me,” Parrish says. “As I got sober in the late ‘90s, my passion for hunting and archery escalated, and my addiction became antlers. Anything to do with antlers, I was all in and I wanted to be part of it. I have quite a collection.”
Over the span of almost two decades, with the help of his wife, Jane, and their three children, Parrish has dreamed big and created a successful business built around his interests. What started with taxidermy has evolved into an elk breeding operation and, most recently, handcrafted furniture made using — you guessed it — antlers.
Elk in Oklahoma
Parrish’s interest in elk began with a challenge.
“One day, four guys came into the taxidermy shop asking if I could mount an elk they killed at a hunting preserve,” he says. “I had never mounted an elk because they aren’t prevalent in Oklahoma. So as soon as they left, I said ‘We’re going hunting.’ So I killed an elk myself and mounted mine first so I’d know what I was doing.”
That experience sparked an interest in elk, and through a chance meeting with a breeder in 2002, Parrish ended up buying five cows and borrowing a bull — and he hadn’t built one foot of fence.
“So now I had a dream, and our horses went out the door and here came the elk,” he says.
Rising To The Top
For the first few years, Parrish learned the intricacies of the elk business and practiced husbandry basics.
“We raised some really nice elk and raised some money,” he says. “But then I started very aggressively learning the industry, and I got to know everybody that was raising big bulls at the time. I took my time, listened a lot and learned all I could.”
When an opportunity to buy some elk with prime genetics arose, Parrish was ready.
“We upgraded to some of the best genetics in the country,” he says, “and now I’d say we are one of the top three elk breeders in North America.”
The No. 1 quality for which elk are bred is the size, or score, of their antlers. The way to achieve better and better antler scores is selective breeding, which takes time and commitment, Parrish says. Currently, Parrish’s cows produce calves that consistently grow up to score in the 500- to 600-inch range, which is well above average. Most of Parrish’s bulls are sold to hunting preserves, while cows that aren’t kept for his breeding stock are sold to other breeders.
“We always breed up,” Parrish says. “The calf that comes out of that mother is better than what she is. We just look through the genetics and decide which cows are producing the best bulls. It takes years to get a program like this put together.”
After years of stockpiling antlers, Parrish finally realized he had collected enough. It was time to get rid of a few.
“I guess I finally got to a point where I’ve satisfied my antler addiction,” Parrish says. “So we started making furniture and selling it. We incorporate antlers into tables, chandeliers, lamps, knives, benches, toilet paper holders, curtain rods — pretty much any type of décor you could imagine.”
For some customers, using antlers as décor is a compromise of sorts.
“I had one guy who brought me eight of his deer mounts that I mounted for him, and he asked me to cut the horns off and make a chandelier,” Parrish says. “When I asked him why in the world he would want to do that, he said, “Well, my wife isn’t going to let me hang my mounts up, so this will have to do.”
Regardless of the reason, antler décor is becoming more popular, and Parrish has enough material to keep him in business for a long while.