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Big-game legend coming to outdoors show

With a trophy Kuban tur sheep lashed to his pack horse and some sustenance finally in his belly, Pete Serafin thought the tough part of his venture into Russia's Caucasus Mountains was all but over.

As his horse picked his way along a rocky trail hugging a 300-foot cliff, all hell broke loose.

A spooked pack horse broke free from the group and bucked into Serafin. The force of its hooves slamming into Serafin's elbow and jaw catapulted him from the saddle, leaving him dangling over the cliff like a wind chime anchored only by his right ankle tangled in a stirrup.

"I was eyeing that abyss all along, and I knew I was in for it when I got kicked out of that saddle," Serafin says. "I knew I was near death and I was hurting so bad. All I thought was that I could hold my breath a couple minutes and it would all be over. But I fought through that."

What better way to celebrate his 80th birthday.

Serafin's 1994 trip to bag one of the world's rare bighorn sheep is just a snippet from a lifetime spent hop-scotching the globe on epic hunts for some of the world's most exotic big-game animals, from rare rhinoceros to Serafin's beloved bighorn sheep.

"I'm a sheep hunter," says Serafin, sitting in his Roseburg home that is a veritable hunting shrine.

"I have 18 varieties of sheep," he says. "Twelve species is the World Super Slam. I have a Super Slam and a half."

After more than eight decades of following his "itchy feet" to hunts on six continents, Serafin is sharing his quarry with Oregon.

Some of Serafin's most exotic mounts and hunting relics headline this year's Jackson County Sportsmen's and Outdoor Recreation Show that runs Friday through Sunday at the Jackson County Expo grounds in Central Point.

It is the first public tour created from Serafin's collection of 320 individual animals from 180 different species that Serafin has shot since age 10, when he first aimed a rifle at a deer outside of the Coos County logging town of Powers.

Many of the mounts came with near-death experiences for Serafin, usually involving Serafin defying the elements at ages when lesser men are spending theirs nights in Barcaloungers.

"I've never really thought about my age," says Serafin, 92. "I like the challenges. And I can keep up with any man anywhere in the world."

The results of these challenges emblazon a 50-foot-long display that already has dropped jaws in two cities before reaching Medford.

The highlight is a Marco Polo ram — a now-endangered sheep named after the explorer who first noted them in 1271. Serafin shot his ram in Afghanistan in 1972, at 19,000-foot elevation, during a hunt Serafin still considers the toughest of his lifetime.

At the time, it was a world record — and the first entered into the Safari Club International book — with horns eclipsing 60 inches.

Also in the display is a 10-foot-tall grizzly bear shot on Kodiak Island, one of several African lions Serafin has killed, an African leopard, an Asian musk ox, and even a black rhinoceros that would now be illegal to hunt.

Artifacts include a 1700's-era musket and powder bags, and the Klineberger Hunter of the World trophy won in 1980 by Serafin, who is a former Roseburg mayor and developer.

Serafin will greet visitors at the end of the exhibit, happy to talk hunting and sign copies of "Itchy Feet," a new book about his hunting escapades.

At the show's previous stops in Eugene and Roseburg, visitors treated the display like a shrine.

"You should see the reverence people are showing it," says Joe Pate, the show's producer. "They line up and walk by, and they don't talk. They don't speak until they talk with Pete."

At the end of the procession sits Serafin, coaxed into the spotlight.

"Very few people have an opportunity to see anything like this," Serafin says. "And here I am sitting in the middle of it, and I'm enjoying it."

Serafin certainly wasn't enjoying that 80th birthday moment dangling by his ankle over that rocky Russian precipice. As with all his other adventures, fate failed to claim Serafin that day.

His foot happened to be in an oversized shoe — borrowed to replace a pair of boots lost in transit — and stuffed with grass to make them fit. Serafin hung unconscious until a Russian guide pulled his horse off the edge and rescued Serafin, who popped his dislocated jaw into place and made his way to civilization.

A torn rotator cuff still offers reminders of that octogenarian adventure.

"I've always been pretty tough," Serafin says. "A few times, I've pushed myself to the edge before I realized it.

"But I've had almost no broken bones," he says. "And I'm still here."

Reach reporter Mark Freeman at 776-4470, or e-mail mfreeman@mailtribune.com.

Pete Serafin of Roseburg poses during a bighorn sheep hunt in Alaska in 1975.