Harvesting Ivory in South Dakota

My husband collects teeth. Not just anybody’s teeth, but elk teeth. He doesn’t do anything with them he just likes keeping them and will get them out occasionally to show the kids, relatives, friends, or just look them over.

Elk hunters know what I’m talking about and probably do the same thing. My dad inlaid his ivories into the stock of his hunting rifle.

Unless you’re an avid big game hunter, you may not know that elk have ivory teeth. Both bull and cow elk have two ivory teeth that a hunter can extract once he’s harvested his elk.

Elk ivories are sought after almost as much as the horns on a bull elk—almost. Each set of teeth is unique in color and shape. My husband keeps his all thrown together in an old candy tin.

Amazingly, he can dump the tin out and match up every set of elk ivory teeth.

Younger elk have more ivory because their teeth aren’t as worn down and are whiter in color.

Older elk teeth are worn down more and have a flattened shape. With the older elk, the centers of their ivories are darker brown and have rings similar to an agate’s.

My husband had 19 pairs of ivory teeth but gave a set to each of his two sisters so they could have jewelry made from them.

Jewelry such as rings and pendants can be made from elk ivories and actually looks really pretty when this part is taken off.

Sometime I’ll dig out my elk ivory jewelry and show you what I had done with the ivories from the bull I shot. When you see my jewelry, you’ll be able to tell if my bull was young or old. I like having a set of elk horns hanging in the shop to show off but I get a lot more use out of wearing my elk ivory jewelry and it’s easier to show off when I’m away from home.

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About ranchwifeslant

Amy writes a humor column based on rural living and ranch life from the southern Black Hills of South Dakota. She and her husband raise their two kids on a fourth generation cow/calf operation near Pringle; the Elk Capital of South Dakota.
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