DOUGLAS - He's an elusive critter, wily and sometimes meaner than a snake.
If you ask an expert - and there are few to be found - he'll caution you to take extra care around these horned rabbits.
The jackalope likes full moons, whiskey and playing nasty tricks on people. And if you're hunting one, be sure to wear stove pipes on the legs, said Mike James, owner of Slick's Sporting Goods and an expert himself. Otherwise, you're sure to be gored.
The legends surrounding this critter are as thick as a jackalope's fur, but as fun as the whimsical caricature of a jack rabbit with antelope horns. Now, a particularly hilarious movie brings those legends and more to life with a cast of characters as rich as the jackalope's storied past.
Executive producer Dustin Carpenter and his film crew managed to pin down the jackalope for a feature-length exploration of the legendary creature's habits, history and future. That film, "Stag Bunny," which debuted in Casper earlier this year, shows in Douglas this weekend, with all the pomp and ceremony expected in the official Home of the Jackalope.
Fresh out of school with degrees in film and computer animation, Carpenter was weeding through ideas for an animation reel to help land a job in the computer graphics industry. Passing through Douglas with his mom, Sara Osborne, they spotted a jackalope keeping careful watch over its terrain, high above Interstate 25.
Why not make a film about the jackalope, his mom suggested. "Things just kind of spiraled out of control from there," Carpenter chuckled.
He rounded up a host of friends from his film school days, all eager to have a part in bringing the mythical critter to life on the screen.
Using animation programs to bring the fabled jackalope to life, the film crew stitched together a low- to no-budget movie about a bloodthirsty documentarian, Garvis Thurston (played by Troy Howe), who's on a mission to spur his career forward by tracking down the jackalope. That's where things start to parallel real life - many folks in Douglas know film crews come every few years to track down the mythological beast.
The movie started as a forum to poke fun at documentaries, but eventually took on a life of its own.
"The cool thing about the film is we originally intended to set out making a 'mockumentary' about the documentary genre," Carpenter said. "What's really fascinating is we came out with a combination of a documentary and a mockumentary both."
Carpenter and his crew started with a slim script, maybe 10 pages, covering the beginnings of the film and setting the stage for the real and fictional interviews that would follow. Even that little bit of pen-on-paper direction was lost before long after a traditional Wyoming wind scattered it as filming began at the remnants of a homestead site on the Middleton Ranch outside Douglas.
While the lead actor worked his lines, the scripts were nestled on the ground near the camera gear, secured with a lightweight roll of masking tape. "Sure enough, there's this little burst of wind that takes the script and just rips it up," Carpenter said ruefully. Yes, they caught those scraps on film, fluttering skyward in Wyoming's unpredictable wind.
Another adventure - ripe for the film crew to ad-lib on camera - happened at the LaBonte Hotel here. Waiting for the tape to roll, the cast and crew settled at the bar. Soon, smoke seeped - then billowed - from the vents. The fire department pulled up, lights flashing, and the film crew was delighted to find little jackalope emblems on the doors, a hallmark of city services and great material for the reels.
James, owner of Slick's Sporting Goods, was among those interviewed. His shop is home to the only known jackalope living in captivity. City Administrator Bobbe Fitzhugh put in her plug for the community, elaborating on the value of such a brand - Douglas is Home of the Jackalope - in selling a city. The chamber of commerce has jackalope hunting licenses, a larger-than-life version sits at the town park, and its likeness appears on city benches.
"All of the people we interviewed were really great about it," Carpenter said. "They played along with the whole idea that the jackalope was real. It kind of pushed Troy into pulling it across with his character that he really, 100 percent believed in this creature."
Carpenter even nailed a paleontologist revealing on record the jackalope's disputed history and a fossil record. "All of us are sitting behind the camera, and we're trying so hard not to laugh," he recalled.
After Douglas' run, Carpenter and company want to run the reel at film festivals from California to Florida and Berlin - the jack's historical record indicates origins in the forests of Germany.
"It's a little bit hard to get into some of those," Carpenter said. "I'm sure we'll be getting our share of rejection letters, but we'll give it a try."
It should be worth the effort: They've got a story to tell as incredible as, well, the mythical jackalope.