Along The Trail 3-21-13

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Last week, I touched on the topic of taxidermy and my main reasons for having an animal mounted and displayed in my home. With turkey season just around the corner and thoughts of the upcoming deer season, I thought I’d chime in with my ideas on choosing a taxidermist.

We as hunters and fisherman spend countless hours and more money than we’d like to admit on planning our trips, buying equipment, licenses, leases and on and on…

We schedule our time off and vacations around our favorite hobbies and pass times, but when our hunt or fishing trip is over and we’ve managed to take that special buck that we want to hang in the den or that big bass for the wall of the “man cave”, we casually flip through the phone book to find a taxidermist. Oftentimes, the taxidermy work is the most expensive part of the experience.

I’ve mentioned in the past that Switzerland County and our surrounding area is home to a handful of some very good taxidermists, any of which would be a good choice, but you still need to do you homework when it comes to choosing who is the right fit for you and your prize.

Remember, the finished product will hang in your home for years to come and each time you look at the mount, you want it to produce good memories, good thoughts to reflect on as well as paying tribute to the animal.

Here are some things to keep in mind when choosing your taxidermist. Taxidermy is an artform, but not all taxidermists are artists. Just like there are some painters that are better than others, the same hold true in the world of taxidermy. Understand that each taxidermist has their own set of eyes and each will see things a little differently.

Ask lots of questions to your perspective taxidermist and try to get a feel for how he or she sees things. Do they have a more stylized approach or do they stay true to the animal’s correct anatomy?

Here’s an example of what I mean:

A buck taken in the late fall will have a full winter coat and in life, you will not see muscle definition or a facial veins. A taxidermist who follows a stylized approach might add muscle folds to the skin and build up definition or add a vein in the face, even though it isn’t anatomically correct, but because it looks good to the eye.

Which style suits you best?

What do you expect from the taxidermist? Ask about completion time and what is reasonable. If someone quotes you a return on your animal in six months or less, be a little leery. In my experience, a year or maybe even a little longer is more the norm – at least for a whitetail deer.

On the other hand, no one should have to wait two or three years to get their mount back. Ask your taxidermist why you should choose them as opposed to the next guy.

What services do they offer?

Do they tan their own hides?

What type of tanning do they use?

Ask for references and speak to former clients. Look at the work they have available. Check the detail areas on the mounts. The eyes and ears, look inside the nostrils. The details are what in my opinion separates good work from exceptional work. Check out older mounts that they have done. The real test for a taxidermied piece is time and how did the mount hold up.

I have a mount in my living room that is almost 12 years old and it looks nearly as good today as the day I picked it up from the taxidermist.

Educate yourself on the difference between competition mounts and commercial mounts.

A taxidermist might spend hours and hours on a piece for a competition and have tons of detail work in it. But, a commercial piece of work typically won’t be the same and understandably so. There is a slim profit margin in the business and the time spent on competition pieces makes it impossible to add that level of work to a commercial mount.

Also, don’t discount your first impressions.

When you go to the taxidermy studio, how does it look? Is it clean and neat? Does it smell bad? Are there antlers and horns piled up in disarray or does everything seem to have its place?

Is there reference material, photographs, and other mounts around to look at? Is there good lighting in the work area?

Sounds simple, but without a well lit area, it’s hard to see the level of detail and the more intricate work.

Are there competition ribbons or awards around? And if so, what are the awards for? If your guy or gal is an award winning turkey taxidermist, it doesn’t necessarily mean they can mount you bass or crappie to your satisfaction. If you bring in an elk to have mounted, do they have any experience in mounting elk or are they strictly a deer guy? Are there always guys hanging around the shop, slowing down the progress of the taxidermist?

And last, but certainly not least, always – always – be cautious of low, low prices. Like the old saying goes, “You get what you pay for” – and that certainly holds true in the field of taxidermy. Be extremely careful about taking your trophy of a lifetime to your best friend’s cousin who does a few deer heads each year for $175 – you will be sorry each time you look at the buck on your wall and you will wish that you had taken the time and money for good quality work.

I cannot stress this enough. You’ve bought your guns, you’ve paid for your bow and all the other gear, give the animal the benefit of honoring it with a good mount. Sure, it’ll cost more, but you will be glad you did.