Big Stick Taxidermy    "veteran owned and operated"     (276)466-9213
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Do you have a good taxidermist?

As a taxidermist I'm often ask to critique the work of others. Recently, while visiting a prospective client, a mounted whitetail on the hunter's wall riveted my attention. But it wasn't for its realistic pose, life-like eyes, alert ears, glistening nose, or the overall artistic taxidermy. It caught my eye because the expression of the buck's face looked as if he was undergoing a painful doctor's examination. This once regal, rutting buck was a mature animal with heavy antlers. But instead of admiring the antlers, I couldn't help but shudder as I stared at the buck's bug-eyed, crazed expression.

"What do you think of my buck" the hunter ask? "He sure has a lot of antler mass", I replied hoping the man wouldn't ask me to comment on the quality of the mount. Like untold sportsmen before me, I couldn't bring myself to tell the hunter that his buck was ugly due to shoddy taxidermy work. I just kept smiling and quickly changed the subject.

Why do hunters accept substandard workmanship when it comes to taxidermy? This isn't an occasional occurrence, either. In fact, I run into substandard deer heads in homes, hunting lodges, sports shows and sporting good stores across the country. Is it because we don't know what a whitetail looks like? Come on! We're hunters and we see wild whitetails day in and day out during the season and on scouting trips, and big bucks regularly grace the pages of our favorite hunting magazines and walk in front of the TV cameras of our favorite hunting shows. We know that whitetails aren't bug-eyed, square faced animals with ruffed hides, floppy ears, and dull noses.

Truthfully, I believe it comes down to the fact that hunters are notoriously cheap. We spend a lot of money on licenses, guns, bows, trucks, ATV's, trendy camouflage and fuel, but when it comes to taxidermy the majority of hunters begin kicking tires in an attempt to find the lowest price

The old saying "you get what you pay for" has a lot of merit when it comes to taxidermy. Whitetails are one of God's most beautiful creations and nothing less than award-winning taxidermy should be accepted, but it isn't cheap. In the Midwest, for example,  high-quality full shoulder deer mounts are priced $450-$575.

I don't have proof, but I bet many husband/wife disputes on having "dead things" hanging in the house could be avoided if hunters would spend the extra money for the services of a skilled taxidermist. Paying more doesn't always guarantee you the highest-quality deer mount, but if you're getting a "deal" for $250, you're probably getting the shaft at the same time.

References and research...
Don't wait until you shoot a whitetail to begin searching for a quality taxidermist. You should be window-shopping well before deer season and have someone in mind before you pull the trigger. Often, word of mouth will be a good clue to finding a top notch taxidermist. Just make sure those words of wisdom aren't coming from a cheapskate hunter that has used the same low-budget taxidermist for years whose primary focus is on how many deer heads he can do and not how realistic they look. After locating a few candidates, research their credentials; ask to see their (1) accredited training certificate, (2) reference materials, (3) their state and federal license to practice taxidermy, and ask if they are active members of their (4) local and national taxidermist associations. Believe me, the really good ones will boast of these credentials.

If possible, ask local hunters to see their finished game-heads and then visit the taxidermist who did the work to see his studio. Even before you begin appraising his work, observe the owner's business practices. Is the shop full of hunters who are spinning yarns with the taxidermist, thus reducing his output? Does the taxidermist do the work himself or have apprentice taxidermist doing the work while he yaks with loiterers? Is the shop clean or cluttered? Trust me, a disorganized, dirty shop can be a good indicator that your finished mount will be of poor quality and/or completed after the promised deadline.

What you want to see when you look at a professional's work is a "live" animal staring back at you. There are three focal points that attract attention to a mount;  the eyes, ears, and nose. Does the deer have well defined eyebrows, similar to a humans? Are the eyelashes visible and positioned properly over the eye for protection?  Does the nose glisten (look wet) or does it look dull? Is the nose nasal cavity open, which will show the inner nose septum, or is it packed full of clay? Are the ear butts well defined, visible and evenly positioned on the side of the head ? Are the ear tips pointed or slightly bent on the ends. A good ear will be sharp on the ends and have no drumming.  Does the neck look too small for the size of the antlers, or maybe too large for a small set of antlers? Do the eyes look glistening, bright, alive, or do they have a dull look? Pay attention to the finished mount, is it groomed smooth and clean? And finally, does the deer look alive, you must learn to look beyond the antlers for life-like features. A big racked buck is only impressive if he looks vibrant, alive, is well groomed and mounted properly. So....start paying attention, and you will see the difference between a good mount or a bad one. 

Before making your selection, ask the taxidermist some job related questions. So very important, does he commercially tan the hide before mounting the deer, or does he use dry preservatives or other home tanning substitutes. Simply stated, if the mount is going to last, the skin must be tanned before mounting. You will pay more for this service. How long will it take for him to complete your mount, should be less than a year. Does he have any formal training, or is he self taught? The good ones will have a training certificate from an accredited taxidermy school, they will have been professionally trained. Finally, ask for reference, give them a call or  possibly go look at their mounts to see how they are holding up. A top quality mount will keep it's life-like beauty indefinitely, provided it is properly displayed and cared for.

Bottom line, you have the choice, do you want a quality mount, or one only worthy of hanging in the garage in a few years? You make the choice. keep the wind in your face and shoot straight. Happy Hunting.

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