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Don't Settle for the Taxidermist Next Door

August 2020
Author: Jerrod Lile

Many years ago, I lived in a small community that had exactly one taxidermist to choose from. Although he was a super nice guy, his taxidermy was terrible, and yet, he was consistently busy. As I look back on that shop, and similar shops scattered across the West, it has become increasingly obvious to me that too many taxidermy decisions are based on who’s the most convenient or cheap and not on who is going to preserve the trophy-of-a- lifetime the best. I constantly remind fellow hunters that the world has never been smaller in an effort to inspire them to hunt new places. While that statement is true for hunting, it’s equally true for taxidermy. With that in mind, you should never settle for anything less than the best when it comes to preserving your trophies.

Yes, it’s a little scary to drop a priceless cape into a cooler and ship it across the country, but it’s even more scary to take your chances on a taxidermist that isn’t able to make you say “Wow!” when you show up to pick it up. Furthermore, when you find a taxidermist with “Wow” factor, I can assure you that hunters are shipping their trophies to them from all kinds of destinations, which means that they are already versed in the best shipping practices and they can coach you through the process.

When I finally had an opportunity to hunt a grizzly bear with my bow, I knew that if I was fortunate enough to harvest a big bear, I’d want to put him in the hands of one of the best bear taxidermists in the business. This brings me tomy next point – many taxidermists can be really good at some species and not very good with others. If you go to some of the big consumer hunting shows, you will find some exceptions to this rule where large brands like Kanati, the Wildlife Gallery, Animal Artistry, and Monarch, to name a few, have figured out how to be excellent with all species, but they are the exception to the rule. If you want a great bear mount, you need to choose a shop that consistently cranks out bear mounts that leave you speechless.

I chose Kanati for my grizzly mount for several reasons. First and foremost, every time I’ve seen one of their bear mounts, or any other mount for that matter, I’ve been blown away by the quality. Second, I love that they are creating life-size polar bear replicas that thumb their nose at the ridiculous import ban that the United States has on legally killed Canadian polar bears. I figured if they could make a life- size polar bear from scratch, whose fur was so realistic that I couldn’t tell the difference, they can dang sure mount a real-life grizzly bear that will leave me reminiscing on the hunt every time I glance at the mount. Third, their team has always been incredibly friendly, approachable, and professional. Finally, I wanted to prove a point by transporting my bear almost as far as you possibly could in the United States.

By the time my bear made it to my home in Utah, it had been on a two-hour Super Cub flight and two commercial airline flights that were followed up with a two and a half hour drive. Additionally, it sat in Anchorage, Alaska for a full day because I had to get it tagged by Fish and Game. All in, that cape traveled more than 3,000 miles over a three-day period just to make it to my house. By the time it was in Kanati’s capable hands, it had traveled over 5,000 miles. Long story short, it’s never too far to get your trophies in the hands of those who will do the best job on them!

With that being said, I’ll admit that it can be intimidating to think about everything that goes into getting a trophy from the field to your taxidermist. For that reason, I’ll share the steps that I think are critical to the process.

It should go without saying that the first step is to find the right artist for your trophy, but this step is often taken too late in the process. You should select your taxidermist prior to your hunt. Doing this gives you the benefit of using them as a consultant throughout the process. For hunts that involve a lot of logistics and travel, you should communicate your hunt plan to your taxidermist and ask them if they have any specific recommendations for field care and transportation. If they do, you will want to run them by your outfitter ahead of time and confirm that all three of you are on the same page before the hunt starts. When it comes to the taxidermist selection process, websites are certainly a great place to look, but I highly prefer visiting taxidermy booths at outdoor shows where I can carefully look at the detail that the shop is putting into their work. I also like the personal nature of these venues that provide me an opportunity to get to know the artists personally.

The next critical step is field care for your trophy. While your taxidermist may make special suggestions or requests, the basics are always the same. Get the hide off quickly so it can begin to cool down. Take as many precautions as you can to keep the hide cool in the field.

Find or create shade for it and make sure that air can circulate through and around the cape as much as possible. Keep it clean, and if possible, dry. Once the cape has cooled and the hair or fur is as dry as possible, fold and roll it in a way that protects the hair or fur from the skinned side of the hide. Do not store the hide in a non-breathable bag unless it is necessary for short periods of transportation. Immediately pull the hide back out of non-breathable bags until you reach adequate refrigeration or freezer facilities to keep the cape extremely cool throughout. Finally, get the cape as cold as possible before you start long periods of travel. For my bear, I had to present the hide, with evidence of sex, to an Alaska Department of Fish and Game check station before I could fly home, so I made sure to roll the cape where the evidence of sex was easily visible, even after the cape was frozen.

Now, it’s finally time to ship the cape home or straight to your preferred taxidermist if that’s an option. Believe it or not, one of the best shipping containers for bloody, frozen hides is a cheap cooler. You don’t have to sacrifice your Yeti here, a moderately priced cooler from Wal-Mart will do the job just fine. The main consideration here is that airlines and other shipping companies draw the line once blood starts oozing out of a container. In light of that, ensure that there is no possible way that blood will leak out of your container while your cape is en route to its next destination. Also, don’t get cheap here. Insure the package for full value and pay for the fastest method of delivery for the package. Finally, prior to shipping, be sure to notify your taxidermist that your precious cargo is ready to ship and share the tracking number with them so they can be on the lookout for it.

Getting your trophy in the right taxidermy hands can be a lot of work and it can add some stress, but I assure you it’s worth it when you have your mount back home and you find yourself smiling and drifting back to relive the hunt every time you see it. Logistics will be over in a year, but a great piece of taxidermy will be with you for life!

In the next article, I’ll share some insider information on what separates great taxidermists from the rest of the pack and we’ll discuss the logistics of shipping your trophy from the studio back to your home.