How to Find a Quality Taxidermist
Harvesting wild game can produce rewarding experiences and long-lasting memories. Many hunters like to preserve that thrilling memory by having a mount made of their game. If you wish to do the same, it’s important to find a quality taxidermist.
We spoke to three experienced taxidermists to understand what customers should do to locate a qualified, reputable taxidermist. Meet the experts, and use their tips to begin your search.
- Harry Whitehead Jr., owner of Gunners Taxidermy
- Brad Kussman, owner of Brad Kussman Taxidermy
- John Griffith, owner of Griffith’s Taxidermy
Do Your Research
Use the internet to your advantage. Search online for taxidermists in your area. Then, explore their websites and read online reviews to better understand their businesses. Also, ask your hunting friends or the local archery shop manager for recommendations. Chances are you probably know someone who has a taxidermist – and an opinion.
Take a Shop Visit
Once you’ve found a few taxidermist studios in your area, visit them to meet the employees, check out the facility and see the work first-hand. Professional taxidermists are friendly, knowledgeable and interested in your business. They should want to give you a tour and show off examples of their work.
While you’re walking around, investigate the quality and cleanliness of the facility. Does it smell? Is the floor cleaned? Are the records well-kept? Whitehead said if the owner has a sloppy, unorganized workspace, that might indicate a sloppy mount.
Also, if your online search yields good results, don’t be alarmed if the taxidermy studio is at someone’s house. Kussman does taxidermy part-time in his basement and completes about 50 pieces annually. He said he doesn’t do enough work to fund operation costs for working elsewhere, and that location doesn’t influence quality. “It’s not creepy, it’s convenient,” he said. However, it’s important to watch for red flags and use your best judgement.
Investigate the Quality
Check out the finished mounts to see if they’re lifelike. The poses and facial expressions should tell a story, too. Griffith said you should be able to look at a mount and know if, for example, the buck was preparing to breed a doe or fight for dominance with another buck.
Detail is also critical. Whitehead said you should see detail in the eyes, ears, nose and mouth of a buck. “The eyes should be symmetrical and convincing.” Whitehead said. “You should be able to see the tear ducts and nictitating membrane. The nostrils shouldn’t be closed up, and the hide shouldn’t separate from the mannequin around the ears and mouth.”
Griffith said the mount should look alive and realistic. He advises people to compare the mount with pictures of real animals on their phones. Does the shape, color and contour look right? If not, you might want to explore your options.
Questions are a great way to help identify a qualified, reputable taxidermist. Here are a few examples:
- How long have you been in business? This indicates how much experience the person has. Usually, the longer they’ve been in business, the more they’ve learned and the better they are.
- Can I see your taxidermy license or certification? Most states require taxidermists have a license or certification. Some individuals even attend schools or programs to learn and become qualified. These documents ensure you’re dealing with a professional.
- What species do you specialize in? Some taxidermists specialize in deer, while others prefer to mount birds or fish. Find a taxidermist who is confident and comfortable mounting the type of animal you plan to hunt.
- Are you a member of a state or national taxidermy association? This indicates whether the person is dedicated to learning and honing their craft. These groups usually have yearly competitions and host seminars or classes to teach the latest taxidermy tools and techniques.
- Do you have any references that date back at least five years? References give you the opportunity to ask someone if they’re happy with the work they received and if the mount still looks good five years later.
Make a Good Investment
The old saying “you get what you pay for” rings true when it comes to taxidermy. “Don’t dictate your decision on price,” Whitehead said. Price varies based on geographic location and, often times, quality. Typically, a cheap mount comes from the use of cheap materials.
“Paying $100 more might seem like a lot of money, but that $100 can make a huge difference in quality,” Kussman said. “It’ll probably last longer, and you’ll like it better. The worst thing to do is spend money on something and regret it after a while.” Make a good investment.
The average taxidermist charges $400 to $600 for a deer shoulder-mount. A full-body turkey mount tends to be more expensive because it requires more detail, especially in the feather work.
Although it’s ideal to find a taxidermist before you harvest an animal, many hunters overlook this part of their hunt plan.
If you don’t have a quality taxidermist on standby, don’t rush to find someone. Slow down and buy yourself some time by freezing the animal. Keep in mind that many big-game species won’t fit into a standard freezer, so make sure you have access to a suitable-sized freezer.
And, remember, proper field care is important. What happens to the animal before it reaches the taxidermist affects the end result. Be gentle and take precautions in the field to preserve the animal’s natural appearance.