Taxidermy Preserves Memories
The first time I stepped foot in a taxidermy studio at 12 years old, my dad and I were delivering a 6-pound largemouth bass I had recently caught. I was so excited to have that fish mounted. In my young mind, the idea of finally having a trophy on the wall was proof of my competence as an angler and meant my mentors and peers would look at me in a more esteemed light. Overtime, I learned taxidermy isn’t about ego. It’s an art used to preserve moments in time.
Today, that bass hangs on my office wall and each time I look at, I’m transported back to an occasion I’ll never forget. It was a sunny, summer day in the early 1990’s. Three boys were fishing from a jon boat on Bass Lake. We were at the far north end in the back of a canal built for boat docks. One old wooden dock had a sinking corner slightly submerged. I pitched a white, willow leaf spinnerbait a few feet past the likely looking spot, and can still see the flash of that fish’s side when it shot out to strike. I hear Josh and Jonah screaming with excitement as I flipped the behemoth and lifted her into the boat. And then an old man who had been watching us fish from a few docks down, stood up clapping. To me, when I mount a fish or animal they become a token of the memory made.
In the next couple of weeks, a lot hunters and parents of young hunters will have to decide if they are going to mount a buck or not. Even if you don’t make the decision right away, if you might mount it, you need to begin caring for your buck as soon as you put your hands on it. It’s very important to be mindful and careful when gutting and transporting any deer that may end up on your wall.
Personally, I have taken most of my work to Schwarz Studio Taxidermy in St. Louis. According to Frank Wagner, the owner and head taxidermist, Schwarz is the oldest continually operating taxidermy studio in the country, having first opened their doors in 1882. I asked Frank to give some advice on handling deer before taking them to a taxidermist.
“When you are field-dressing your deer do not slit the throat and do not cut up any further through the breast bone than between the front legs. Do not put rope around the neck of the animal to drag it. And when you do drag your buck, try and keep the shoulders on up, and try to keep from dragging it over rocks,” he said.
If you take a buck you plan to mount to a meat processor, make sure you very specifically tell them you are going to mount the deer and need them to cape it for a shoulder mount. It is a really good idea to have this put in writing on your order form. I know more than one person who took a buck to processor they planned to mount, only to lose the cape because of a lack of communication. If you process your own deer, you just need to follow a few simple guidelines.
“Do not ever hang the deer you plan to take to a taxidermist by the neck. Always hang them by back legs. When you start skinning, work down towards the head. Once you skin it as far as you can to the base of the skull, cut through the meat and bone, leaving the skin, head, and antlers all in one piece, then get that into a plastic bag and either freeze it, or at least keep cold until you get it to a taxidermist,” Wagner said.
Taxidermy is an art. Some people collect paintings, others sculptures and some, like me, collect their memories of times on the water and afield. Like all art, you normally get what you pay for. As with a family doctor, personal accountant or regular mechanic, you can form a long and a trusted relationship with a good taxidermist. That’s how I feel about working with Frank Wagner. I have also had work completed by Scenic Rivers Taxidermy in Salem and Hazel Creek Taxidermy in Greencastle. If none of the taxidermists I recommend are in your area, check out the Missouri Taxidermist Association website (www.missouritaxidermist.org) to find a reputable taxidermist in your area.
See you down the trail…