Picking a Taxidermist That Doesn’t Suck

bad taxidermy

Imagine the disappointment of picking up your trophy of a lifetime and plunking down your hard earned cash only to take home a mount you aren’t completely satisfied with.  Maybe you’ve felt this before.  I know I have.  It is a terrible feeling and you’re really kind of put in a bad spot.  You can argue with the taxidermist for your money back or a re-mount but your relationship will probably be irreparably damaged and it is probably best to chalk it up to experience and move on.  A few small things to look for in a new taxidermist can save a lot of headache.

Full Time vs Part Time

There are some part time taxidermists that do a professional job.  These guys and gals are also about as rare as unicorn tears.  One of the biggest problems with part time taxidermists is they probably haven’t invested the time and money it takes to properly train.  Apprenticeships and taxidermy school cost quite a bit and a part timer is less likely to learn the right way.  Youtube is no way to learn a craft.

Another problem with part time taxidermists is they simply don’t do the volume of animals that is required to first get proficient, and second, grow and advance as an artist.  You get good at things by repetition.  Doing a few pieces a year when you feel like it won’t make for a top caliber taxidermist.  Make sure your prospective taxidermist does this as their primary occupation. I can’t count how many times I’ve heard people say something like,”Yeah, my dad’s buddy is gonna do that buck I shot.  He does it part time and he’s fast and cheap.”  Which leads me to my next point…

Price

There is no such thing as good, cheap taxidermy.  Much like tattoos, in the world of taxidermy, you get what you pay for.  People who do good work don’t give it away.  The average going price of a quality whitetail shoulder mount is around $500.  I know it is tempting to take the cheap route and go with the guy who charges $300 but you’re going to end up with a $300 head and it will show.  This doesn’t mean that there are marginal taxidermists charging a bunch of money for substandard work.  There are.  That’s why you need to also…

Look at Their Work

This might seem like the most basic thing, but never hire someone without seeing their work.  Look at the work in the show room.  Ask to see pictures.  If the work looks questionable or the pictures are old, be leery.  Most people nowadays have a website or Facebook page that has their portfolio.  If it’s a whitetail, focus on the eyes, ears, and to a lesser extent, the nose.  The muscle structure should be built back up around the eyes and ear butts.  If it doesn’t look right, move on.  Another thing to look for is if the taxidermist competes regularly with his or her work.  If they’re confident enough to enter a competition, their understanding of proper anatomy is sound and the work is probably pretty good.

 

taxidermy

 

Just as there are bad taxidermists, there are also bad clients.  By keeping a few things in mind, you can not only find a good taxidermist, you can keep him too.  The first thing to remember is don’t start this if you don’t have the money.  Just have enough for the 50% deposit?  You’re better off to wait until you have the full amount.  Yeah, you might not have to come up with the other half until a year later, but you’d be surprised how many people get caught scrambling at the end.  Wait until you have the full amount, pay your deposit and put the remainder in an envelope for when the mount is done.  The deposit on a mount basically covers material cost and the the taxidermist really doesn’t make anything until you pick it up.  It is tough to pay the bills when you’ve got finished work backed up and nobody is picking it up.  Don’t be that guy.

Good work takes time and a professional will generally clear his books in a year or so.  Don’t call and pester them every few weeks wanting to know when it will be done.  It’s a good way to get bumped down the line and make your taxidermist hate you.  Get a general date of completion when you drop it off and trust they will deliver.  If you’re 6 months past due, then you can politely see what the holdup is.  And unless you’re waving a lot of extra cash and comfortable being an asshole, don’t try and buy your way to the front of the line.  This works on some, but pisses most people off.

Keep all your documentation.  When you pay the deposit, keep your receipt.  Anything that is important like the pose, deposit amount and remaining balance, etc will be on the receipt.  You might need it later so keep it.

deer

My 2012 buck right after he was sewn up.

Don’t bring a taxidermist stuff that is in rough shape.  Professional taxidermists are very talented artists but they aren’t magicians.  Get the animal’s cape off quickly and cleanly and get it cool.  It doesn’t take much exposure to warmth to make the hair slip and ruin a cape.  Try and start with a good specimen as well.  If you deer hunt in a place that’s full of rocks and the deer’s cape is full of bald spots from being dragged over said rocks, realize that it probably won’t work out.  If you need a new cape, suck it up and buy one.  Don’t try and force the taxidermist to make chicken soup out of chicken shit.  Make sure there’s not an excess of blood, mud, burrs, or any other foreign substance on the animal.  It’s inconsiderate and not a good way to make your taxidermist like you.

My 2012 buck all finished up.  It's easily my favorite mount I have.

My 2012 buck all finished up. It’s easily my favorite mount I have.

I got really lucky a couple years ago when I found my taxidermist.  Nick Krivoniak, owner of Vivid Taxidermy in Bloomingdale Ohio handles all of my work.  He is a full time, one man shop and he does a fantastic job.  He’s done work for Pittsburgh business leaders and professional athletes and he competes with his work as well.  He did my Missouri buck from 2012 and is doing a couple deer for me right now.  He’s been at it for a long time and is a very talented artist.  He’s a hardcore hunter as well and it really shows through in his work.  He does everything from full body wild hogs, to whitetails and everything in between.   If you’re in the market for a new taxidermist, check Nick out on Facebook at the Vivid Taxidermy page.  Below are a few pictures of his work.

Whitetail mount

whitetail mount

whitetail mount

It looks like it is breathing.

It looks like it is breathing.

buck

bigbuck

See how the ear butt is reconstructed and anatomically correct?  Professional.

See how the ear butt is reconstructed and anatomically correct? That’s the mark of a professional.

Nick is also an accomplished avian taxidermist as well.

Nick is also an accomplished avian taxidermist as well.

 

turkey mount

turkeymount2

 

turkeymount1

One more thing.  When hunting with an outfitter, sometimes they will recommend a taxidermist.  You’re better off to use your own.  Just take precautions so the cape doesn’t spoil and use your guy at home.  I’ve witnessed a few resulting horror stories from scenarios like this.

Since the age of the internet, taxidermists have become a dime a dozen but the true artists aren’t hard to find if you know what you’re looking for.  Once you find the right one, do your part to be a good client and maintain a good working relationship.  It will pay back in spades.

 

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