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Columnists : When The Game Is Down
Last Updated: Aug 6, 2010 - 1:11:39 PM
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When The Game Is Down is Sponsored by Colorado Institute of Taxidermy at or by email at

Taxidermy: The Good, Bad and Ugly .
By Anne Vinnola
Mar 18, 2008 - 8:59:30 AM

Trying to save a few bucks cost this disgruntled customer a lot more than money. Well, you get what you pay for. Even the cat looks surprised at how bad it looks just to save $25.

I am not going to speak poorly of another taxidermist for there are many good ones out there, but hunters do need some advice when they decide where to take their trophy to be mounted.

A hunter came to us toting a mount he had just picked up from another taxidermist.  The hunter was livid at the taxidermist for ruining his cat. He was also angry as much at himself than at the taxidermist he had just left.

 A year ago the hunter with his bobcat carefully skinned, frozen and anticipating the beautiful table scene he would have made around this cat, called all of his friends to tell them about his prize. Then he sat down at the kitchen table and pulled out his local phone book.   

His next move would ultimately be a costly one. He let his fingers do the walking to a taxidermist whose work he had never seen. He wanted to save a few dollars, and after all aren't all taxidermists alike? After finding a shop that would do the work he wanted, for $25.00 less than we would have charged, he packed up his prize and off he went.

After paying the taxidermist $400 for the animal upon its completion, his excitement turned to disgust at receiving an anatomically incorrect, wild-eyed, fuzzy piece of garbage.   Was he wrong to shop for the best deal? Not really, I am all for shopping around for a good deal but let's count the cost for this particular "bargain."  

The hunter, by going to his phone book and not personally checking out the work done by the taxidermist, indeed saved $25.00 at first, but received back an animal that he was ashamed to have in his home.  He asked us to fix his bobcat and thus added time and $200 more to his mount.

It never ceases to amaze me when sportsmen call to tell me for instance of the wonderful African adventure they had or are going to have. They tell me how they spent months searching for the perfect professional hunter to guide them, and how they found the best lodge to stay at.  The amount of money spent hunting abroad is staggering, with air fare, passports, guns, time off of work, trophy fees and all the rest.

 Costs to hunt nationally also rise each year, yet hunters try to save a few bucks on their precious memories by price shopping for their taxidermy work on the phone.   They must ask themselves why they went hunting in the first place.  Was it just a nice trip and a way to fill the freezer?

This fox mount is well done in an innovative, artists way.

That is one thing, but secretly in the back of most hunters' minds is the possibility of shooting the next world record. You may just want to preserve the memories of hunting with special people or in special places. You may want to be prepared though when you do score a nice trophy or land a great fish even if you didn't mean to.

The most important thing you can do is to drive to the taxidermy shop to take a look at their work and get to know the artist.

Some things to consider when you are visiting a new studio:
 Does the taxidermist welcome you to his shop with respect or judgment of your animal?

Several years ago, an elderly gentleman brought a tiny trout to us in a sandwich baggie.  He was somewhat defensive upon his arrival and we soon discovered why.  He had been to several other taxidermists in the area and each one had laughed at his fish, as though it was beneath them to take on such a seemingly insignificant project.  What Jerry did because of the respect he has for each person and animal brought into our shop and what he teaches each student in our taxidermy school, brought the elder man to tears of gratitude.  Jerry carefully held the fish in his hand and told the man he would be proud to mount it, as it obviously meant a lot to him or he wouldn't have brought it in.  The man then went on to tell Jerry that he was dying of cancer and would probably not be around to see the mount finished.  This tiny fish was the product of the only fishing trip he would ever be able to take his grandson on, and was the first fish this young boy had ever caught.  If you are not treated well when you visit a new taxidermist, then how well will your trophy be treated?

Do you like the look of the mounts in the studio?

Carefully study the mounts in the studio.  Obvious things to look for are nails or nail holes left in finished mounts, cracks around the eyes and noses, crooked skins on the mannequins, hair and skin pulled away from the horns or antlers and such. Stand and look directly at the face of the mounts.  Are the eyes level and are they looking the same direction?

  With fish mounts, do the seams fit on the back, or are they stapled leaving a gap? If the back seam does not fit, then the rest of the skin does not really fit either.  Do the fish have both eyes?  This seems obvious, but many taxidermists cut corners with mounted fish saying that the eye closest to the plaque is the "non-show" side.  Would you want to pay a portrait artist to paint your picture only to find the eyes missing or the ears crooked? You took in a whole fish, and you want to get your fish back with the same size, color with all of its parts intact. Ultimately, though if you like the work you see then that is all that really matters.

How long will it take to get your mount back?

Frustrating as it is to be patient for a mount to be done there are some reasons for the wait. Turn around time is another thing hunters judge taxidermists on, but having an understanding of the basic process is helpful in determining how long you might wait. Some things to consider:
  1. Where is your piece in the lineup of work to be done? There are many pieces coming into the shop during the various hunting and fishing seasons.  Yours will go into the lineup and should be finished in the order in which it came in.  Pick a taxidermist who won't compromise the order things are brought in to make his buddies happy or to customers who want to pay more for faster turn around. If he will do this for them then he doesn't really value you as a customer. 
  2. How long does the taxidermist have to wait for the cape to be tanned?  Your taxidermist is to some extent at the mercy of the tannery.  It can take months for your taxidermist to receive capes and hides back since there are only a few tanneries and there are many taxidermists. If he tans them himself, it still takes time to prepare them and do the tanning.
  3. Drying time. After your trophy is mounted, there needs to be a bit of time for the clay and other materials to dry. If drying time is rushed, then problems can come up with visible as well as interior parts of the mount. After it is dried, then it can be painted and finished.
Of course there can be unforeseen circumstances, like family emergencies, freezers that go out and even tannery fires to contend with. Recently one of our past students called to say that the tannery he used went up in flames and many of his capes along with it.  These things do happen and your taxidermist will do what he can to make things right with you.   When you take your trophy to him, your taxidermist will be able to give you a ball park time of completion. But it makes sense that waiting a little bit longer to get a nicer mount done is better than settling for a rush job and a poor piece you are not happy with.  

Is the work guaranteed? You want to do business with an artist who is proud of his work and will guarantee it.

If there is something wrong with your mount after you take it home then, be sure to call him and work out a solution.
Get to know your taxidermist. Spend some time in his shop if you can. Your taxidermist can give you many field care tips and can help you get the best results for all of your trophies.  He wants to see you succeed and will do his best to help.

There are many things to do when preparing for a hunting or fishing trip.  If you do your homework in finding a wildlife artist whose work you are comfortable with you will have a more relaxed and secure time knowing that your memories are safe with someone you trust.

Jerry and Anne Vinnola own the Colorado Institute of Taxidermy Training Inc, as well as a full service taxidermy studio, Big Timber South Taxidermy. Both are located in Canon City, Colorado.  Feel free to look them up at 1-800-733-6936 or  You may e-mail them at


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