Finally. After a lifetime of pursuit, unbudging hours shivering in your blind like a naked frat pledge on an ice block, and too many alarm clocks mistaken for fire alarms, it all pays off. You’ve bagged a trophy that will make your brother-in-law stutter. And you’re about to entrust it to someone you’ve never even met: your taxidermist.
Most go to the taxidermist less frequently than they update their wills -- and with the same trepidation. What should you ask? What should you look for? How do you tell a good one from a bad one?
I know how you feel. Over the years, I’ve discovered that taxidermists tend to fall into one of three camps. If you ask a few questions and watch for the clues, you can tell which camp yours is in.
Group one: The "Taxi-Dermists"
For starters, ask how he learned his craft. It’s not unusual to learn this first group did their early work with roadkill. You can determine this in a number of ways. For instance, his sign may read, “Taxi-Dermist.” That puts him in Group One for sure.
Likewise, his business slogan may tip you off. Be cautious if it’s something such as, “So lifelike you can still see the headlights in their eyes” or “We can even hide the tread marks.”
Also, while you’re in his shop, look around at the samples on display. Hopefully, there’s something besides skunks, possums, and armadillos. Likewise, regardless of the animal type, they should not be abnormally short, wide, and flat across the top.
You should also think back to how you discovered your taxidermist. Was it a bumper sticker? Road sign? Written in the dust on the back of an eighteen-wheeler?
Another clue you’ll want to pay attention to is how he wants you to drop off your trophy. Does he have you personally freeze it, put it in a cooler, and ship overnight, or does the local sanitation truck have a special slot for it?
Group two: Upscale Taxidermists
At the other extreme, you sometimes encounter taxidermists who fit in a second group. These are the ones who fell into the business after dropping out of medical school. Though one of these guys may do great work, he can be a bit stuffy and upscale.
One way to tell is to visit his shop. You will know the taxidermist fits this category if he requires appointments or referrals and you have to set it up with a receptionist. Once there, if you have to wait while reading out-of-date magazines about golf, yachts, or expensive travel, keep in mind that he does all these things with his clients’ money.
Some of these upscale taxidermists develop programs by stealing a trick from the jewelry business. For example, you might be offered the head mount of a deer under the “Add-A-Point” program. Every payday, just swing by and pick up that extra screw-in point until your rack not only costs enough to pay off his medical school loans, but also makes the Boone & Crockett record look like it was off by a decimal point.
Others in this group try to convince you that different levels of quality cost more. You may be charged extra to make the pose of your black bear lifelike, especially if it took your taxidermist awhile to pry the camp garbage can from its paws. Bobcats come with snarls that cost extra, and his favorite is to mount coyotes in packs. These he will finance and set up with a payroll deduction plan.
Group Three: The funny taxidermist
Finally, there’s a third group to especially watch out for. These are the taxidermists with a sense of humor. From these guys you might get something like “Inflate-A-Fish,” where you simply blow yours up until it’s as big as you want. They may do bear mounts that growl if you come near, or Russian boars whose eyes follow you around the room. Or if this type of taxidermist suspects you might not pay on time, perhaps he’ll put tread marks on your deer that stay until your bill is covered.
Not all his ideas, however, will be bad ones. Having an armadillo with a lift up shell for a glove compartment gives you a place for your truck keys that you will never forget. Or if your buck comes with a nose that blinks red at the flip of a switch, you don’t have to decorate for Christmas.
All in all, picking a taxidermist will take a lot of effort for most of you. But not me. Nowadays, I usually just hit the snooze button on the alarm, especially when those northeast winds rattle my windows. Besides, who really needs more than one “Inflate-A-Fish”?