Tag Archives: trophy

The Art of Taxidermy

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I’ve been busy doing a lot of taxidermy lately, trying to get caught up after a busy hunting and photography season. One aspect of taxidermy that I really enjoy is the meditation. Anyone who’s done taxidermy knows that it can be very time consuming and sometimes a little tedious. This is good because it gives the taxidermist plenty of time to reflect on things such as the animal’s life, which is the taxidermist’s job of reconstructing.

But dissecting and reconstructing a dead animal isn’t for everyone. I believe it takes a certain type of personality to pry the eyeballs and brains out of a skull. Taxidermists can be strange folks…

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The following is a passage taken from my website, nssadventures.com, that might help you understand the art and purpose of taxidermy:

Taxidermy often gets a bad rap. The dead heads hanging on people’s walls often evoke negative feelings in non-hunters. They don’t see a glorious and noble beast, but a poor, innocent creature sacrificed purely for sport or to boost the ego of a heartless hunter. I have a hard time understanding this point of view because to me, that noble beast peering out from the wall is a tribute to the animal’s life, not its death.

All year long I admire and photograph both elk and deer in nature. I don’t particularly even like to kill them. But for a brief period in early fall our roles change from admirer and admired, to predator and prey. It’s a natural shift which always shifts back following the hunt. I know that hunting (by any predator) is a good and necessary thing which sustains balance in nature. I think the deer understands this too because all year long, whether I’m stalking with a bow or a camera, I’m treated like a predator, and the animal acts like prey. They don’t know anything else. This is why the biggest and smartest of them are so hard to hunt, and also why they deserve such admiration.

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When I mount one of my own animals, I feel I’ve preserved not only the memory of a great hunt but the memory of a beautiful and admirable creature. I love wildlife as much as I love to hunt, and through painstaking care I can immortalize that special animal. If it weren’t for taxidermy, millions of beautiful beasts would still be harvested each year, but then discarded and forgotten. A quality taxidermist gives the animal a new home and continued life.

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I won’t lie; I’m fairly new to the taxidermy arts. However, I’ve been doing European skull mounts for friends, family, and myself for more than a decade. My interest in taxidermy began in 2002 when I harvested a very large 4×4 buck and didn’t have enough money for a full mount. Through much research and trial and error, I was finally able to perfect a beautiful European skull mount on a custom-designed wood plaque.

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Years later, after mastering the European mount, I developed a keen interest in furthering my taxidermy skills. So in April, 2013, I went to taxidermy school and have been learning and expanding on my education ever since.

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Elk Hunting’s EASY!

(Story published in Eastman’s Bowhunting Journal, September/October 2013, Issue 79)

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Elk hunting’s easy! Well, that’s what I tell my fellow bowhunters anyway. And they usually get a little irritated. But I’m only half-kidding. Compared to spot-and-stalking trophy mule deer, yes, elk hunting is easy.  You can’t call mule deer; believe me, I’ve tried. But with enough practice (about ten years worth) you can call trophy elk. I ate ten tags in a row before I finally arrowed my first bull elk…but it was still kinda easy.

In 2012, after ten years of applying for the Beaver, Utah limited entry tag, I finally drew. It was probably the worst year I could have drawn since I’d just purchased a major fixer-upper house that spring. I had absolutely no time to scout the area and spent the entire summer swinging a hammer instead. But I wasn’t about to give up the tag I’d been waiting ten years for. Fortunately, my brother, Brent, had drawn a premium tag for the same unit in 2011. He’s crazy about elk, an absolute fiend, and spent 30 days non-stop hunting over the entire unit. I spent a week calling for him that year, and the knowledge I gained from his hunt would prove invaluable for my own.

Surprisingly, my other brother, Russell, drew the same tag after only two years. So the plan was to hunt with him for one week in late August, and if we couldn’t get the job done, we’d return in September and hunt the last week too.

Elk hunting’s easy! At least that’s what I kept telling myself the first couple days as we hiked all over the high-altitude part of the unit without a single response from the elusive bulls. On the third day, Russ and I split up; I went high and he went low. A light rain started that night as I hiked alone into some high-alpine peaks. As soon as I got there, the downpour started. I couldn’t pitch my tent fast enough as lightning crashed all around me. To say it was a little unnerving would be an understatement. But hey, elk hunting’s easy, right?

The next morning I crawled out of my damp sleeping bag and began hiking and calling. But it was all for naught. There wasn’t a fresh sign in the whole area. As I was packing up my tent to leave, however, I heard what sounded like a half-hearted bugle way back down the mountain near a small saddle. I decided to investigate the area on my way out. Sure enough I found some big, fresh tracks and droppings headed over the saddle and down the mountain. Since I was headed that way anyway, I decided to follow. I made several cow calls along the way, but got no response. Eventually I lost the tracks in some rocky terrain and gave up my futile chase. A couple minutes later, there was an explosion of elk below me as the whole herd blew out of the area. This confirmed my suspicion: the elk were in the area, but not vocal yet.

I met up with Russ a short time later and he we decided to try yet another area. That afternoon I borrowed the lone ATV to go retrieve my knife that I’d left on a tree stump back down the road. I made it about a mile down the roughest, rockiest trail ever when the ATV tire suddenly jolted off a small boulder, causing the machine to veer hard right and climb the steep bank. In about one second the ATV flipped over. Realizing I was about to be crushed underneath, I did a mid-air swan dive onto the rocky opposite bank while the ATV landed upside down behind me. I was bruised from head to toe, but relieved that I wasn’t dead. One of my ribs took the worst of it and for the rest of the week I couldn’t cough, sneeze, or even sit up in bed without excruciating pain. But, I wasn’t leaving the mountain; not without an easy elk anyway.

After a very discouraging fourth day, I left the mountain. The elk rut was happening yet and I wasn’t going to waste one more day calling to the trees. On my way down the mountain I blew a truck tire on the rocky road. No big deal; I had a spare tire. Then, half an hour later while driving down the highway, my truck began to shake violently as one of my rear tires shredded into a thousand pieces. Now I was stuck. I spent the rest of the day hiking to cell phone range and then getting towed back to town where I had the pleasure of shelling out nearly $1000 for a new set of tires. I thought elk hunting was supposed to be easy!

I returned two weeks later with my lovely wife (and elk caller), Esther. Since my first trip, I’d gotten a report from my brother that the lower elevation bulls were in full-rut mode. We drove to Beaver on Sunday evening, and on Monday morning we hiked a mile up the mountain and instantly had bulls bugling all around us. See, elk hunting is easy…sometimes. I probably could have arrowed an elk that morning but my poor caller (Esther) got lost behind me while I followed the herd up the mountain. Later that evening I found her back at camp and we were both a little frustrated. After educating her on the finer points of elk calling, we once again headed up the canyon. Only a quarter mile from camp, we blew a couple cow calls and two bulls came screaming in simultaneously. They met across a small ravine, but didn’t seem to care much for each other. They locked antlers and smashed and crashed in the forest for a while, raising quite a ruckus! The biggest and meanest of the two bulls finally emerged and crossed the ravine towards us. Though I didn’t get a long look at the bull, I could tell he was a solid six-point and a shooter in my book.

Keeping his distance, he circled around us while bugling and chuckling at the top of his lungs. I quickly positioned myself in a small clearing between the bull and Esther. It was about 7:45 pm as I knelt beneath a giant pine tree in the thick woods. The bull hung up at 80 yards and refused to come closer. I violently flapped my arms at Esther, motioning for her to drop further back…WAY BACK. The bulls in the area were very responsive, but they were smart and hung up well beyond bow range. Esther continued her cow and estrus calls as she dropped way out of sight.

A few minutes later, the big bull couldn’t take it anymore. He suddenly appeared from behind a thicket of pines and came stomping right towards me, his huge rack rocking back and forth as he weaved through the dense trees. He was coming in fast and quickly passed a 40-yard tree that I’d ranged. He was facing me so I didn’t have a shot. At thirty yards I still didn’t have a shot. At 20 yards he suddenly veered broadside. As his head disappeared behind a tree, I swung my bow and settled the pin. A second later, his shoulder appeared and my arrow was off. A PERFECT HIT! The bull smashed away but only made it 50 yards before going down. When Esther caught up to me, I was shaking with excitement and immediately began raving on about the details of the last few intense minutes. After giving the bull a little time, we slowly crept in on him. Although the bull ended up scoring in the lower 300s, it didn’t matter to me. He was my biggest bull yet and I did it with a bow. Mission accomplished.

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This part of my limited entry elk hunt ended quickly, and sure enough, it was pretty easy! But, there’s no way I could have done it without my wife and her sweeeeet elk calling. She made it easy! I suppose the hardest part of the hunt was packing that huge bull off the mountain on our backs. That wasn’t easy, but I did it with a big smile on my face.

What a great hunt; what a great wife!

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