Most people who hunt and fish will never have to use the services of a taxidermist; however, they will be forced to compliment a lot of poorly done taxidermy work on their friend’s walls. When a taxidermist turns a treasured memory into an ugly reminder, it is blight on the entire outdoor community. Why would anyone spend hundreds of hours of time preparing for a hunt, and then spend thousands of dollars on a 4×4 hunting vehicle, the perfect weapon, optics, gear, and gas, yet spend no energy, effort or time choosing a taxidermist?
This scenario plays out more times that you can ever imagine and people should want better for themselves and their trophies. Here are some tips that will help you not only find a good taxidermist, but will also help you avoid a hiring a ‘hackidermist.’
This is the age of the internet, so use it. Almost every state is represented in some form of online hunting forum. These forums are easy to find and easy to read, so look for compliments and look for complaints. Please note that it is very easy to leave negative feedback online also, so be on the look-out for unnecessary and uncalled for complaints about anyone. It is usually easy to pick out unfair criticism and even easier to determine a pattern of deserved complaints.
Take responsibility and learn what constitutes a ‘good’ mount. The objective of any self-respecting wildlife artist is to make all specimens appear in a natural state. Learn what that means. For example, a deer shoulder mount should have nice thin ears with a crisp edge, the eyes will look natural and not bug-eyed, and the nose will look moist and natural looking, not painted or cracked. All mounts should be groomed properly, so look at photos and watch videos to see how the hair lies on natural animals. Don’t be seduced by bad work just because you see your antlers on it.
Ask your prospective taxidermist if he or she has any awards or participates in any taxidermy competitions. According to the National Taxidermist Association, there are annual taxidermy competitions available in every state or region. A good taxidermist will at least occasionally go to these competitions not only to compete with their work, but to also learn. These competitions also offer several seminars by industry experts, and it is a way for a taxidermist to stay up to date on the latest technologies and techniques. Many awards are given out for various levels of work and it is a sure sign that your taxidermist takes pride in his profession.
Taxidermists are people, and all people are different. Most taxidermists have favorite areas of concentration and they excel at what they like doing. For example, a great mammal taxidermist might not be so great at mounting birds or fish, so if you want the very best representative of your trophy, you might need to fine tune your search and look for taxidermy specialists. There are wildlife artists, who specialize in fish only, or birds only, or small life-size animals only, and they are usually excellent taxidermists because they only stick to one area or expertise. Like a transmission specialist in the auto repair industry, taxidermy specialists are worth finding and will serve you well.
A lot of taxidermy customers feel some sort of loyalty to their taxidermist, so they don’t even consider taking a specimen to anyone else. As a full time taxidermist myself, I discourage this sort of loyalty as a professional courtesy. I don’t need all the work I can get, so I don’t mind referring someone to another taxidermist if I think they can get a better or faster service elsewhere, and you should not eliminate that possibility yourselves. To have the best work, you need to find the best technician to do that work, so don’t make loyalty your highest priority when making important taxidermy decisions. Any good taxidermist will not hold shopping around against you.