Remembering the hunt is nearly as ancient as the hunt itself.
My first piece of taxidermy was a red squirrel that was the size of a obese house cat from a hardwood forest in Tennessee. It was my first time hunting squirrels, on purpose that is. In my youth my .22 rifle had certainly filled my bag, but it was never a serious endeavor. But I knew from my friends eyes that what I had in my hand was a trophy and it needed to be treated as such. I didn’t really have the $100 dollars for the bottom dollar taxidermist who said he could fit me in, but I had six months to save. As it turned out, I really had almost a year. I learned many lessons, but I’ve enjoyed the past twenty years with him lording over my office from his perch.
The Art Behind the Mount
Taxidermy is often maligned and misunderstood from those outside our hunting circles. Degraded as barbaric and reduced to a pejorative “trophy,” it has an elevated place in my house. In the hands of a gifted worker it becomes art. The details highlight care taken to restore the life to the form. Eyelashes are carefully placed, hard is brushed and pressed, and clay under the skin brings character to the otherwise smooth neck. Taxidermists will study many pictures of an animal from as many angles as possible to learn the anatomy and what poses look natural. Pictures taken at the kill will be referenced to find any blemishes unique to the subject. Ultimately, the mount is a reflection of the energy and care imputed and the taxidermists I use carry great pride in it.
For Me, Not You
I’ve lost count of what I have on my walls, but not the memories each carries. I can recall the hunt and what made it special. I can tell you what the animal was doing just before I took its life and why. Each brings me instantly back to that experience beyond what mere pictures can. I also hesitate to count what the cost has been, partly to save my marriage, but also because it doesn’t matter. None could be replaced; and any attempt would always seem false in my mind. They are all for my pleasure. While I appreciate sharing them with those that visit my home and recounting the stories, it is all brief and it is foolish to think that my energy and money were invested just to impress someone for that moment. The claim that there is bravado behind the collection is a false accusation by those who don’t darken my door.
As in all things, nothing is exactly equal and selecting those who will preserve your memory should be approached with caution. Inspect their current work and look for references. Ignore the estimated completion date, it will likely move anyway, but so what? Firsts for a hunter should always warrant consideration for being mounted and sometimes lasts, too. Have a budget, but know it's ok to fudge it a little. Plan as you can for the placement of your next piece before the hunt. Learn to cape properly and always add a little extra from the chest. A European skull is fine on its own, less expensive, and requires less room; don’t feel you are “cheaping out” by going that route.
There was a rule that all of my animals were to remain in my office. In quick time, I have spread throughout the house. There is a tastefulness that approaches a classic sense of a lodge now, and my wife seems to appreciate it. I know my taxidermist, with a monthly check to pay off whatever is there now, certainly does. But more importantly, I know there will come a time when the passion is overruled by the pain and my body will no longer be able to hunt. It will be then sitting near a fire, whiskey in hand, I will be able to relive the memories of hunts long past.