By Dan Stephany, Receiving Manager
When I was a young boy, I couldn’t wait for the day that I would get to go hunting with my dad and older brother. We hunted on a large, family farm with my relatives in central Wisconsin, and deer were plentiful. I loved going to deer camp and hanging out with the "guys," especially when someone brought back a big buck to hang in the barn. I can remember being in deer camp the day my uncle shot the biggest buck any of us had ever seen, and I got to go with him to the taxidermy studio, where he was going to have it mounted.
Ever since that first encounter with my uncle’s deer, I have had a fascination with taxidermy. I love seeing how a taxidermist can seemingly bring the animal back to life. This was never more true than on a whitetail I harvested several years ago, while hunting with my dad and brother on my dad’s property in Wisconsin. At the time, it was the largest whitetail I had ever harvested and larger than anything my dad or brother had ever taken. I remember walking up on the animal with my brother and him asking me the question, “So, you gonna get it mounted?” Without much hesitation, an excited “YES!” came out.
I took it to a well-known taxidermist and picked out a pose. I was beyond excited to get it back, and when the phone call came telling me it was done, I raced over to the studio to pick it up. Seeing the detail in the eyes and face made it look alive -- it was captivating. At that moment, I began toying with the idea of taking a class and learning how to mount my own deer.
That opportunity became a reality when I was talking with one of the archery specialists here at Bass Pro Shops. It turned out that he was a taxidermist, and offered a class in his studio where I could learn how to mount a single species of my choice. After talking through the details, I signed up for his class and took the plunge.
My first mount was going to be a deer I had harvested with a bow and was already done as a European mount. The rack could be used simply by cutting it off the skull, but I had to buy a new cape for the deer as I didn’t have the original one. The mount turned out pretty decent, with a great deal learned in the process and made a few mistakes along the way. All things considered, I was pleased with how my first attempt turned out.
My second effort was a buck I harvested a year ago during late muzzleloader season here in Iowa. We nicknamed him "Goofy" simply because of all his missing hair, scars on his face, and the fact that only one of his tines measured more than six inches long! I knew it wouldn’t be the prettiest mount ever done, but it would be a great experience continuing to learn the art of taxidermy.
This time around was much smoother. It helps that my friend is an excellent teacher. He was patient with me as I decided on ear position, eye details and everything else that goes into making the deer come back to life the way I remembered him from the hunt. Only the finishing touches are left to make before he is ready to hang with the others on my wall.
I am by no means a professional taxidermist now. However, I can say that, with the help of my friend, I know the process of how to mount a whitetail deer. Since diving behind the scenes, and seeing what artistry goes into a mount, I am more fascinated than ever before and excited to share the knowledge with my young son Micah. I can’t wait to see what this season holds for us as we pursue some mature whitetails and hopefully add another mount to our wall.
Goofy right after setting the eyes and mounting the antlers to the form.
Test fitting his cape to make sure everything lines up.
Getting closer to the end! Here Goofy has the cape sewn on and the first eye set before getting tacked down and air-brushed. You can really see how beat up his cape is in this picture.
Goofy is ready for the trip to my house. He turned out great and now hangs next to the other deer at my house.
Thank you to my friend Jackson Tennant, owner of Woods to Walls Taxidermy, for sharing his passion and expertise with me. This dream would not have become a reality without him.