VOLUME 62-----------AUGUST 2007
SHOOTIN', HUNTIN', AND RELOADIN'
WITH THE OL' MISSOURI HILLBILLY
August 6, 2007
Jennifer turned eleven years old on July 31st. The last of her birthday happenings occurred on Saturday, August 3rd. She invited three friends to share in a "scavenger hunt" at our house, a swimming party at neighbor Larry's pool, and a sleepover at her house.
It seemed that one of the highlights of the day was the ride from our house to Larry's in the tractor loader bucket. I should have worn my shooting muffs to protect me from further hearing damage via the screams and squeals of four girls!
Shevelle, Jennifer, Tess, and Delitra on the ride to the Larry's pool
Pool Party! (the screaming did not subside)
One can always dream up a good excuse for doing what one is going to do anyway, but our 2002 Buick Park Avenue was racking up a lot of miles! With that in mind, Ann and I visited George Gee Motors in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho on July 13th and came away with a brand new 2007 Cadillac DTS! This thing has bells and whistles that I haven't even discovered yet, but the most important thing: It's RED! (I've heard it said that it's mandatory for old fat guys to drive a Cadillac so we really had no choice.)
Here's Little Heifer with MY Cadillac
Well, it's been quite a struggle, but I finally got my bobcat back from the taxidermist; the second one. (taxidermist, not bobcat)
When I first received the mount it looked very little like a bobcat and I would not display it in our house as it looked then. I described the cat's head as a "grotesque caricature," and that turned out to be the GOOD news!
In a previous newsletter I described and pictured the bobcat soon after the kill, with a half grown snowshoe hare, still alive but pinned beneath a front leg of the cat. I had difficulty finding a taxidermist that was willing to mount the rabbit so it could be included in the habitat scenario I wanted. (Apparently taxidermists find rabbits very difficult to work with)
A major factor in choosing the original taxidermist to do the work, was that he was the first one I spoke with who was willing to do the rabbit. (Hereinafter, we'll call him Mr. Taxidermist)
The second reason; I wanted to get the cat and the rabbit out of my freezer, and the guy could take them right away. (The carcasses were frozen whole because I wanted a full body mount and didn't trust my skills to perform the skinning chore correctly, especially the head and paws)
A third consideration; Mr. Taxidermist had done deer shoulder mounts for some friends of ours, and they were pleased with his work.
When I delivered the animals to the shop, there was a nearly finished bobcat mount on the wall that looked, to my untrained eyes, pretty much OK. Turned out the guy has also done work for our dentist and his brother, avid hunters both.
I took my laptop computer when I delivered the animals and we viewed the pictures taken the day of the kill, to establish a feel for the habitat and help explain what I wanted done with the mount. I later emailed some of the photos for his further review.
I requested that the cat be sitting, looking to his right, with the rabbit under one front paw, just as he appeared when I pulled the trigger!
Delivery time for the finished work was estimated to be "late summer 2007."
All things considered, I felt pretty good about the situation when I handed over the animals on October 2, 2006.
My first inkling of potential trouble occurred some weeks later at my next dental appointment. I showed Doc a picture of the cat and told him to whom I had taken it. His comment was, "If it were mine, I'd go get it back!"
Further explanation revealed that Doc's brother wasn't at all pleased with the full body mount of his cat! His opinion was that the guy does OK with shoulder mounts and rugs, but may not do so well with a full body mount.
In early spring 2007, the hide was back from the tannery, so I arranged a visit for final note comparisons and instructions. After examining the beautifully tanned hide, I inquired about the photos I had emailed. I was told by Mr. Taxidermist that his wife was the only one who could run the computer, he didn't remember seeing the pictures, but was sure they were there. (Warning sign number two)
We again went over how the mount was to be configured and even found a bobcat mannequin in one of his catalogs that was posed as I wanted mine.
In early June Ann received a call that the mount was completed. Upon returning the call to arrange for pickup, I learned that Mr. Taxidermist was flying out of Spokane on June 14th and would meet me at a nearby motel parking lot to deliver the mount. (This was about 75 miles closer than another trip to his shop.)
I nearly had a stroke of apoplexy when I saw it! The head was misshapen, the mount base was too small, the habitat could be called "plaster of paris wheat field" instead of the forest land where the bobcat made his home, and the shape and size were all wrong. (When this tale is finished, I'll show you some "before and after" pictures, and you can draw your own conclusions.)
Now, let's turn the clock back to early April 2007. Ann and I are in the parking lot of the Liberty Lake Safeway Store loading groceries in the car when a nice looking pickup drives in and parks nearby. Stenciled on the door was "Captured Expressions Taxidermy," Coeur d'Alene, Idaho.
Being the shy fellow I am, I approached the guy and visited a spell. His name is Sean West. We talked about how difficult it was to find someone to do my bobcat the way I wanted and he told me about getting started in the business. He currently works as a mechanic for a local RV dealer, and does taxidermy on the side, but would like to go into his taxidermy full time within the next year or so.
I suggested that I would keep him in mind for any future projects we might have and may want to do a story featuring his work for an Outlook Magazine piece sometime in the future. We exchanged business cards, and continued to stay in touch by email. Here's what Sean had to say in an email shortly after our parking lot conversation:
I am glad you stopped me in the Safeway parking lot today. Itís always nice to meet people who are passionate about the hunt (Great web-site by the way). I am also a certified hunter Ed instructor for Idaho but I am finding it is harder to get the time to teach or even assist in a course any more. I have 3 girls, ages 1, 3, and 11 and with the taxidermy business and my desire to hunt, there just isnít enough time to do it all.
I am trying to build my taxidermy business to full time using all of my marketing skills and suggestions from others. My point here is I can always (for now) use more trophies to mount. Like I had mentioned to you in the parking lot, all trophy completion dates will be finished in less than 18 months. My intent is to finish all mounts within 12 months of receiving them.
As for the quality of my mounts, you will just have to see them for yourself. I spend a lot of money and time working with world champions and traveling to competitions so judges can critique my mounts. It gets me closer to being called the best. If youíre current taxidermist is not competing then he is not giving you the best mount possible.
My wife and I are leaving for Reno on Tuesday to attend the World Taxidermy Competitions. This is the best of the best show. I was scheduled to take a mount but was unable to finish in time so we are going for 5 days of seminars and to listen to the judgeís critique the other mounts. (I am sure that my wife will take several breaks to the casino)
What I am saying Jim, is I would like to earn your business and the business of others that follow you. When you are ready please give me try. I guarantee you will be happy with your mount and you will never hear complaints from others that you send my way. Word of mouth seems to be the best advertising that Iíve benefited from.
I am also working on branching out a bit and building trophy walls. Artificial rocks with several out-croppings for life-size mounts to be displayed with real water falls incorporated into the habitat. I will keep you posted if you are interested.
Thanks for your time.
Captured Expressions Taxidermy
Now, back to the story. When I got the mount home, Ann and I looked at it long and hard, trying to decide whether we could live with keeping the dang thing, or should we just trash it. The conclusion was to contact Sean to see if it could be salvaged, and if not, just throw it away.
I emailed Sean and explained my problem. He called me back that evening and agreed to take a look at trying to fix it. I dropped off the mount the next day, and Sean began taking it apart.
It soon became apparent why the mount looked so wrong as the disassembly progressed. Sean emailed me photos as he went along, so there was no question about what had been done.
In addition to the generally poor workmanship, the problem began with a mannequin that was much too small for the hide. Instead of simply ordering a larger form, Mr. Taxidermist attempted to make the hide fit by cutting it into pieces and layering it on, discarding some important parts as he went along!
First he cut off the back legs and slid them over the form like socks. Then he cut off the rear end of the hide to make it fit the length of the mannequin, and draped it down over the rear leg pieces. The tail was removed from the rear end and sewed back on where the hide now ended. Most of the beautiful white, black spotted belly fur was trimmed off so the hide would fit around the too small form.
In spite of this total mess, Sean agreed to try and make the mount presentable. Considering what he had to work with, he did a marvelous job! Of course the discarded pieces of the hide made it impossible for the cat to ever look as it did when I shot it, but the mount is now something I'm not ashamed to display in our home.
Here are some "before and after" pictures that will hopefully illustrate what I've tried to explain.
A postscript: After a very pointed registered letter, Mr. Taxidermist did refund the money I had paid him. Of course the money will never replace the vision I had for memorializing one of the biggest thrills of my hunting career, but it does ease the pain a bit.
So, are there lessons learned? Here are some Do's and Don'ts I plan to observe in the future.
Don't get in a hurry. Take the time to find the right person for the job. Kept frozen, these animals would have been preserved almost indefinitely, so there was no need to rush this.
Do get references, and Do check with them before committing your dollars, and more importantly, your memories. Had I conversed with our dentist earlier my decisions may have been different.
Don't be influenced by how soon the mount will be completed. Short turnaround time could mean that someone is just getting started, or conversely, they don't have work because previous customers don't like what they got. (In this area, 18 months to two years turnaround time is not unusual for the best artisans)
Do ask if the person has done mounts configured like you want, and whether they will take the time to look at photos and have discussions that insure the finished product will fit your expectations.
Don't rule out someone just because they're new in the business. They may not only be good, they may even try harder.
Do ask if they have entered any competitions and how their work was critiqued. Ask to see photos of previous mounts and whether they have mounts on display at area sporting goods stores or other public venues.
Don't take delivery of your finished mount in a public place. It would have been unseemly to, (as my Mother used to say) have "three fits and a bad spell" in the middle of the Ramada Inn parking lot!
Of course, none of this will guarantee a perfect experience every time. We have been pretty fortunate with our previous taxidermy projects. We have commissioned three deer shoulder mounts and two bear rugs over the past few years with little fanfare and investigation, and even though one deer mount is a bit substandard, we were never faced with a circumstance similar to the bobcat fiasco.
With all the newsworthy (?) antics of our esteemed elected officials in recent months, I thought it appropriate that this month's hillbilly wisdom come via a quote from that great philosopher, Mark Twain.
"Suppose you were an idiot. And suppose you were a member of Congress. But I repeat myself."
Well, It's time to shut down here, So . . . .
'Til next time, Keep 'em shootin' straight, shoot 'em often, and above all, BE SAFE!!!!!