Taxidermy Artwork Represents Personal Memories…

Alan Charles Star Outdoors Columnist
Friday, June 5, 2020
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When the phone rang the other night, I was just finishing a supper of grilled mule deer chops, walleye fillets, and handpicked wild asparagus. My older brother, David, was on the other end of the line, calling from Billings.

“Alan, I have a question for you,” he said. “As you know, we are moving to Iowa in a couple of weeks, and after spending almost seven decades collecting ‘stuff,’ we are using this opportunity to downsize a bit. So, what do you suggest I do with the various mounted heads I have on these walls, because I have the pictures, and have the memories, and I don’t think we need the heads to decorate walls in our new house?”

This was not the first time I found myself facing this question, as I have helped with the estates of several of my hunting friends over the years. These items of taxidermy artwork are tributes to personal experiences, helping the hunter capture memories of a special hunt.

Sometimes, the concept of “trophy hunting” can be interpreted in a negative way, and indeed, there are sometimes people who hunt for all the wrong reasons, in all the wrong ways. Some people “whack and stack” only the biggest animals, only for their horns and antlers. But that does not represent most hunters and the reasons they decorate their walls and dens with taxidermy artwork.

As I write this column, I have a large mounted walleye hanging on the wall above my computer.

To my right, a particularly fine mount of a big blue grouse hangs on the wall, beside a painting of a coyote flushing two ruffed grouse. Further to my right hangs a large striped marlin, with a picture of me and a friend standing beside the fish on a dock in Cabo San Lucas. Behind me hangs a large stuffed northern pike, an eighteen-pounder caught by my wife at Fort Peck, the first pike she ever caught. Beside it sits a stuffed mallard duck, one of three drakes I shot on the rise and among the last ducks retrieved by Drake, one of my beloved golden retrievers.

Trophies? Yes, in terms of trophy memories. But back to my brother’s question, so what does a person do with them, either when that person passes, or when it is time to downsize and preserve the memories with photos and whatever memory account we may be fortunate to still have in our minds?

I have seen ads in the paper, and know people who have advertised mounts on social media, sometimes finding success through buyers who want to decorate businesses like bars, restaurants, and offices. Sometimes, especially in the case of particularly large or relatively uncommon specimens, people might purchase them for their own collections.

I asked a couple of taxidermists if they sometimes could disassemble the mounts and re-use materials like forms and eyes, and they said yes, sometimes, depending upon the condition of the mounts.

I found it somewhat ironic that shortly before my brother called, I was reading an article entitled, “Hemingway’s Last Hunt.” Ernest Hemingway was not only a well-known and respected 20th century author, but also, at that time, an internationallyrecognized hunter and angler. He spent his final years near Ketchum, Idaho, enjoying the fishing and hunting that the Sun Valley country had to offer, with friends like Gary Cooper and Jimmy Stewart.

Hemingway’s last hunt took place on November 12, 1960, when he jumped three mallard drakes, and downed two of them with his Winchester Model 12 shotgun.

That article ends with a quote from another hunter and writer, Nash Buckingham: “How kind it is that most of us will never know when we fired our last shot.” I think I’ll keep looking at my mounts and enjoying the memories as long as I can.

(Alan Charles is a local outdoors columnist.)