Taxidermy — Thinking about the Cost

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The taxidermist uses his skills and artistic ability to combine God-given materials (antlers and skin) with man-made materials to make your buck look alive.

“You get what you pay for.” That’s a stock answer in every discussion about the cost of taxidermy, but does that mean the more you pay the better the quality? Definitely not, so before that answer ends all debate, let’s think about it.

You can pay $400 for a shoulder mount, or you can pay $800. What’s the difference? The difference is maybe a little, or maybe a lot, because there’s no objective standard by which taxidermy can be valued. That’s true for a couple of reasons. First, that buck you shot is your buck. Your memories and your story come with it, so my mount would not be worth as much to you as your mount is. Whether yours is bigger, or smaller, or prettier doesn’t matter. From that standpoint, value is subjective.

Another subjective aspect to the value of a deer mount is the fact that taxidermy is art. How much will you pay for a painting to hang on your wall? That might depend on who the artist is, but it depends a lot on how much you like the painting. Like a painter, a taxidermist is creating something that mimics realism. And like painters, some taxidermists are better at their craft than others. But we’re still not ready to talk about quality. We need to consider the economy of the area you’re in.

Every town is economically unique. Property values differ from one town to another. Pay scales differ. Job opportunities differ. Schools differ. The price of taxidermy will differ from one place to another too, even if the quality is the same. That’s because the economy of the area the taxidermist works in has an impact on taxidermy fees.

A taxidermist living in Nowheresville might be as good as any, but to make a decent living he must charge a competitive price within his local economy. If he doesn’t want to bite the bullet, keep prices low, and ask his family to live a Spartan lifestyle, here are some of his choices:

1. He can get a full time job and be a taxidermist part time. (But remember, the fact that he’s part time doesn’t mean he’s not good enough to be full time).
2. He can find a way to market his skills to a wider area based on the quality of his work.
3. He can relocate to a more prosperous area where more people are willing and able to pay for the quality he produces.

At this point it should be easy to see why the price of taxidermy varies, but taxidermy also has some objective value. Does your taxidermist have good training in modern methods? Are the components he uses (eyes, ear liners, forms, clay, glue, etc.) the highest quality? Does he use a skin preservation method that lasts?

One more question is important. Is he continually learning? As a profession, taxidermy sometimes appeals to the guy who thrives on being alone. But if your taxidermist lets that keep him from being in regular contact with other taxidermists, he’s probably not improving his craft. Learning innovative techniques and better business strategies comes through networking with other good taxidermists.

Taxidermists who aren’t very good can’t survive no matter what they charge, so price should not be your bottom line. If you want a good one, learn what good taxidermy is. Talk to a few. Make sure you know what turn-around time to expect. Ask for references.

Decide on your taxidermist before you get that big buck on the ground this season. But don’t try to dicker and deal. He’s giving you much more than a “stuffed” animal, and he’s charging what he needs to charge in order to make a decent living.

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Steve Sorensen
Steve Sorensen of Russell, PA is an award-winning outdoor writer whose column, The Everyday Hunter®, offers hunting tips, strategies, and insights on how to think about hunting. His byline has appeared in the nation’s top hunting magazines including Outdoor Life, Sports Afield, Deer & Deer Hunting, Pennsylvania Game News, Fur-Fish-Game, North American Whitetail, Bear Hunting Magazine and more. He contributes regular website content to Legendary Whitetails and Havalon Knives and is a field editor for Deer Hunters Online. Steve is also in demand as an event speaker, presenting programs on do-it-yourself Alaska moose hunting, whitetail deer, wild turkeys, and eastern coyotes, with new programs coming. E-mail him at EverydayHunter@gmail.com to invite him to speak at your next sportsmen’s dinner (or to tell him where your best hunting spot is).