Picking a taxidermist?

Discussion in 'Taxidermy' started by Thunder head, Apr 14, 2009.

  1. Thunder head

    Thunder head AH Enthusiast

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    I have been to see 4 taxidermist who do African work. The quality of the work is pretty much the same on all 4. So i am still no closer to choosing than i was when i started.
    Theres things about all, that set them apart from the others. One is an ex museum taxidermist. What sticks out about him is he tans his own hides. He says this allows him to adjust the solution, to suit the condition of the cape. He also says it is easier on the the thin haired animals.
    Is this a huge advantage? The other 3 will be using a commercial tannery.
     
  2. LordRusty

    LordRusty CONTRIBUTOR AH Member

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    This is a fair and honest inquiry, and I hope to answer it for you satisfactorily.

    Whether a Taxidermist tans their own hides or uses a commercial tannery is a matter of personal choice. The biggest drawback to those that do their own tanning, is that hardly a one has ever even worked in a tannery before advancing into Taxidermy. That means their in-shop tanning is suspect at best. There are a lot of "slackedermists" who simply salt the skin for a day or two, wash the hide to remove the salt, then rub in some "tan-in-a-bottle" ... the "magic elixir" that does nothing but make them think they are a tanner!

    However, there are Taxidermists out there who follow all proper procedures in the tanning regimen. This means salting, and re-salting the hide for several days until it is nice and dry, which removes a lot of blood, albumin, and other proteins from the hide, rehydrating the hide in a rehydration solution, "breaking" the fibers for the next step, then putting it into a pickle bath.

    The pickle removes much of the replaces the proteins and albumins in the skin with acids which cause the skin to plump ... very important for the next step ... shaving or thinning the thickness of the skin. This is important for several reasons.

    It gives the hide full stretch, and the thinness allows much detail to be worked into the mannikin that will show through the skin, as well as preventing over-shrinkage of the hide as it dries.

    The hide is returned to the pickle to insure the pickling is complete and thorough. After pickling is complete the skin is neutralized to raise the pH to prep the skin to accept the tanning bath.

    Several methods of tanning are available, from Alum tanning to a mineral tan called Lutan-F ... acknowledged as the best tanning system.

    After tanning, the hide is oiled and allowed to slightly dry, and is either "drummed" in a tumbler until damp -- known as wet tanning -- or oiled and allowed to fully dry, then tumbled in a sawdust tumbler to soften the now tanned, oiled and dried hide. This is known as "dry tanning."

    If a Taxidermist is set up to do all these steps, and knows what it is they are doing, then in-house tanning is fine.

    Those who send out to a commercial tannery are also doing right by their customers by not attempting something they are not familiar with!

    Quiz your potential Taxidermist on his or her methods of tanning. If it turns out they use something called Krowtan, or Liquatan, or anything that does not follow what is outlined above -- that is true tanning -- excuse yourself and go to the Taxidermist who ships to a commercial tannery.

    If your Taxidermist follows the tanning regimen outlined above, then by all means you should be able to entrust your trophies to them.

    My tanning background comes from first-hand experience. My first job when I applied at a Taxidermy studio, was in their tannery, and I learned that end of the business from the ground up! I was taught the use of the "round knife" aka -- the shaving machine -- by a legendary tanner by the name of Sinclair Clark. He taught me well!

    It concerns me when I hear all the twenty and thirty-somethings out there laud the newest quick products that call themselves tanning agents. Ugh! There is only one way to tan ... to "Leatherize" a hide, and that is how I outlined it above. Again, that is true tanning!

    Take care, and good hunting
    John
     
  3. Thunder head

    Thunder head AH Enthusiast

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    Thanks John,
    He did mention using pickle solutions. I have to call him about the price list he never sent me anyway. I will steer the conversation into which technique he uses. I will also ask him about using the tumblers. This is one thing he mentioned. He said some of the hair would get beat off in a commercial tumbler.
     
  4. LordRusty

    LordRusty CONTRIBUTOR AH Member

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    Well, hair loss from tumblers ... that's debatable. In commercial tanneries, the tumblers used for hides are huge affairs. They measure close to eight to ten feet in diameter, are filled with so much sawdust, and so many scalps or hides -- depending what is being tumbled in that session -- that the hides work off each other more than get "beat up" by the tumbler itself.

    The truth is there will always be some amount of hair loss. It is a natural fact that in the wild, no one is there to brush and groom the wildlife as we do with our domestic animals. This means that as a mammal naturally sheds, the dead hair often times mixes in and stays with the live hairs, giving a particular specimen a nice "full" look.

    This is especially true with African Lions! A Lion with a great mane when it was harvested, will often times not look like the same cat when it comes back from the Tannery or Taxidermist. Why? The fur of a male African Lion's mane is already fairly thick. Add to this, hair that sheds, but does not fall away. It is instead incorporated -- mixed -- into the growing, living hair. Add to this mix, urine and fecal matter from when the big cats roll in such waste, and you have a really nasty mishmash of organic matter!

    To avoid blaming the Taxidermist for -- and I have heard this one -- "switching" their Lion with one that has a smaller mane, allow me to shed some light on after-the-hunt hair loss.

    When the salted, dried hides are introduced into the relaxing bath, this is truly the first time the animals have received a "bath" of any kind! Naturally, a lot of the mess in their fur and hair, literally "comes out in the wash!"

    Then into the pickle bath ... another "bath", more dead hair floats off.

    Handling on the round knife -- shaving machine -- causes more loose hair to come away. Back into the pickle bath for the last time, draining, and finally, into the tanning bath.

    One of my many duties while working in the Tannery, was to scoop all floating fur and hair out of all the various bath solutions. My point is, there is always an "acceptable" amount of natural hair loss during the tanning process. It is natural for the dead hair and fur -- there is a difference between the two -- to float off the skin at these times.

    The unacceptable hair loss comes in the form of slippage, usually caused by poor handling in the field. Improperly trained 'shavers" in the Tannery can cause some minor hair loss if they shave a skin too thin to where the hair roots are cut, causing hairs to fall out. These are to be avoided.

    Ask the Tannery about their staff, and how long the shavers have been at their task. Or ask your Taxidermist to find this out. Remember, these are you hard earned trophies! You have the right to know all this information!

    It sounds to me like the Taxidermist you spoke with "wet tans" his scalps, and on African capes, that's not a bad thing. It sounds like he is very earnest to produce a quality mount, and wants to treat the African work as best he can. He is obviously aware of the rough time African mammals have just living in the African bush. Thorny brush, running, sweating in the heat, rolling on the ground the way they do ... all of these things contribute to "natural" hair loss. It sounds like he's just trying to avoid any more hair loss than is necessary.


    Make the inquiries. You now have a loaded arsenal of information at your disposal. I wish you well!

    Take care, and good hunting.
    John
     
  5. Calhoun

    Calhoun AH Enthusiast

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    John... Not knowing much about the taxidermy business .. That was great on your description of the tanning process!! I had no idea any details about it other than hearing about wet & dry tanning!! Those are great questions to ask the taxidermist!
    One of my biggest beefs about the African taxidermists is they never have this years prices out, I mean heck it's May already & everything is last years prices. I also think many of the outfitters only want to do business with one taxidermist & they put up a fuss when you select a different one! I have done business with 2 different ones Taxidermy International & Highveldt! Both did an outstanding job but they certainly never came close to getting my trophies back in a 1 year time frame like they promised!! one was 21 months the other 2 years!!
     
  6. OUTWOODS TAXIDERMY [UK]

    OUTWOODS TAXIDERMY [UK] AH Member

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    that's good advice john gave you'
    but i would shop around or even try and visit a few studios
    take your time choosing, after all probably trophies of a lifetime...
     
  7. oak22

    oak22 AH Member

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    Taxidermist

    Call or visit the shops. Make sure they are professional taxidermist that taxidermy is all they do and not a part-time one with a "real job". Look at their work for you are buying their talent and every one is different. Rates are so-so as long as they are in the ballpark as most. Talk to the people, you can tell if they are good people and not stuck on themself and if they have the experience of reference and hunting. 6 months to a year are the normal time frame . I use tanneries and believe me there are only a hand full of tanneries that can tan an African item professionally, the rest have no stretch , some slippage,drumming,etc..home tans are good for the other guy but not for me ( I do tan some items but only small items-weasels,gophers,etc.) Pick one that has some imagination , I like mounts that are in action not just standing there, you will have to look at your trophy for awhile so you may as well have something to look at and say "wow".. Good luck......:bighello:
     
  8. Gerhard

    Gerhard AH Veteran

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  9. LORRAINE KRETZSCHMAR

    LORRAINE KRETZSCHMAR New Member

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    My name is Lorraine Kretzschmar and whilst looking for Taxidermists in Namibia I happened to open this site and out of interest read the stories from hunters regarding Taxidermists in SA. In particular I would like to reply to "CALHOUN" who seems to be very upset about costs in Africa etc. This is a common argument from some US hunters and maybe I can set the record straight as most Americans think Africa should be the cheapest destination in the world. I would like to list the most salient points and give my take on them viz.

    1. South Africa only has a population of 29 million as opposed to America with a population of 350 million. Of the 29m in SA there is probably 5-6m who require high-end services. In many instances I can purchase a lot of goods from the US considerably cheaper than I can back home because of your huge market.

    2. With regard to packing trophies and here I speak for our company Trans African Taxidermists, we charge a PACKING & DOCUMENTATION fee which will be 15% of the taxidermy cost. This will entail the following;
    A) Packing the trophies in a custom made box which is the size of the consignment. Bear in mind we cannot have a production line which makes a small medium and large box because we would be sending you crates which are half empty and you would be paying for that space. In order to get the trophies out at the best possible cost to you we have to send out crates which have the least amount of wasted space. I have 4 packers who collect the trophies, make the crates and pack the trophies (very specialised packing) and they make approximately 25 crates per month of all sizes.
    B)It requires 2 people in our office to prepare the documentation for your consignment. Each vet certificate costs R60 and the regular export permits cost R50 and the Cites permits cost R250. We have 9 provinces in the country and if you have 4 species taken in Natal and 4 in Orange Free state and 4 in the Eastern Cape then the permits have to come from each of these provinces at the costs listed.
    C) Added to all of this we do not have a reliable postal service and because it is difficult enough coordinating our production with packing and getting trophies out as soon as possible, we use courier services to send and collect our permits which adds further costs to packing. Add to this the fact that our telephone lines were stolen 2 years ago and have not been replaced and we are using premi-cells which are unreliable and are going over to full time cell-phones which are more costly.
    D)We also spend a lot of time getting all the permits together for the consignment which means time on the telephone, time e-mailing etc. You cannot compare this to a UPS service which I used in the USA and which is amazing value for money.

    3. We are also not a huge exporting country. We have a small local airline which believe it or not is more expensive than using a foreign airline. But if I compare the costs of a local client hunting in the USA to the comparable shipment from SA it is a huge difference in cost. Furthermore, our experience of receiving trophies from the American outfitters has on the one hand been disastrous as the trophies arrived in SA very badly field treated and at huge freight costs and on the other hand we have received very well treated trophies at very reasonable costs on a par with our costs.

    Taking all the above into consideration I believe that there is good and bad in all countries and labeling SA as backward or primitive is unfair. What is very important is to research your hunt requirements and ask companies for references from past clients. Also, ask your Outfitter to take you to the Taxidermist where your trophies will be going so that you can form your own impression of what the standard is. When you see the facility you will know whether you are happy to leave your work there or not. Labeling a South African Taxidermist as greedy is also unfair because again there is good and bad everywhere and of course exporting trophies is the Achilles heel of our industry. In order to get the business we have to be cheap and we have to get the goods to you as cheaply as possible, so the guy who rips you off is short-sighted and certainly will not be getting you back as a client.

    There are dishonest people out there in all walks of life but you can get a reference from the Professional Hunters Association of South Africa if you hunt SA and you can get the same references from other African countries. If you are a member of SCI, I am sure you can also get assistance from them when trying to vet a possible hunting company or PH.

    I hope this has shed some light on costs and if there is anything else you wish to know I would be happy to answer your questions.

    Happy Hunting
     
  10. LORRAINE KRETZSCHMAR

    LORRAINE KRETZSCHMAR New Member

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    Morning Calhoun,
    Its very strange that the African Taxidermists don't have price lists at this time of year. I am secretary of the Taxidermist Association and from my own experience everyone has already started working on their price lists around October/November in order to have them ready for the new season??? You don't sound like you are having a good time with South African Taxidermists?? That's not good!! Regards
     
  11. enysse

    enysse AH Ambassador

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    Hi Lorraine,

    I believe the costs of taxidermy in South Africa are way out of line. Calhoun is my good friend and he is right on all accounts. For one, the outfitter and taxidermists are in bed with each other. They bring a client in and expect a cut of the action. A very good client finders fee. This is unfortunately a very common practice. Whether it's bring a client to shop to buy novelty items too. Also when you go to another ranch...there is a lot of negotiating in that both parties get a cut of the action for any game animals shoot. Yes, I'm feed up with all this back stabbing of the U.S. hunter. Do all outfitters take part in this..heck no. But I have seen enough of it in my day. Where did the honesty go in business practices...whether it's the U.S. or Africa.

    Comparing Africa taxidermy work to America is very hard to do. The costs are a lot more in the U.S. The chemicals and equipment available is a lot better. The labor and health care costs are very expensive in the U.S. The quality can be good in Africa. But I have seen very excellent work in the U.S. from dip and pack stuff. But the U.S. taxidermy costs for museum quality where crazy expensive for me. I would never pay that much. I look for compromising taxidermy. Meaning I balance the costs with the quality. I have my work done in Africa. Because the dip and packing is way too expensive. Like you said, there are costs involved...but even the PH's think it has costed them a lot of business. Because the client is spending so much on taxidermy and not coming back to do more hunts with them.

    What do you do ???? I have no idea. For me it will come down to less hunting. I'm fortunate to have gotten good animals. My lastest taxidermy costs will keep me in debt for a few years. But at least I got to Africa. Most people look at the costs of the taxidermy and hunts and say forget about it. In this hard economy who can blame them. When the costs rise fast enough...the products availability will increase. Meaning outfitters will have empty camps and taxidermists running at half capacity.
     
  12. Calhoun

    Calhoun AH Enthusiast

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    ....Lorraine interesting response!! You definitely shed some light on your prices which go to prove how the american hunter is getting ripped off!!

    1st - your company charges 15% for crating & documentation from the taxidermy bill. My bill was just under $5,000 U.S - lets use that figure for easy figuring. So my bill for that is $750.
    2nd - my crate measured 4'- l x 2'-8" -w X2'8" h. That figures out to 2 - 4'x8' sheets of plywood, & 1- 2" x4" x12' to complete the top & bottom frame. In our local store roughly $45.
    3rd - permit fees 1 vet fee $7.50, 1 - export fee $6.25 and a cites tag which I don't think I had $31.00

    Total for all above $89.75.

    It doesn't take much labor to cut the wood & construct the crate. I know myself I can do it in less than hour! Specialized packing- my 2 shipments each shoulder mount had 4 screws holding it to the side or bottom of crate. No special protection except Kudu & Gemsbuck horns were wrapped in bubble wrap. If you measure the trophies it's simple arithmetic to figure out the crate size!
    .. i sit in an office & work 10-11 hours a day & send e-mail & fill out forms etc all day long! That's my job an people don't get charged extra for it!! It has to be done or your order won't go out!
    ...My last shipment was done at the taxidermist on Nov 12,2009 & went to the shipper! It took until early March until they recieved the permits to ship to me ...Someone dropped the ball! I assume the Taxidrermist!!!
    .... I have nothing against the workmanship of the taxidermists whom have done work for me, it is of excellent quality!1 I am complaining about your crating costs which you just proved are unreasonably high!! i just looked on the internet & a couple of taxidermists in Africa are still listing 2008 prices!! How is a person supposed to know what your prices are if they don't list them!!
     
  13. LORRAINE KRETZSCHMAR

    LORRAINE KRETZSCHMAR New Member

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    Morning Calhoun,
    The costs you have listed are just basic costs of wood and screws etc. You have not factored in labout costs, general factory costs, the fact that clients pay between 60-90 days and we have to write off those who just never pay because legal fees States side are very expensive and very difficult for us to pursue. There is electricity, insurance, all the office costs etc. which are factored into the product and the packaging. I looked at $5000 orders recently sent and the crates were much bigger than what you mentioned eg. the one crate was 250x93x178 and the other one was 177x100x107 but again the smaller carte had a full mount Lion in with a full mount Bushbusck and a Lechwe pedestal mount whereas the larger one had a bunch of shoulder mount in like Eland, hartebees, 2 Blue wildebeest. kudu shoulder mount, skull and skins.
    You say you sit in an office 10-11 hours and day and don't charge???That doesn't make sense. Your clients are paying you for something and if its taking you 10 hours per day to do this, then presumably they are charged otherwise you could not make a living.
    I have to date never met a PH millionaire never mind multi millionaire and I also have never met a Taxidermist who is hugely wealthy or a multi millionaire!!! This business is seasonal, fraught with logistical problems, government permit problems.........the list goes on and on. Taxidermists love what they do and I have often said to my husband that if he started painting he could sell a painting at huge prices with less hassle, no overhead to speak of and no labour!! Life would be a lot easier. But, this is what he loves to do and he is gifted in what he does. Our family have been in this business for 4 generations and we certainly have not amassed a fortune...........so, where is the rip-off?? But, again you must do your homework and if you find you can do your taxidermy cheaper back home then that is what you have to do.........hunting is a luxury sport and if you are not super wealthy then you have to work around what you can do, but, don't spend the money and then compromise on Taxidermy. You need to meet your Taxidermist and see what he produces and let him know what your expectations are eg. if a cape has hairslipped and you do not want the mount to continue, then he must inform you and give you the opportunity to make a decision on whether to purchase a new cape or not etc.
    Another thing that is extremely annoying is the fact that the Taxidermist is accused of being the problem in regard to permits. For your information it is (in SA) the Professional Hunter's job to export the trophies and he is responsible for providing all documentation. The Taxidermists are doing this for the PH's and when a consignment is held up because of lack of permits..........THIS IS NOT BECAUSE THE TAXIDERMIST HAS DROPPED THE BALL.
    I don't know who is daft enough to have 2008 prices on their website...........I wouldn't even consider that type of shop because they are very obviously "not in the zone" and I would run a mile!!
    Sorry about the cost of crates but things are not as simple as you make out!!
    Regards
     
  14. LORRAINE KRETZSCHMAR

    LORRAINE KRETZSCHMAR New Member

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    Morning Enysse,
    I am glad you were able to hunt Africa in your time and without doubt African game is prized the world over and its the only thing Africa has to offer that is unique!! Unfortunately, life changes and today we see so many people in this industry one wonders whether it can be sustained but there is a fundamental principle at work here and that is, the demand is higher than the supply. This is the reason so many people are getting into the industry in the hopes of making some money. However, living in the bush is not easy and the further north you go from SA the worse it gets and the higher the costs are. South Africa is still the cheapest hunting destination in Africa and the amazing thing is that the daily rates are cheaper than the lodges which cater for the photographic tourists eg. Mala Mala.
    If you are looking for cheaper hunting in SA you may want to look at the Eastern Cape outfits as they take off large quantities of game annually and are much cheaper than the prime hunting areas in the North.
    When i first married Rodney, we used to be GIVEN capes by the outfitters they had so many, we traded in ivory and Leopard skins like popcorn............now, we can barely get spare capes and have to pay top dollar for them, so unfortunately times do change and we have to work around these changes and the resource is getting scarce!!
    Hope you find a good spot in a few years time that is affordable and enjoyable so that you can go hunting in Africa again.
    Regards
     
  15. Safari Chick

    Safari Chick AH Veteran

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    Lorraine, I hope these guys aren't giving you too hard of a time! I think your response was very thorough and it is certain that in all industries there are good and bad and I can see from your very well written posts that you care a lot and are surely doing a service to your industry by defending it from these buffaloes (sorry boys!). At any rate, taxidermy and shipping is something, I believe, that hunters aren't so thrilled to pay the price for because it's no fun compared to hunting and gosh, it just takes so darn long to get here when it's done! But when all is said and done we're thrilled, once it gets here, to have our beautiful memories embodied in our trophies and put up on the wall.

    I will say just from my own experience having been to South Africa and Namibia a few times over the last ten years that everything has gotten more expensive, that's just life, the American dollar, heightened demand (and I'm not just referring to hunting but everything touristic); it's been quite dramatic. I'm just saying that I don't think it's just taxidermy.

    Having said all of that, I am sitting here typing on my laptop surrounded by some very impressive (exaggeration) euro skull mount trophies, which are not just cool looking but relatively inexpensive and an amazing full mount leopard that was from my father the taxidermy was done in Africa and is a vision of absolute artistry and perfection. A memory from a hunt that I went on with him that I will always cherish. I like to think that trophies are memories, that's why I love them anyway. Keep up the good work helping people make their memories long lasting!
     
  16. LORRAINE KRETZSCHMAR

    LORRAINE KRETZSCHMAR New Member

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    Thanks for the support Safari Chick, you have hit the nail on the head!! I have a small story to share which one of our safari outfitters always tells. This man caters mainly to the Scandinavian market and they are very penny-pinching in that neck of the woods!! He says he had a family hunt with him and the father booked the whole family to hunt and queried every single cost which was minimal in comparison to the holiday booked at Singita Lodge which was R12000 per day for the room($1500) and then proceeded to charter an aircraft to take the whole family there and no question was asked regarding price!! yet the outfitter had to explain a $50 cost in absolute detail!! So, our industry is so fragile and at the mercy of the whim of a client and this makes it hard to swallow sometimes.
    Having said all of the above I would love to see everyone able to hunt SA, not only the super wealthy but............its an expensive sport!! You can secure cheap hunting but you need to watch the PH's every step of the way and that means you have to supervise the skinning, even to what trophy you take because when its cheap it could also be nasty. So, really cheap is for the experienced African visitor. You need to learn what to look for and get a feel for the people you are dealing with otherwise you will be angry and never want to come back again!! I don't want that to happen so if I can advise anyone I will happily do so. Ultimately, you are far away from home on the hunting trip of a lifetime and you want to enjoy yourself..........you don't want to hate your trip, hate the Taxidermist, hate all South Africans!! This could happen so easily if you don't spend the time researching and checking everything, PH, tracker, skinner, vehicles etc.
    I am really glad you have those fond memories because really that's what its all about and there may come a time when that is all we will have of the last 50 years!! Happy hunting SC!!
    Regards
    Lorraine Kretzschmar
     
  17. rgswildlife

    rgswildlife New Member

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    Subject of thread.

    I thought that the reason for this thread was "picking a Taxidermist" Some of the above people I know and some I don't. So I mean no disrespect. If anyone, who is looking for a Taxidermist to mount there safari, doesn't check there referral list, and the quality of there work, than shame on them. I know that when I am about to spend a lot of money, on something I love I make sure, that who ever is doing the job will make me happy. Complaining after the work is done only makes enemy's of both parties. Always check ever thing out before you leave your trophies with any taxidermist. I upgrade all my prices every year and add new photos when ever I can. Most of us do this as part of our job. Good Luck to all the hunters on this site.
     

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