Taxidermy: Preserving outdoor life for generations
(Reprinted from above link)
HERTFORD — Kevin Campbell, 42, has been shopping at sporting goods stores since he was a kid.
Each visit, he looked forward to seeing a merchant’s selection of mounted deer, ducks or bear. Often, he would pause and marvel at their lifelike appearance.
Also as a child, his dad often walked him through the woods and taught him to set traps for raccoons and muskrats. Before departing for school, he’d check traps to determine the number of animals caught. Eventually, he set three dozen traps and monitored them with anticipation of earning income from the animals caught.
With his love of the outdoors, trapping, hunting and fishing, Campbell, who lives in Hertford, also learned over the years by interacting with hunters why they preserve their catches.
Hunting, a sport enjoyed across North Carolina, is an especially popular tradition across the eastern region, where many hunters want to preserve their catch. To Campbell, the process of preserving is an art form.
“I have always said that I was addicted to the outdoors, my favorite time is either in a deer stand or on the boat fishing for catfish. The memories of growing up hunting and fishing will be etched in my mind forever,” Campbell said.
“I knew that I always wanted to learn how to do taxidermy,” he said. “By age 28, I killed my second mountable buck and that day has changed my life in more ways than one can imagine,”
At the suggestion of a work colleague, Campbell contacted local taxidermist Don Yohn to preserve and mount his kill.
Campbell said Yohn had taught many people the process in prior years, but they didn’t maintain the practice, Campbell said. He, on the other hand, studied under Yohn for about three years until his teacher suggested Campbell launch his own taxidermy business.
“Well the rest is history. I have owned and operated Little River Taxidermy for the past 11 years. Don told me to treat people as I would want to be treated and if you say it, mean it! “ Campbell said.
Campbell said anybody who works as a taxidermist must follow the laws that regulate taxidermy. "If a taxidermist breaks the law, they may be subjected to fines or even loose of their taxidermy license,” he added.
The North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission is the state’s regulatory agency that oversees and enforces the state’s fishing, hunting, trapping and boating laws. Taxidermists are registered with the agency.
Campbell explained that the process of preserving an animal entails many steps. Those steps are influenced by the customer’s plans on how they want to display their prized catch.
Some only want to save the head, partial body and front legs, Campbell explained. Some customers order the taxidermist to preserve and stuff the full size body of their animal. Taxidermists may work with a team of people before an animal can be returned to the client and displayed, he said.
“After an animal is dropped off to the taxidermist, there are a few processes that must be completed such as skinning, washing the hide, and packing it in some sort of package to keep it from freezer burning until it is shipped off to the tannery that processes the hide,” Campbell said. “Once the tannery receives the hides they will scrape the hides and then put them into some sort of acid bath for a few days. Lastly, they will flesh all remaining fat off the hide. At this point it is now ready for the taxidermist to trim the hide and prep it to fit the form,” Campbell said.
Taxidermists earn accolades and awards for their skill at posing the finished body and attaching it to items that range from drift wood to tree limbs.
According to Campbell, the process can last as long as last six months before a customer receives the finished product.
“I have mounted fish, big game, small game, birds, reptiles, and exotic animals," he said, adding, "The largest animals range from elk and bucking rodeo bulls to the smallest such as squirrels and ducks.”
For many hunters, Campbell noted, the joy of mounting and displaying an animal allows one generation to show the next which animals commonly strolled the paths of their home region. Many people who relocate to rural settings are unaware of the selection of animals living in nearby swamps, he said.
A preserved animal allows you to run your fingers over a North Carolina Black bear’s soft, thick fur, prick their sharp claws and compare the human hand palm to the size of a bear’s paw.
Campbell, like many other hunters, also sees hunting and preserving animals as a means of passing a trophy from one generation to the next.
“Once the deer has been mounted and is hung up in the house, it becomes a trophy for all to enjoy. Once I pass away, this trophy becomes a memory between (my son) and I. At that time, he will carry on the trophy to remember his dad and memories we made together. Basically, all taxidermy is memories that last a lifetime,” Campbell said.
Some animals may be displayed at educational facilities where students can observe fine details. These preserved bodies often allow students to closely observe, for example, the large teeth of a wild boar, while steering clear of the danger associated with entering their natural habitat, Campbell explained.
“I love going back to the sporting goods section and seeing all the small children point with there faces amazed of what they are experiencing. Watching the children makes it all worth while,” Campbell said.
Campbell added that through his taxidermy business, he’s been able to support a number of local charities with proceeds from his work. He said that charitable list includes Kids First, College of the Albemarle’s Education Foundation and Soul Hunters.