Elkview taxidermist likes to get a little creative
ELKVIEW, W.Va. -- Variety is most definitely the spice of a taxidermist's life.
In a good year, a taxidermist in West Virginia can do more than 100 deer mounts -- almost all of them bucks, and almost all stereotypical neck or shoulder mounts. Profitable, but borrrri
Once in a while, though, a client comes along who wants something a little different. Or, better yet, a client comes along and says, "Have fun with this one. Surprise me."
A client like that makes a taxidermist's day.
"When someone gives me an opportunity to be creative, I'm a happy guy," said Chad Cole, owner and proprietor of Chad Cole Taxidermy in Elkview. "In a good year, I get about 8 to 10 clients who give me that kind of freedom."
One of the latest was Kerri Barger, a bear hunter from the Charleston area. Cole had done a standard mount for her before, and when she killed a particularly handsome bruin last September she decided to have Cole do a full-body mount. What's more, she gave him the latitude to get creative.
Cole dove headlong into the assignment. He decided to depict the bear leaning against a log, preparing to tear into a bee's nest to get at the honey.
Modern taxidermists don't "stuff" animals anymore. They order mass-manufactured rigid-foam forms the approximate size and shape of the animals, stretch the critters' tanned hides over the forms and stitch up all the seams.
For Barger's bear, Cole couldn't do that. No manufacturer makes a "bear seated and robbing a bee's nest" form. Cole had to cut the limbs off a standard form, articulate and rearrange them in the desired pose, reinforce them, cement them into place, and smooth out all the junctions with filler.
Before he started working on the mount, Cole had another creative brainstorm: He'd fashion a few artificial bees and have them crawling on the bear and trying to sting it.
To introduce some whimsy, he decided to put one of the bees on the bear's nose and depict the creature using its outstretched tongue to try to flick the bee away. No manufacturer makes an extended bear's tongue, so Cole made a latex mold of the bear's real tongue and cast an artificial tongue from that.
Cole revealed the mount to Barger at the West Virginia Hunting and Fishing Show in late January.
"I went in and saw it, and I was so happy I almost cried," Barger said. "It blew my mind. I never expected anything of that level. There were full-body mounts of bears all over the Civic Center during the show, but they all looked like stuffed bears. My bear looked alive."
Cole said Barger's response is the best compliment a taxidermist can receive.
"I get a great deal of satisfaction from seeing clients' reactions. They make my day," he added.
Part of the freedom to be creative comes directly from clients' bank accounts. Cole charges $500 for a standard buck shoulder mount. Full-body mounts for deer start at $1,300 and go up from there.
"A lot of the clients I get are concerned about the bottom line and just go for the standard stuff, and that's perfectly fine," Cole said. "But a lot of the guys who get shoulder mounts tell me they wish they'd asked for something a little outside the ordinary."
To help get his clients to think outside the stereotypical box, Cole has lined his shop's showroom with creative mounts. A fox, with all four paws off the ground, appears to defy gravity as it leaps to try to catch a flushing grouse. An 11-foot alligator seems to glide past a sunken tree limb. High on the wall, a mountain lion leaps onto the back of a running deer.
"These are my own mounts," Cole said. "Working with them taught me a lot about how to do the creative stuff. I put them out here so people can see what is possible."
At some point in the process, he added, workmanship gives way to artistic flair. And it's that artistic flair that brings clients back time and again.
"I have a client whose wife wouldn't let him bring mounts into the house," Cole recalled. "Then I did a really nice bobcat mount for him, and he showed it to his wife. She said, 'Bring it in and put it on the wall -- and as long as he mounts them, you can have more.
"Since then, I've done a turkey, a beaver, a coyote and three more deer for them. Clients like that make being a taxidermist really enjoyable."
Reach John McCoy at email@example.com or 304-348-1231.