For North Texas taxidermist Rodney Alexander, time flies when you're having fun.
And as the owner of Alexander's Taxidermy shop in Trenton, Texas, the 40-something-year-old Fannin County resident is having plenty of fun each year as he and his workers create more than 250 big game taxidermy mounts and several dozen bird mounts for their various customers.
"I started doing this when I was 14," said Alexander. "I do it because I enjoy it - it's really rewarding. You get through with a mount, you back up and you look at it and you can smile because you've created something good."
One reason that Alexander's work is so good is because he does it by way of a hunter's keen eye.
"I'm an avid bowhunter and we mount everybody's stuff just like it was our own," said Alexander, who has a couple of mid-160 class bucks from Kansas, a number of good North Texas buck, some big bears, several big African trophies, and a total of 17 Pope & Young animals to his credit.
A lengthy track record of quality work, a continuing quest to become a better artisan in his craft and a hunter's attention to detail have all worked to give Alexander the keys to a successful taxidermy business - repeat customers who come back every year.
"Customers that drop a trophy off, they want to know that they can trust you with an animal and that it is going to be right when they get it back," said Alexander. "In this business, there are some fly-by-nighters out there that work one day and then up and quit the next."
If using a taxidermist that is dependable and trustworthy is one key to obtaining a good mount, Alexander says that finding somebody that can produce a good looking, high quality product is another.
In other words, check references and closely examine the taxidermist's finished work in their shop.
What should you look for in a taxidermist?
Things like invisible seam work, good work around a big game mount's eyes, ears, and nostrils; and lifelike poses among other things.
Such work is much easier to come by these days, according to Alexander, because the tools of the trade have gotten a whole lot better in recent years.
"For one thing, the people that are making the molds, they've really made some accurate molds in recent years," he said. "When a deer gets to us, we don't have nearly as much work to do as we used to in making the mount look like a deer."
"And taxidermists themselves have improved too," he added. "Experience (and education) has a lot to do with that.
"And with the technology advances we have with tools, forms and the tanning procedures that are out there for us to get our hands on, it makes our job so much easier."
All of these reasons make for a taxidermy mount that will inspire hunters for most of their lifetimes.
Looking to turn a big buck this fall into your own lifelong memory?
Then pay attention to these helpful and important tips from Alexander:
"Field care is the biggest issue," he indicates. "One of the biggest mistakes you can make is not getting the hide off and getting it cooled off as soon as possible. You want to get that hide off, keep it dry and get it frozen ASAP."
That means take care of the animal pronto and don't drive around for hours showing it off.
"You certainly don't want to drive down the road with a buck in the back of the truck with the wind blowing on it," said Alexander. "Wind burn is just as bad as freezer burn."
Another huge no-no in taking care of a big game hide is getting it wet, especially from ice that has melted in a cooler.
"When you mix those two things together (ice and a cooler), you can get water that causes bacteria growth pretty quickly," said Alexander. "And that's what causes hair slippage."
Another mistake that hunters make is in being far too liberal with the skinning knife while caping a deer out.
"One of the biggest mistakes that people make is not bringing enough cape to me, or cutting the cape off too short," said Alexander. "I prefer that people bring me the whole hide. When you dress a buck, don't cut him past the sternum. Bring me the whole hide and I can get what I need."
Of course, not everyone out there is a dyed-in-the-wool deer hunter. Some folks enjoy the autumn hunting seasons with a shotgun in their hands while they chase upland game birds and waterfowl.
So if that's your preferred way of spending this fall, what about a mallard, a Canada goose, a pheasant or even a turkey that is destined for the wall?
"When you shoot a trophy bird, try to keep blood off the bird," said Alexander. "If you get a lot of blood on white feathers, try and get some of that off before you freeze the bird because blood will stain those feathers."
Another key to a good bird mount is to keep the feathers from getting messed up, dislodged, torn and/or lost.
"We advise people to slide the bird down (head first) into a pair of pantyhose to keep all the feathers straight and together," said the taxidermist. "And then get the bird into a plastic bag and into the freezer."
How long can big game animals, whitetails or game birds stay in the freezer?
"For birds, I'd prefer to have them within six months so we don't start dealing with freezer burn issues," said Alexander. "For big game, I prefer to have them within a month. With those big antlered animals, it's hard to get the antlers, the hide, the ears and such wrapped up good and sealed off. And when you have those air pockets form, then you can end up getting freezer burn."
At the end of the day, Alexander says that great taxidermy work is a lot like building a good house - the end result often hinges on the foundation that is laid at the beginning.
"The foundation to a great mount starts with the hunter in the field," he said. "Get that animal out of the heat, get it frozen and keep it dry, and clean it up from blood, mud, and other such things."
If a hunter lays that foundation correctly, then the rest of the work can be child's play for a good taxidermist like Alexander.
A taxidermist who can then be just a few steps away from turning a trophy animal into a memory-filled taxidermy mount that will last for a long time to come.
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