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Western Iowa teen begins taxidermy business

October 13, 2012 at 01:00 AM

The Associated Press

OAKLAND, Iowa (AP) — Kyle Hackett preserves memories.

Whether it’s an eight-point deer buck, a five-pound bass or a buffalo, the 18-year-old taxidermist turns hunters’ and anglers’ best work into mementos.

“Many people look at it as a trophy,” Hackett said of his work. “It might not have been a big animal, but maybe it was a father and son on their first hunting trip. They’ll always have that memory, they’ll see the deer mount and remember that day.”

An outdoorsman all his life, Hackett has a few such keepsakes himself from hunting trips with his father, Tom.

“We’ve always taken our animals to other taxidermists to get mounted. I wanted to know what the process was,” he said.

Two years ago Hackett gave it a try, with a whitetail deer.

“I started with a kit, I thought I’d see how it turned out and if it was good it was something I could go to school for and go into business. If not, I’d do something else,” Kyle said. “My first work turned out pretty well, it went from there.”

Taxidermy, a word derived from the Greek for “arrangement of skin,” traces its modern roots to the 1800s, according to Many cities and towns across the Western world featured tanners, who prepared animals skins to be used for clothing, shelter and more. In the 19th century hunters brought their game to upholsterers, who would remove the innards and replace with rags and cotton.

In taxidermy lingo the finished product is a “mount.” A work with just the head on a board is a shoulder mount, compared to a full-body mount.

After a few years preparing deer shoulder mounts Hackett decided to expand his repertoire. The Oakland native graduated from Riverside High School in May of 2012 and headed to Hutton Valley School of Taxidermy in St. Charles in late June. Under the tutelage of Roger Hutton, Hackett learned how to mount animals big and small, from buffalo to mink.

The teenager opened Real Stuff Taxidermy after graduating from the school’s seven-week course in July. The Hackett family — Tom, Kyle and mother Lori — expanded their workshop at their rural Oakland home. The building features an area with two tables and tools for Kyle to work, along with a small showroom to display his wares.

On a Wednesday morning a buffalo and deer hide are among a few hanging on the wall. A pair of buffalo antlers sits on a table, waiting to be reattached.

Hackett explained the taxidermy process.

The first task is taking measurements of the animal — the circumference of the neck, the distance from the eyes to the nose and more — then skinning the animal. Hackett removes any excess meat off the hide (customers generally salvage most of the meat from an animal before bringing it in) and pickles the skin for a day. He then runs the hide through a machine that shaves it down, a move that makes it thinner and easier to stretch.

Then another day of pickling.

The taxidermist puts the hide in a tanning solution for a day, which preserves the skin. He rinses the hide and afterward sends it through a spin cycle in a washing machine before oiling the skin, rolling it up to sit overnight and then hangs it up in the morning.

He works the skin to soften it up and make more malleable, then it’s ready to mount. For a deer, he carves the shape of the nostrils into the foam body and puts putty into the ears to make them solid. He stretches the skin over the body, then inserts glass eyes.

The nose and mouth are made of clay, which he also uses to work around the eyes to give them a real, fleshy look. Two weeks are needed for the mount to dry, after which Hackett uses a paintbrush to touch up the nose pad and nostrils, along with the skin around the ears and eyes.

Kill to mount takes about three weeks, depending on the animal. In his showroom Hackett pointed out a wild turkey, in full strut, that included four hours of work standing up the feathers. A small mink in his showroom was another tedious endeavor because of the detailed work involved with petite mammals. Most birds, with their feathers smooth and matted, are among the easier animals.

Hackett’s built for the work, according to Roger Hutton.

“This craft takes someone with a little ambition and a lot of patience,” said Hutton, who operates the St. Charles school. “A lot of taxidermy takes time — it’s time consuming; some of it is boring work. Patience is needed to get through that. And on ambition, with today’s economy you need to be dedicated. Kyle has both.”

On a placid lake outside Carson, 19-year-old Quintin Forrester caught the biggest fish of his life — a 5-pound, 21-inch bass. He went to his friend and former high school classmate Hackett to save the memory.

“It was the first big bass I’d ever caught. I thought it’d be a good idea to get it mounted, I wanted to save it,” Forrester said.

Forrester said Hackett’s work compares favorably with other taxidermists in the area.

“I think it stacks up well,” he said.

Taking the time for a job well done is something Hackett repeated. The goal of taxidermists everywhere is bring the animals back to life, to mount a fish ready for a return to the lake or a bird that could dislodge from the mount and fly back to its nest.

“I like to see my customers’ reactions when they walk in the door and see the work,” Hackett said. “If they’re excited, I’m excited.”

Deer season began on Oct. 1 and runs through Jan. 10. Hackett said he hopes to hear from hunters in need of memory preservation. The new business owner knows it’ll take a few years to make a name for himself and there’ll be struggles. But he’s got the support of his parents, along with the patience and ambition the work requires and a passion only an avid hunter could possess. To hear Hackett talk about the craft is to hear a man realize he’s found a calling that’ll keep him connected to a passion.

“I want a job where I’d be excited to go every day. I enjoy being around the animals, seeing what people are catching on the hunt,” he said. “I couldn’t do an office job, sitting at a computer. With taxidermy I’m able to stay connected to natural resources. This is something I love to do.”


Information from: The Daily Nonpareil,

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.

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