There are many taxidermy shops along U.S. 90 heading toward San Antonio. But when I saw the mammoth stuffed elk in the open door of an industrial building during a long day of riding, I decided to take a break and learn something.
Joe Schneider, owner of Realistic Taxidermy, and his assistant Amanda toured me through their operation outside of Hondo, TX. They preserve and mount all sorts of animals, half of which are white-tailed deer from the local region.
Here’s how it works. Hunters bring them a deer. They take specific measurements along the neck, nose, brow, and antler mount of each animal. They remove the antlers and number match each part of the specimen. Then they remove the hide. They turn it inside out – every crevice – for tanning, which takes three to four weeks of salt drying and chemical treatment.
They select a prefabricated foam manikin that close matches the deer’s measurements. They elongate / shorten / adjust it to match their original measurements. No two deer are alike, though they all have the same color eyes. Glass eyes vary only in size. Once the hide has turned to leather, they mount the antlers and stretch the hide onto the form, a process that resembles shrink-wrapping.
Amanda was in high school when she began working with Joe. “People used to think I was Joe’s daughter. Now they think I’m his wife.” She is neither. She’s just a taxidermy expert in a successful business. “A lot of taxidermists work out of their garage. They’ll take a hide, sell it, and then disappear. People know we’re here. We have a half million-dollar shop and Joe lives right next door. We’re not going anywhere.”
Deer hunting has a specific season in Texas. First, there is a period for bow hunters only, followed by rifle hunting for bucks, and then does. But in these parts, hunting is a year round occupation. “There are over sixty introduced species to this region that can be hunted anytime.” Some of the species are confined to huge ranches that have become hunting preserves. Others have escaped and become nuisances. Wild boars are particularly destructive, though few hunters want to mount one of them over their mantle.
Joe Schneider is a bow hunter. He killed the giant elk Realistic Taxidermy displays along the road as well as all the other elk on display in their showroom. “I started taxidermy in my garage thirty years ago. Four years ago we built this.” Judging from their backlog of work, it’s a good business. Mounting a white-tailed deer starts at $795, more exotic specimens run into the thousands. The mounting process takes a month to complete, but they work on a strict first-in, first-out basis. The current backlog: fourteen months. “Hunters will wait because we do such a good job.”
How will we live tomorrow?
“I interpret your question as dreaming of the future. I’m a bad predictor. In the near future there is an election that will change how we live tomorrow. International terrorism can affect things we have no control over.” – Joe