Rural Missouri - May 2018 - 23
Far left: Taxidermist Bruce Owens inspects
every feather of a prize canvasback duck,
as seen in the ﬁnished mount at far left. A
national award-winning taxidermist, Bruce
is often called "The Bird Man" among fellow
taxidermists in the ﬁeld. Above: Student Rick
Hammons watches as Bruce shows him how to
ﬁgure out what length and gauge of wire he'll
need for the pheasant mount he's currently
working on. Rick came from South Dakota
to study at Bruce's taxidermy school. Left:
With Rick's pheasant mounted, the work isn't
quite done, as the devil's in the details when
it comes to good taxidermy. Finishing touches,
such as air-brushing accents onto beaks or feet,
adding paint detail to a face, taping wings or
pinning feathers are important when working
on a mount.
life to the furred and feathered
gratefully recalls. Once Bruce felt he'd mastered what Don had taught him, he
began entering competitions again - and began bringing home awards.
North Dakota taxidermist Randy Holler not only has competed against Bruce
in national contests, but he's judged his work several times.
"When you judge a competition, mounts have no names on them, so you're
only judging the work," Randy says, noting there are often 500 or more entries
at competitions. "We don't even know who's won until the awards banquet."
In March, Bruce entered four mounts in the Illinois Taxidermist Association
Convention competition, where his Common King Eider - a sea duck most
often found in Canada - garnered him ﬁve of eight awards: State Champion,
Best of Bird Award, Ducks Unlimited Award, Best of Category Award and the
Lifetime Award. Bruce's most memorable award came in 1991 at the National
Taxidermy Association's competition. There he received the Award of Excellence, which holds great prestige in the ﬁeld according to the taxidermist.
"Bruce has a great artistic eye and his work really represents whatever species he's mounting. That's one place where he's got a lot of people beat, including me," says the judge, who is also a world champion bird taxidermist.
When Bruce isn't working on his year-long backlog of customer orders, he's
usually instructing students in his taxidermy school. The 4- and 8-week courses offer in-depth instruction for a maximum of three students at one time.
"A student who truly wants to learn this art will come out knowing how to
mount birds and mammals," Bruce says. "They'll leave knowing how to create beautiful taxidermy and start a business, or simply have the know-how to
mount that prize bird or buck they shoot. It's up to them."
Taxidermy school isn't for the faint of heart. No matter what's being skinned
out, it's smelly and bloody. There will be times eye sockets have no eyes and
bones have no fur or feathers. But for a taxidermist, that's part of the thrill.
"It's our job to bring them back to life," says Bruce, carefully sewing several
holes in an owl's tissue-like skin before he cleans and dries it for mounting.
"Some people think taxidermy is gross, but I think it's more like art."
The owl, which had been hit by a car, was brought by park rangers at Cuivre
River State Park in Troy for Bruce to mount for the visitor center. Owls, eagles,
hawks and songbirds are protected by federal law and cannot be mounted
without a special permit. Since the state park had the proper papers, Bruce
was excited to give the owl a new life.
"I've only mounted one other owl in my life," Bruce says, carefully pinning
the chin of the barred owl in place so it will set. "They're beautiful."
As Bruce clears the work area for another mount, Rick Hammons, 52, sticks
his head in from the back room. As part of his 8-week course, Rick just ﬁnished
ﬂeshing out a small buffalo hide and wants Bruce to check his work. Rick and
his wife came down from South Dakota so he could study with Bruce.
"Besides being an expert in the ﬁeld, another reason I chose Bruce is because
he took the time to do the required paperwork so veterans like me can use their
GI Bill for more unconventional training like this," says Rick. "The one-on-one
instruction I've received is well worth the price."
The courses, which run from Feb. 1 to Oct. 1, start at $6,600 and go to
$15,000 depending on the selection. He's also recently added an advanced
8-week African mammal and reptile sequence for those seeking something
beyond the norm.
Bruce says people usually ﬁnd his mount prices a bit high, but he believes
"you get what you pay for." Prices run $600 for a deer shoulder mount, while
a turkey will set you back $850. Exotics, such as a mountain lion or antelope,
can run up to $3,200, with a moose costing $6,000 for a life-size mount.
"I love to hunt and trap," Bruce says, "But these days I'd rather give something a new life with my taxidermy skills than to go out and kill it."
Wild Trophies Taxidermy is located at 1008 South Highway 79 in Winﬁeld.
For a complete list of mount prices or details on Bruce's taxidermy school, go to
www.missouritaxidermyschool.com, on Facebook at Wild Trophies Taxidermy &
Taxidermy School or call 636-295-2214 or 636-566-8949.
Far left: 1) A barred owl has been brought to Bruce by Cuivre River State Park rangers for
mounting. Here, Bruce sews holes in the owl's tissue-like skin before beginning the mounting
process. 2) Bruce assesses what size eyes will be needed and prepares to clean out the skull cavity.
3) Calipers are used to assure proper size and placement of the owl's eyes. 4) Six hours later, the
owl is back to its original beauty. A federally protected species, the barred owl will be on display
at the state park's visitor center in Troy.
MAY 2018 | RURALMISSOURI.COOP
Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Rural Missouri - May 2018
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