Logger Turns to Taxidermy in Hard Times

By Kimberly Mason / For The Chronicle
Alex Jennings grew up in the woods of Randle, hunting and fishing all of his life. Since being laid off from logging a few years ago, Jennings decided to take his hobby and try to turn it into a business — taxidermy.
“I started by working on my own stuff, and then did mounts for family and friends,” Jennings said.
Once he got started on his own, he took a series of taxidermy courses and then found he had enough confidence to lay down the $200 licensing fee for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife Taxidermist License in 2007.
A license is required for anyone who practices taxidermy for profit in Washington state. Licensed taxidermists are required to maintain records of all animals handled and allow inspection of records and premises by WDFW enforcement.
“Fish and Wildlife told me they could bust down my door at any time and inspect the shop to make sure everything’s legal, that all the animals are tagged and legally harvested,” said Jennings.
Working out of the shop next door to his home gives him more time with his kids, Jennings said. He has a 13-year-old son, Aron, and daughter, Abby, 10, who “took her first deer just last year.”
Jennings works a lot of big game mounts in a year. He also tans hides and makes bear rugs.
“I do about 30 to 40 deer every year, four or five elk and about the same for bear,” Jennings said. “I get the occasional cougar or bobcat. I don’t know anyone that goes on safari, but I’d like to try it.”
His normal turn-around time is about four months, Jennings said.
“A lot of places take a year to a year and a half to get your mount back to you,” Jennings said.
Dewayne Wingfield, of Mossyrock, who has taken his deer shoulder mounts to Jennings for several years, said, “He gets it done quick and he doesn’t break the bank, I’ve sent a lot of guys to him.”
Marshall Borsom, of Fish Country on Highway 12 in Ethel, brought his “once in a lifetime kill” to Jennings, a mountain goat. Walk in the door of Borsom’s store and look straight ahead to find it.
Finding someone you trust is important, Borsom said.
There is an art to taxidermy, more than most people realize.
“You have to set the eyes just right,” Jennings said. “You want the eyes to look like they are alive. I paint everywhere where there isn’t hair.”
There is a catalogue full of different forms and mounts that Jennings walks his customers through.
“People generally have an idea how they want their deer to look and where they want to put it,” Jennings said. “If you have low ceilings you could try a full-sneak or a semi-sneak mount. You have to decide if you want the deer looking right or left, or straight ahead.”
It’s a combination of art and science, “and the possibilities are endless, I could even do a full-size deer mount.”
Jennings prices range from around $850 for an elk shoulder mount to $500 for deer. To have a deer hide tanned costs $150.
Kimberly Mason is a freelance writer based in Cinebar. She can be contacted at kz@tds.net.
Preserving a Memory: What You Need To Know Before You Hit the Woods

By Kimberly Mason / For The Chronicle
You may not be a trophy hunter, but every hunter dreams of bringing home a trophy animal.
You have probably put a lot of time into mapping out your hunting ground and gathering your gear before you head out into the woods, but do you know what to do if you bag the trophy animal?
What if this year is the year and you luck into the buck of your dreams? Are you prepared?
If you want a really fine trophy mount, the work does not start at your taxidermist’s shop — it ends there. You need to do your part before the taxidermist even touches your animal.
I talked to Alex Jennings, of Cowlitz Taxidermy, in Salkum on Sunday, to get a couple of pointers from a professional.

What NOT to Do
Be advised that a throat cut is very difficult to repair so that it doesn’t show on the finished mount.
Protect the hide of the animal as you take it from the woods. A common mistake hunters make is to tie a rope around the animal’s neck and drag it over rough terrain. The rope will damage the hairs, and the drag will scrape hair from the skin.
“The biggest thing is don’t haul (your deer) around in the back of your truck for two days, showing all your buddies,” said Jennings.

What TO Do
Get the animal dressed out and in the cooler as soon as possible. Trim off as much of the meat and fat as you can from the hide.
“And you have to make sure that you leave enough for the cape,” Jennings said, “in fact, the more the better. If you’re worried about not being able to cape out the deer, bring it in. I’ll help. It only takes 30 to 45 minutes to do the job.”
“Don’t put the deer hide in plastic. Plastic bags hold moisture, which accelerates the rotting process,” said Jennings. “Keep the hide dry and cool it down as soon as you can.”
And get the animal into the taxidermist as soon as possible.

Shop Around Now
Find a taxidermist before you hit the woods.
When you see a mount you like, ask about the taxidermist. Shop around, visit different taxidermists and see what they have on display.
Prices vary, so does talent. Finding a talented taxidermist and one you can afford is an investment in time and effort, but it will be worth every minute when you bring home your dream trophy.
Maybe this is your year.

For More Information
Cowlitz Taxidermy
Alex Jennings
126 Echo Lane
Salkum, WA