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In taxidermy, the eyes have it

Staff writer

In the eyes of Sean Bechtold of Hillsboro, the success of a well-mounted deer depends on one basic thing—how the eyes have been set.

“The eyes can make or break the mount,” Bechtold said. “They way they are set and the time spent to get the features right, that is the difference between a good mount and a top-quality one.”

While a lot more goes into preserving a whitetail buck mount or the taxidermy of a number of different wild animals, a quick look around Bechtold’s basement shop shows he is a professional in his field.

Mounted buck heads with impressive racks line the walls, antlers hang on beams, ducks, pheasants, and a mink almost leap off cabinets, and a variety of projects in different stages decorate the floor.

“This is the busiest time of the year,” he said. “I’ve got 16 deer mounts in progress right now and seven more in the freezer.”

In addition to preserving other hunters’ wild trophies, Bechtold, who grew up hunting in Oklahoma, also hunts as often as possible. Most of the buck mounts he is working on now were taken with bow and arrow. Rifle season for deer opens Nov. 30, and Bechtold, like many other hunting enthusiasts, plans to hunt during any extra daylight hours off from his regular job as a health teacher at Hayesville West Middle School.

He said that sometimes there is an opportunity for him to combine his interest in hunting with his health lessons.

“I have taken deer brains into school before,” he said. “The middle school students love that, and it gives them a chance to see what they actually look like.”

Nevertheless, there is no substitute for time in the woods or the deer stand for Bechtold.

“Whitetail is my favorite,” he said. “Out there, that’s my office. There is nothing better than being out in the snow, just looking and waiting for that buck to come along.”

A nice buck led Bechtold into the taxidermy business to begin with.

“I had a 12-point I wanted mounted,” he said. “But I found out it would be six months to a year before I could get him done. I just thought that was ridiculous and I could do better myself.”

Bechtold, a board member with the Kansas Association of Taxidermy, self-taught himself the taxidermy business, and said the reason he has been successful is because of the short turn-around time he offers customers.

“My big draw is the three-month turn-around time,” he said. “There is a lot that goes into the process, like caping out the hide, fleshing, preparing the forms, drying, packing the clay, but when I am ready to put it all together, I can do one in about six hours.”

Bechtold, who pays close attention to detail, perfected his craft by participating in taxidermy competitions every year through the KAT. Last year in Hutchinson, he won a best in show award with a whitetail buck mount, the year before in Wichita he won with a black mink mount. Currently he is considering possibilities for the March 2012 competition in Junction City.

“The difference between a commercial mount and a competition mount is the time spent on details,” he said. “On competition mounts I carefully clean the nose trough those bucks blow out through, and make sure you can see down into the ears.”

No matter what animal he is working on, Bechtold completes all the preserving steps himself for competition mounts.

“I do the tanning right here for my own mounts,” he said. “I send out hides for rugs and blankets to a larger company because they have a tumbler to make them nice and soft, but I do all my own tanning here for the shoulder mounts.”

In addition to working on whitetail deer, Bechtold taxidermied an open-mouthed alligator. He has also worked on pheasant, quail, turkeys, and even did a porcupine one year.

“I got first place with that porcupine,” he said. “But those things stink worse than a skunk — not my favorite.”

Prices vary for Bechtold’s work, and he said his average charge for a whitetail deer mount was probably too low.

“I’ve probably done hundreds of them in the past five years or so,” he said. “I’ll work on anything, but the price varies according to the time I have to spend on it.”

Bechtold has fixed mounts brought to him done by others whom may not have known quite what they were doing.

“The most important thing for a customer to do is to cape it out and freeze it right away,” he said. “That makes the rest of the process much easier. If they can’t cape it, at least put the whole thing in the freezer and I can help with the caping.”

He said that smaller animals often end up costing more because more time must be taken with whole body mounts as opposed to head and shoulder deer mounts.

“A bobcat costs around $400 because there is just a lot more to do,” he said.

A complete turkey mount averages around $500.

Whitetail bucks are his bread-and-butter though, costing the customer about $390 for a shoulder mount.

He said he has seen some very nice whitetail bucks through the years, but the most exciting was probably a 12-point brought in by Ty Johnson in 2008. The buck received an official Boone and Crocket score of 216.

Another memorable mount he did was a pair of bucks with horns locked, brought in by a father-and-son hunting team.

“My biggest draw is my quick turn-around time,” Bechtold said. “People like to get those memories and be able to look at them up on the wall for years to come. That is what it is all about.”

More information is available on Bechtold’s website at http://www.beck’staxidermy.com.

Last modified Nov. 24, 2011

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