Taxidermist pours self in to work

Posted 10/7/21

It is always hoped that anyone who is contracted to provide a service is, in fact, an expert in their trade. Possibly more importantly even, is if that person has a true passion for what they do.

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Taxidermist pours self in to work

Posted

It is always hoped that anyone who is contracted to provide a service is, in fact, an expert in their trade. Possibly more importantly even, is if that person has a true passion for what they do. Whether that is a mechanic working on one’s truck or a doctor or a tree-trimmer, passion for one’s work is a most valued trait.

With hunting season just around the corner, folks will be applying that perspective in an effort to preserve the memories of a successful hunt.  

One simple statement from local taxidermist Richard Smith illustrates that passion for his work.

He said, when describing the finished product of his art, “That deer becomes a part of me.”

Since 2009, Smith has been producing quality mounts, in a timely manner, from his workshop behind his home. Smith Family Taxidermy is a small but busy enterprise operating on his small holding just northwest of Winnsboro. 

While the state does not license taxidermists, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Dept. enforces thorough documentation requirements for every hunter-taken deer and most hunter-taken game of other species. 

For Smith, taxidermy was a hobby which became a passion. He described “looking over his brother’s shoulder” as his brother began doing taxidermy years ago. However, it was not until after he retired from the trucking and oilfield supply business that his curiosity became piqued. 

“The original shop was still here, but unused at the time, so I thought I’d like to give it a try,” he explained. After discussions with his wife, Tammy, Smith enrolled in a six-week course of instruction at the Central Texas School of Taxidermy.

“I love a challenge,” he admitted, and the school out in Snyder (north of I-20 between Big Spring and Sweetwater) was just that. He related how, after the initial briefing session at the school, he had doubts about whether he could master the complex process that is taxidermy.

After his initial mount was done at the school, those concerns disappeared.

“I was hooked,” he stated. 

That was in 2009. Since then, Smith has been turning out high quality mounts without pause.

With an eye toward creating 100-150 per year, Smith had brought on a second hand, Billy Petrea.

“Billy is a talented whitetail taxidermist,” Smith noted, “but his specialty is birds…he is a master at creating bird mounts.”

Between the two of them, Smith Family Taxidermy has played a big role in many area families.

The importance of that role is never lost on Smith. A life-long hunter, he recounts how his father, the late Billy Ray Smith, influenced him.

“We grew up outside of Quitman, hunting and fishing,” Smith recalled, “and Daddy would always tell us that you must eat what you kill.”

The father-son connections naturally associated with deer hunting are a big part of his business.

He described how hunting is for most people a family event, which builds bonds and teaches respect for nature and animals. 

A description of the long process Smith undertakes to produce a mount is impressive.

Mixed in with the business-like description of caping, fletching, tanning, fitting and finishing are bits of wisdom.

He paused when describing the care that must be taken in the caping the hide and stated, “God created this cape.”

According to Smith, there are no short-cuts in the proper execution of taxidermy.

While experience may increase one’s efficiency, it is a long process, which requires attention to detail at every step.

From the criticality of the initial measurements, and the “Y-cut” to the proper salting and tanning of the cape, the fitting, and the truly creative clay sculpting which brings the recreation to life, taxidermy takes one on a long journey.  

The end result, seeing a customer come face-to-face with the representation of his animal, can be an emotional event.

“Watching a customer see their mount for the first time makes it all worthwhile,” Smith shared.   

While whitetail deer are his favorite game, Smith also does a good number of pronghorn, elk, mule deer and axis. The most unique projects he has ever undertaken was a porcupine – “I said I love a challenge,” he reminded – and a prairie dog. 

Given the lengthy time investment in creating one mount, Smith is determined to keep his business small. “It is important for retaining the quality,” he shared, “but it is also important to finish each mount in a reasonable time.”

Most of his work is as a result of word-of-mouth advertising; most of his customers are repeat customers.

That includes a group of hunters from northern California who are annual customers.

There are a handful of taxidermists in Wood and the surrounding counties. They can be found in Emory, Sulphur Springs, Pittsburg, Tyler and Gladewater. Certainly there are others who operate as serious hobbyists. 

As Smith describes, the relationships established between taxidermists and their customers is a bond.

“I have made so many life-long friends through taxidermy,” he admitted, “it is a big family.”