Tuesday, August 20, 2013 11:10 AM
By Lance Traweek / American Press
When Steve German was in college in the early ’70s and all of his friends were tending bar or waiting tables, he was in his dorm room skinning ducks.
“Ducks and geese were my passion at the time, and I really wanted to somehow make a living around them,” German said. “I began duck guiding in 1973 and doing work for the guides.”
The guides told their hunters about him and before he knew it German had a taxidermy business.
In 2003, his son, Josh, graduated from McNeese State University and decided he wanted to not only follow in his footsteps but broaden the business with fresh new business ideas.
Josh now owns Steve German’s Taxidermy Art, which is a full-service taxidermy studio. They mount all the normal animals that Louisiana hunters have mounted but about five years ago the business branched out to reach the hunters and fishermen who hunt in Africa, New Zealand and other hunting and fishing destinations around the world.
What has been the most unique?
With alligators becoming such a big thing we have a completely different side of the business that deals with just gators. From mounting to products, we can do it all. Custom footwear, belts, wallets, brief cases — whatever — if it can be made from alligator we can do it.
What is the most difficult aspect of taxidermy? How long does it take?
The most difficult part of the business, in my opinion, is getting in a rut and forgetting how important good reference is. No matter how much a taxidermist thinks he knows without good reference his mounts just can’t capture the animal.
The two most common questions we get are “how much and how fast will I get it back?” The first question is easy. The second — not so much. The clients that bring their trophies in early in the season get them back fairly quick. As season goes on, the work comes in faster than we can mount it and our freezers fill up. If you have 200 ducks in front of your duck it’s going to take awhile. We try and stay on an inside 8 months deadline which is about average for the industry.
How should one prepare after a kill to ensure optimal mounting?
Improper handling in the field will kill a good mount.
Birds: Always have a plastic bag with you just in case you kill that trophy you’ve been looking for. Place the bill under the wing and place in plastic bag, force out all the air and seal the bag. If you are in the field, set it in a safe place so the dog and other hunters don’t accidently damage it.
Fish: Make sure the fish is good and wet, place in a plastic bag, force out the air and seal. Lay flat in the freezer.
Game: We have more trouble with game heads than anything. Today’s modern forms have lots of shoulder on them. The biggest problem we see are deer cut too short. We ask hunters to bring us at least half of the skin. With the deer hanging from its back legs make your first cut a ring around the center of the animal. Ring the legs at the first joint and pull them through then skin to the back of the head. We’ll handle the rest. Hang the cape up for a half-hour or so to let the fluids drain. Keep as cool or cold as possible. Remember to be careful with the knife. We can fix a lot of things, but the more we have to repair the more the mount suffers.
How do the processes vary from different types of animals?
The taxidermy process is really the same on all the animals we do. We have to get the meat and bone out of everything. We have to preserve the skin, and we have to put them back together. Different animals present different problems, but it’s just part of the business.
What are your prices? What is the most expensive? What is the cheapest?
Pricing is very personal. We range from $250 for a simple duck mount with some climbing up to $6,000 or $7,000 for shoulder mounts of some of the large African animals. White tails are $520 to $595 depending on the mount you choose. Fish are charged accordingly, depending on species and size.
Have you won awards for your work?
I competed in taxidermy competitions throughout the ’80s and ’90s. I won numerous competitions on the state and regional level. In 1990, I won first place in the national competition and was awarded the Award Of Excellence by the National Taxidermist Association, which elevated me to Master Taxidermist. I am a national level competition judge and have judged shows all over the United States including the 2011 national competition in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. At this years national competition I was a protest judge, a position used in case a competitor does not agree with his score I would have stepped in and re-judged the mount. Josh started competing at about 10 years old and has won ribbons in several categories. He is an excellent canvas artist and is a stickler for the little details that make a good mount a great mount. Josh is my right hand man when I judge and has a great knowledge of anatomy.