by C.J. Veach
With autumn comes the renewal of one of mankind's oldest endeavors-hunting. And for taxidermist, Danny Clark of Stratford, it is also the busiest time of the year. "Things pick up in the fall but actually seems to be more steady work in the summer too," said Clark, who has been involved in his craft for 35 years.
There is a shared fascination for wild creatures among us and a growing number of Clark's clientele have never picked up a gun or a fishing rod. "In the 1980 probably ninety percent of my customers hunted or fished but now maybe forty percent bring me something they found killed along the road or by power lines," said Clark. "I get foxes, raccoons, mink, hawks, even squirrels. People don't want to see them go to waste I guess."
Although Clark learned taxidermy through several correspondence courses, he admits much or the learning came on the job. "It takes patience and there's trial and error. You can't expect your first few mounts to be perfect. But you get confidence, you have to. Someone brings you the fish of a lifetime you want to do a good job on it."
So just how does one get the desired results in this esoteric craft? The methods are as different as the specimens.
A fish must be carefully skinned and preserved. Then a high density styrofoam mold is made the size specification. "I'll cut a template and begin to shape the styrofoam by hand," Clark said. "A preservative paste is used to attach the skin with the incision on the back side. Then I'll hard pant the skin."
A duck or grouse can run $75, as they are less time consuming. "With a duck the skin has to be degreased with detergent and a wirewheel, all the fat has to come off," said Clark. "Then you dry the skin with a sawdust tumbler and blowdryer." Clark then constructs a body with wire and a wood by-product called Excelsior. "It's like stringy wood shavings. You wrap it with string and it's very strong and can hold the wire wings and feet."
Taxidermy suppliers in the states provide Clark with most of his equipment like chemicals, tools, glass eyes, etc. He has also done large animals like full deer, bear and caribou. The preformed body parts are ordered from the states and assembled before attaching the hide.
Clark has done work for Parks Canada, Fish and Wildlife, and Orwell Historic Village.
Another taxidermist is Nelson Hurry of Sherwood whose work today is reserved for charity fundraisers. "I was always interested in animals as a boy," noted Hurry, who would end up becoming a game warden. "An older fellow named A.F. Calder taught me how to mount fish and game. But you get help from other taxidermists. Everyone knows each other and share the tricks of the trade."
Though hunting is on the decline, there will always be a strong market for mounted specimens in education and scientific fields, and a place for this fascinating craft.