It’s surprising how much taxidermy today is still performed with a handshake agreement. In this day and age, you can’t get a $30.00 oil change without a written contract, but a $500.00 shoulder mount is often initiated with a cash deposit, and no paperwork whatsoever! Some truly outstanding taxidermy is turned out by micro-businesses of the one-man-show type. Nevertheless, when a hard-earned and often irreplaceable trophy animal is entrusted to a taxidermist, there should be a formal written agreement between both parties, so each party knows what to expect from the other. Most of the larger taxidermy companies will have a contract that is designed for the most part to limit their liability. If tanning is done off-site by a third party for example, the contract will protect the taxidermy company from liability and loss due to tanning issues. It will typically include a description of the mount type (wall, floor, pedestal, rug etc.) and positioning (head turn, upright, sneak, etc.), as well as display features (faux rock base, driftwood, wall mount shield, etc.) and extras (open mouth with insert, special eyes, etc.). It should include payment terms, deposit and balance due amounts, and anticipated completion date. If the work is going to take 2-3 years to complete, the customer should be informed of this up front.

Many small taxidermy businesses do not use written contracts, preferring to operate by-the-seat-of-their-pants. If you do business with one of these operations, you can avoid future disagreements and problems by making notes on a pad while discussing the work. Later, type up your notes and deliver a copy – in person if possible – to the individual who took your order. Ask for the copy to be placed in your file, for review by the taxidermist who will mount your animal. This is a low-pressure, win-win approach, and your effort should be appreciated by businesses that take pride in their work. If you took photos of your animal in the field – and you should – print some copies and deliver these as well. Most good taxidermy artists will welcome photos of your animal for reference during the preservation process. If they are not interested in your photos, beware! This is a red-flag that they may use set poses, materials and procedures to expedite the process, rather than taking the time necessary to create a mount that looks like the animal you delivered.

Selecting a taxidermist is often a matter of convenience or price, or both. If one taxidermist in town charges $750 for a shoulder mount with a 2-year wait and a shop full of animals, while another charges $350 for a “comparable” mount that will be completed in a few months, there are probably good reasons for these differences! Solid references, especially from hunters/fishermen you know and trust, are invaluable. Although a step lower on the scale of importance, reputation – for quality work as well as problem-free business dealings – is another consideration. Here’s an important tip: Ask who will actually do the work on your mount. Too often, customers are influenced by museum-grade mounts displayed in showrooms or on-line image galleries, particularly with the larger taxidermy companies. Your animal may, or may not, be mounted by the taxidermist whose artistry you admired. In fact, some or all of the work could be done by an apprentice, or even sent to an outside contractor. One taxidermy company in my area has beautiful animals displayed in their showroom that were mounted by a former taxidermist employee who has not worked there in more than five years – so don’t be afraid to ask!

Many taxidermists specialize in a particular animal group, and some will limit their practice to certain animals or mount types. If your truck transmission needs rebuilding, you wouldn’t take it to an auto body repair shop, would you? I’ve seen walls full of beautiful fish mounts displayed by large taxidermy companies, but they don’t do fish taxidermy themselves… Fish, birds and reptiles are often contracted to outside specialists for mounting. You can avoid the “middleman” and extra cost by going to the source when possible. Again, it pays to ask who will actually be doing the work you have ordered.

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