Following a 30-year wait, Dennis Theriault of Sanford finally got picked in the state moose lottery — bagging a 712-pound bull moose to prove it. But Theriault won’t be mounting that moose head on his wall any time soon. It is now deer hunting season and Theriault, a taxidermist by trade, is too busy creating such mounts for other hunters. 

Q: How did you get into this line of work?

A: It started as a hobby in high school around 1972-73. I liked to hunt and I sent away for a home taxidermy kit. It cost me $11 and they mailed me a little pamphlet every other month on how to do taxidermy. After graduating high school, I worked for a lumber mill. But the taxidermy work was taking more and more of my time. I finally quit that job in 1984 to do (taxidermy) full time.

Q: Did you pursue formal schooling to perfect your skill?

A: No. At first, I paid another taxidermist to teach me things like how to paint fiberglass fish mounts. And, I’ve attended seminars and national taxidermists competitions that offer workshops on how to mount different things. Most of what I know is self-taught from being a hunter, studying books and my 30 years of experience doing this work. A good taxidermist is accurate about the anatomy.

Q: How many mounts do you do each year?

A: I have about 300 customers per year. Some of them come here for small jobs, like having an animal hide tanned (preserved), but most of my work is doing mounts of bear, deer (or other game). I had five bears brought in last Sunday. It took me all day to skin and preserve the hides. I fleshed them down to remove any meat or fat from the hide, salted them to preserve them and shipped them to a professional tannery (to be processed). That took about three to four hours per bear.

Q: Can you take me through the process of creating a mount?

A: The hunter brings the animal to a butcher to process the meat and the head (and hide) is brought to my shop. I show customers samples of my work and determine what type of mount they want. Those are mounted on premade mannequins that come in standard (profiles) that I can also alter to make custom poses. I take measurements of the animal to order a mannequin, glass eyes and other things I’ll need to finish the mount. Then I skin the animal and ship the hide to a professional tanner to preserve it. Once the hide is returned, I rehydrate it to pull over the mannequin, sewing up any bullet holes and doing other needed repairs. I align the ear butts, nose and eyes, using pins to hold it in place. And, I use clay to work in the fine details around the nose and eyes. I let it dry for a few weeks, checking it every few days to make any needed adjustments. Once it’s dry, I do finish work, using paint and some epoxy to touch up around the eyes.

Q: What’s the average turnaround time for completing a mount?

A: Four to eight months. Much of the delay is the three to four months it takes to get them back from the tannery. Most hunting is done in the fall. So, all of the taxidermists are sending their mounts in to tanneries (to be processed) at the same time.

Q: Do you do mounts birds and fish too?

A: Yes.

Q: What is the most exotic animal mount you’ve done?

A: A toucan that had died. And, I’ve also done a lot of weird things, like putting antlers on bears and rabbits to make jackalopes. And I’ve done a few pet cats.

Q: Do a lot of pet owners request that kind of work?

A: I get a lot of calls but the price scares most people off. You have to make custom mannequins or have them shipped out to be freeze dried. That’s a six- to nine-month process and it’s expensive.

Q: What is the most difficult part of your job?

A: Actually, there are two — the challenge of getting the animal to look alive and getting paid when the job is done. I’ve got a deer mount here that I finished in 2002 that a customer never collected. That’s why we request customers pay for half of the job up front. At least it covers the cost of materials. 

Staff Writer Deborah Sayer can be contacted at 791-6308 or at:

[email protected]