Taxidermy: Why Does It Cost So Much?

moneyLet’s talk about Taxidermy prices for a minute. As an avid hunter myself,  I can relate to the fact that hunting and fishing are expensive and time consuming hobbies. A lot of money is investing in licenses, trips, guns, bows, leases, trucks, 4 wheelers, clothing, tree-stands…it is an endless sea of consumer merchandise targeting hunting enthusiasts. The goal of all of that time and expense is to enjoy being one with nature, right? Wrong! Well, maybe that is part of it but next to having a freezer full of wild meat, most of us are after one thing…big horns. So after all of that time and expense, why would you settle for anything less than the highest quality when it comes to getting it mounted?

I know that everyone wants to save money…times are tough and uncertain. It is sometimes painful to let go of that hard earned dollar. But what happened to value? When it comes to taxidermy work, value comes down to the old adage of “you don’t know what you don’t know”, even moreso than “you get what you pay for”. A lot of us have a difference in opinion on what quality is …Read my article Taxidermy Quality on the Articles page of our website.

As a taxidermist, I can also relate to the time, expense and creativity that goes into my work. Some guys build furniture, some are craftsmen. Some guys mount deer heads…some are creative artists. I had a busy shop in Georgia for years…it turned into a factory. It didn’t start that way but that is essentially what it became. My prices were average to above average but we were very busy doing a lot of everything in an almost production line sort of way. At some point I noticed a steep decline in quality…The creativity was gone. There was no longer life in the eyes of anything I was doing…the anatomy was wrong and the expression was lost. People still came and everyone seemed happy, apparently unable to see what I was seeing, but I knew that my work was becoming completely indistinguishable from anyone else’s and unrecognizable from earlier days. So I set out to educate myself, the consumer and my fellow taxidermists in the process.  Eleven years later, after a lot of planning and prayer, I opened another studio and school in my hometown of Pensacola with a bit more emphasis on the business end. See our Business Philosophy on our website.

So the big question that no wants to ask is why does it cost so much to get a deer mounted? First let me say this…When I see deer heads advertised for $300 or even $400, I know what it means. It may not mean you are going to get a bad deer mount…it might be average, but if it is quality you want, you had better do your homework before you pay that deposit. The most expensive shop does not always mean quality and the cheapest doesn’t always mean junk…remember I said that. Obviously there are those who don’t care much about quality but it is important to know the difference because there are symptoms of underpricing work that show up when it’s too late, i.e.,  inconsistent quality and excessive delays and that means consequences for the customer. Nothing worse than getting your deer back a year and a half later and having it look like a chupacabre but it is the subtle things that show up over time that are the bigger problem.

I get this quite a bit…$500?!?!  The guy down the road does it for $300!! These folks probably call because they have seen our website, Facebook page, saw our work somewhere or were referred by someone. It’s new or different and they may like what they see and want it, but they are armed with the knowledge of the “guy down the road” that charges $300. None of the guys I know charge $300 but there are still a lot of them out there that do. So when I hear this, I immediately know that price is the number one factor. My answer is always the same…respectfully. Take it to him. In my old Buena Vista Georgia showroom (Still Life Taxidermy 1991-2003) I had the business cards of other shops on the door frame so you could see them on the way out.  Eventually I put a phone on a pedestal by the door too. It wasn’t to be sarcastic… If a customer was appalled at my prices, which a small few were, I wanted to still be helpful. I knew some guys that charged way below what I though they should but their confidence wasn’t there to charge what they may have been worth.  So if I couldn’t get the customers’ business because of price, I didn’t mind sending it to them. There is value in that. I didn’t know all of the guys who were on my door frame and I actually had one take his to the “guy down the road” and called me asking me to fix it after he picked up there! If those who thought I was too expensive were to, instead, ask me why such a difference in price between me and one of the guys on the door frame or the “guy down the road”, I would certainly explain what I offer but I am not debating or negotiating price. I will gladly explain it without ever mentioning the other guys. That’s a big no-no for me. I have a tremendous amount of respect for taxidermists and the industry…especially here in Pensacola where we have a lot of competition among several fine taxidermists.  Bottom line is this…I am in business to make a profit. I try to focus on providing the best possible product for the money our clients are paying us.

So here are some general numbers to answer that question of why it costs so much to get a deer mounted.

Materials – $120 (manikin, eyes, tanning materials, hide pastes, clay, bond, etc. + shipping)

I use good modern forms with full brisket and shoulder detail sculpted by some of the most renowned form sculptors in the industry…Dennis Behn, Bryan Eppley, Danny Foster, Ben Mears and Joe Coombs. I am not set on one…I use different forms for different sizes, poses and most importantly subspecies. I incorporate a septum to provide depth in the nose and I attempt to replicate color and texture in all of the fleshly areas. I have been an instructor for many years and use the same approach in setting the eyes and rebuilding the structure around it as I teach to my students. You can see this in our Taxidermy Webinar #2 on the Taxidermy Tech website (www.taxidermytech.com) under Webinars. I also tan all of our skins…there are a lot of reasons I tan…longevity, stability and general durability but I have always preferred the feel of a tanned skin while working with it.

Though I am very serious about business, I don’t look at a deer head as a pay day. I look at it as the customer investment and it is critical that I give them the highest possible return. So I do not skimp on materials.

Labor – $180 (@$30 min x 6 hours –skin, flesh, tan, shave, mount, finish) – I am not the fastest at mounting a deer head start to finish. I have mounted thousands of deer by now but I’m not trying to break any speed records. Of course time is money and like anyone else in business, I charge for my time. This example is actually well below my shop labor rate.

Indirect costs- $62 (Bldg. rent, lights, water, phone internet) – I do have a commercial location so I have to recover those monthly costs. This is calculated from the total number of deer I could mount in a month of working days and the total of my indirect overhead.

Markup – $105 (30% This is profit AFTER expenses) – Every business in America should be in business to profit.

Total average – $467

That is probably pretty close to the national average for the cost of a deer shoulder mount. It should fluctuate somewhat higher or lower based on what the consumer is after…quality or price. Remember my disclaimer because there are exceptions to every rule…price is not always an indication of quality and that can work both ways.

Could I cut out the markup and pay the indirect costs from my labor cut to bring the price down? Yep…and then how many more deer would I have to rush through to be able to feed my family or grow and professional my business? It wouldn’t take long before my quality went down and for me to be out of business. The truth is, the consumer is faced with a number of choices to address the things that mean the most with regard to who gets their business. Be it price, service, time, personality or quality, there is a little something for everyone in virtually every sector of every market, taxidermy included.

Once you establish your priorities, you should familiarize yourself with what-right-looks-like. Shop around…the internet is a powerful tool for this as you can type in your state and  the word  “taxidermist” or “taxidermy” to the Google search engine and find numerous returns for taxidermists with websites from which you can review photos of their work, prices and credentials. Look for common traits such as membership in trade or conservation organizations, awards, years established, etc. Outdoor forums are a good place to see reviews of other taxidermists and you should definitely look at the Social Media sites like Facebook and Instagram for taxidermists near you. This can be helpful in developing a profile to measure those who are within your own geographical range against your requirements. Do some advanced planning…the next time you see a mount hanging in a restaurant or in someone else’s home, look a little closer at the eyes, the lip line and the nostrils….does it look like the real thing? Look at the same features in a picture of the live animal and ask yourself how important it is to you to achieve that level of detail. Right after you have taken your trophy in the field is the wrong time to make that kind of decision. It is hard to replace the pride and satisfaction you feel with your mount the day you harvest. The next big day is the day you pick it up from the taxidermist, and while some of the adrenalin may have quit flowing, there is still a wide smile reserved for that big set of horns or that 12 solid pounds of monster bass…trust me, you will not be able to get past the sheer size of it for the first few months. The real question is this…can you live with it after that?

If you have any questions, call us at (850) 549-3497 or stop by…we are located at 8929   Pensacola Blvd in the Instaloan complex across the street from Walmart in Ensley.

Visit our website at www.expressionsofwildlife.com

December Special

$50 off special on our standard $550 Whitetail Deer Shoulder Mount

Whitetail Deer Skull Mounts

Bone or Dyed  $175

Camo Dip or Metal Coating  $225

Cape out your deer as though you are doing a shoulder mount and we will give you a $$ credit toward your skull mount. Our skulls are beetle cleaned, degreased and bleached in peroxide.

Antler mounts on a panel start at $100.

Average completion time for shoulder mounts is 4-6 months.

We are a Trophy Funding Premier Retailer which means you can get 12 month payment terms for your mount. You can apply at any time from home at www.trophyfunding.com. Fill out your application and be sure to select Expressions of Wildlife. You will get an approval in 30 seconds or less.

 

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