Barry Johnson might no longer be in business as a taxidermist but deer heads remain on his mind.
That’s what happens when you spend nearly five decades working in the field.
The 69-year-old closed Johnson’s Taxidermy this year, a business which he started in Imperial and moved to North Platte in 1992, During those 47 years of operation, he mounted or stuffed everything from elk and mule and whitetail deer to a pair of horses to big-game wildlife in special projects for Cabela’s.
“I’m just burned out. I don’t want to go to work any more.” said Johnson, who still is finishing deer mounts from last year. “I love to tinker but what started out as that became a job. That’s when the fun (of taxidermy) went out for me.”
But taxidermy is something in the thoughts of Johnson and deer hunters across the state as the gun season begins Saturday in Nebraska.
A number of those hunters who will hit the woods and fields will seek a place to have their potential trophy animals preserved or mounted. Johnson said there are more options than ever for people to do so now as it, “just takes $8 license fee to become a taxidermist (in Nebraska).”
Johnson credits Floyd Houser, who ran a taxidermy business in Sutherland, from giving him some education in the business when he first started out. But Johnson added that he had to, “learn most of everything the hard way. I didn’t go to school or anything for this.”
Given that background, Johnson did offer a few tips Friday on what to look for in a good taxidermist.
» Find one that does picture-perfect work.
Johnson suggests going to visit the taxidermist in person to look at the work they have done and to bring a deer photo or a picture from a magazine with you.
“Hold it right up against their work,” Johnson said. “Look at eyes, look at the ears and the grooming (of the deer). Is it all proportioned? Does it look like the picture? I’ve been to some taxidermist shops and one deer eye is here and the other is at (another level).
“The biggest mistake people make is that they walk into the shop and just look at the antlers,” Johnson said. “They don’t really look at the mount.”
» Don’t make a decision based on price alone.
Johnson said there are places that could charge $800 or more to mount a deer head while someone else might start at $550.
“There might be a reason for that (difference in pricing),” Johnson said. “(Lower) prices and quality don’t necessarily equate in taxidermy. There are people who will cut corners. I tell people you pay for what you get,” Johnson said.
» Don’t be afraid to shop around.
“I wouldn’t just go to one (taxidermist) and decide from that,” Johnson said. “There are only about two guys around here that I would recommend to anybody and they are 200 miles from here and I tell people that. Those guys are high-priced but there is a reason why.
“It depends on what you pay for and for some people it is not a budget deal,” Johnson said. “An average-Joe hunter shoots one (trophy) deer in a lifetime. If (the hunter) is smart, (he or she) will go to a place that will do a good job on it. “There is nothing worse than to take a good-looking deer to a place, get it back and then sit there one night and say, ‘That looks terrible.’ All you can do then is to take the horns off and dump (the mount) into the trash.”