Art of the wild

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A local woman stood at the B & L Quality Taxidermy shop about three years ago with tears streaming down her face, desperate because she had just lost her best friend.

A white German shepherd lay in the back of her car wrapped in a towel waiting for taxidermists to OK the stuffing of her K-9 friend.

"It was an unusual request," owner Bob Reinier said. "It was a tear-jerking moment."

Although Reinier wasn't the one crying over the dead dog, the owner was beside herself. And when they finished the stuffing, she cried even harder claiming it looked just like him.

A rancher had shot the dog, claiming it was killing livestock.

Reinier said taxidermists do stuff pets even specialize in it. But live porcupines and rattlesnakes are as odd as he sees, typically. Reinier had never stuffed a dog and three years later, still has not stuffed another.

"We said, 'Oh, it will fit the wolf mannequin perfectly,'" said Reinier's son Leland.

The stuffed dog now sits in the woman's home on its hind legs.

Reinier and Gary Troester, owner of All Seasons Taxidermy, mostly receive elk, deer, antelope and mountain lions to preserve in Steamboat Springs.

But every now and then, they'll stuff speckled trout, King salmon or other animals from different parts of the country. Troester said Wednesday he received a grizzly bear from Alaska.

Troester was hosing out blood from the back of his pickup truck Thursday afternoon as five to six buffalo hide lie on the ground drying out with salt.

People who bring in animals to be stuffed have to wait anywhere from six to nine months to get it back. After a taxidermist salts and dries out the hide, he then boxes it up and sends it to a tannery.

When he gets the hide about four to six months later, Troester said he soaks the hide in water to stretch it out and pulls it over a mannequin or form to stuff it and sew it up.

"I sell a lot of mounts for a lot of people in their second homes," Troester said.

Troester said not many hunters have been in town this year; however this probably is his best business season so far.

Good ethics in hunting is a class Troester wishes more hunters would take.

Field dressing a dead animal correctly helps the taxidermist with less work and keeps the hide and meat from going bad, Troester said.

"The better they take care of it, the better the final project," Troester said. "People don't know how to take care of the hides. (They) don't last forever."

Troester said a jackelope (a jack rabbit with antelope horns) or mountain monkeys are fun gag gifts.

"I take the tail end of white tail deer, turn it upside down and make the mouth from the rectum and the beard from the tail," Troester said. "Do you see it?"

Troester pointed to the mounted mountain monkey and said most men get the joke but women have a harder time distinguishing where the newly formed face originated.

"One lady wanted a birthday present for her husband and she called him a horse's ass," Troester said. "This was the closest thing I could get to a horse's ass."

Hunting runs in the family for Troester and Reinier. Since they can remember, field dressing a dead animal was part of the normal routine during the late summer and fall months.

Reinier's father hunted, he hunted and now his boys hunt. Reinier said he was in the construction trade for a long time before taxidermy just seemed a natural step in life. Leland has just finished schooling at the Denver Institute of Taxidermy Training following in the footsteps of his father.

"You just get used to it," Reinier said of the dirt, blood and guts of dead animals.

The taxidermists said they have animals mounted on their walls at home but not nearly to the extent of fisher and hunter Lou Rabin.

A circular house sitting about 10 miles east of Steamboat on Colorado 131 holds dozens of harvested animals stuffed and mounted on the walls. Rabin said about 95 percent of the stuffed animals that consume his house are those that he shot.

But to Rabin, hunting and taxidermy are natural and artistic elements of life.

"On a serious note, I have a real love and respect for every animal," said Rabin, owner of Five Springs Ranch Guide and Outfitters. "I am a meat hunter mainly. I eat the tongue, the brains all of it."

Every corner has remnants of a story about a fishing trip to the Bahamas or a hunting trip in Alaska about 30 years ago.

A decoration of mounted animals reflects Rabin's love for animals and the spirit they continue to possess years after they are dead.

"That one over there, he's the most beautifully done and he's always looking right at me," Rabin said of a deer mounted near the front door that was killed about 20 years ago. "That moose looks like he's kind of dumb and that antelope just looks curious as to what's going on."

Each animal that has gone through the taxidermy process has a face and personality all its own. When Rabin harvests a good enough animal, he said he wants to surround himself with them.

"It's an art, it's not a science. (Taxidermists) put life back into these animals," Rabin said. "There's nothing more natural than hunting and fishing and having a hand in the death of what you eat."

This honest day's work for an honest day's pay keeps Rabin busy housing hunters for weeks at a time during the season. But watching the migration of elk through his backyard is one of his most subtle pleasures.

Rabin pointed to one of his mountain lions sitting atop the banister of the third floor in his house thinking back two years when he killed the animal.

Although he was partially reluctant in telling the story of how the cat got in his house, Rabin sat with his eyes closed and vividly told the story that jarred him for life.

"When you find tracks, usually you send the dogs out and they will put the cat in a tree," Rabin said. "But this cat went into a cave."

He grabbed his pistol and put on a snowmobile helmet and crawled in to find the mountain lion.

"I could just see him in the back of the cave just the corner of his dark tail," Rabin said pointing.

As he lay flat on the ground, Rabin pulled the cat's tail, closed his eyes and shot three times. He hit the cat in the left leg and ran over Rabin's head leaving scratches in his helmet and slices down his jacket.

"He ran right out and slammed into the chest of this 14-year-old boy," Rabin said adding the boy fell off a 12-foot cliff. "I'll never go mountain lion hunting again."

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