Taxidermy is a skill I've always found very interesting. The ability to take a dead animal and not only preserve it for years to come, but to make it look so realistic and peaceful. It's definitely a big business for hunters, as a way to honor their trophies and remember their hunts. And when it comes to taxidermists, there are so many options and choosing the right one for your needs can be difficult.
During the 2019 Hunt Expo in Salt Lake City, I met and spoke with Michelle Bennett, the "Tiny Taxidermist". I have followed her on Instagram for quite a while and enjoyed speaking with her at the Expo and seeing her work on display. Michelle has been doing taxidermy work for about 5 years, and currently works with two taxidermists, Animal Art Taxidermy and Premier Bird Taxidermy, both in Utah.
With fall hunting season kicking off, I asked Michelle if she could provide some input on taxidermy so our readers could get some insights into not only her profession, but also about taxidermy in general.
Sarah: What peaked your interest in taxidermy as a career/profession?
Michelle: My interest in taxidermy started very young. I grew up with it in the house and was curious how a dead, bloody animal could be "alive" on the wall and not smell! I would always ask my dad (he's not a taxidermist but the best I had at at the time) how it was possible and always found it fascinating that you could tan a skin and create such art work. As a teenage, I didn't much care for hunting or taxidermy and it wasn't until my early 20s that I got interested in it again and started looking into taxidermy schools. Here in Utah, a license or schooling isn't required to do taxidermy but I thought it would be better to learn from someone else. I found a 2 week course and signed up. I fell in love with the whole process, then through word of mouth I found a taxidermist looking for a worker in his shop. Taking that job has helped me get my hands on animals I would never dream of working on...everything from African lions to jackalopes! He has taught me tricks of the trade that have helped make things a lot easier.
S: What is your most/least favorite animal to work on?
M: Right now, I think my least favorite animal to work on are bear rugs. I just struggle handling such a big hide on a sewing machine (sewing the batting and felt to the bear hide). I usually need a helper so the bear doesn't fall off the table!
S: What tips do you have for people when choosing a taxidermist? What should people look for, questions to ask, etc.?
M: When looking for a taxidermist, make sure they have experience!! I frequently get calls to fix mounts that someone's "friends neighbor" did for cheap. Taxidermy is like everything else when it comes to "you get what you pay for". Ask other hunters you know for recommendations. Once you find someone, it's best to go into their shop to look around (most won't mind visitors) at their work, or ask for pictures. A good taxidermist will be happy to show off their work!
S: What are your best tips/tricks to keeping taxidermy work looking nice for years to come? Are there specific things you would recommend/not recommend doing?
M: Once your mount is home you'll want to dust it off once in awhile. With big game animals, spray a little Windex on a paper towel and wipe it down. Pet it like you would a dog, go with the hair. Same with antlers, wipe them down with Windex!
With birds, get a can of air or air compressor turned down and spray with the feathers, holding about 6 inches away and the dust will come right off! Don't blow air against the feathers! It will ruin the way they lay down..and it's likely your taxidermist spent quite a while laying each feather out perfectly with tweezers!
S: What advice do you have for other women interested in pursuing taxidermy as a career?
M: If you're a women wanting to go into taxidermy go for it! Women are growing more and more in this industry and I couldn't be more excited about it! I have made some great friendships through taxidermy, join groups on Facebook or reach out on other platforms. Find other women and ask them questions.
S: What, if any, challenges or hurdles have you encountered due to being a female in this field
M: For me, the difficulties I've encountered are due to my size--I'm tiny...5'2" and 100 lbs. soaking wet! So some the animals I work on are heavy and hard to handle, such as moose, buffalo, and life size anything. I sometimes struggle lifting some hides onto forms or racks, and lifting and moving the forms themselves.
Michelle's love of animals isn't limited to taxidermy, she's also an avid outdoorswoman and hunter. Be sure to follow her on Instagram at @tiny.taxidermist.
Check out the photos below to see Michelle in the shop, some of her finished work (including some awards!) as well as some of her own trophies!
Sarah Honadel is an avid outdoorswoman from Kentucky, now living in Idaho, who enjoys hunting elk, deer, turkey and waterfowl. She is a team member at Huntress View, Pro Staff for Browning Trail Cameras and Brand Ambassador for the GoWild app and BaseMap app. Follow her on Instagram @waddysarah and @arrowridgecreations.