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From Trophy Bucks To Black Bears: Taxidermist Preserves Wisconsin’s Animals


By Patty Murray | December 4, 2019

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  • Amanda Bestul and a taxidermic otter she created. (Photo courtesy of Amanda Bestul)

Amanda Bestul and a taxidermic otter she created. (Photo courtesy of Amanda Bestul)

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Wisconsin’s deer hunting season is underway. After the meat has been packed in the freezer, taxidermists are there to preserve that trophy buck or other animals hunters want to preserve. Often, that means mounting the heads of the harvest.

Mounted antlers. (Courtesy of Amanda Bestul)

Mounted antlers (Courtesy of Amanda Bestul)

Amanda Bestul runs her own taxidermy business, Bestul Taxidermy, outside of Iola. In her basement workshop, Bestul proudly displays some recent projects mounted on the wall.

“I got into taxidermy basically because I’ve always had an interest in animals,” said Bestul. “I was a fan of taxidermy. I enjoyed looking at it.  When I moved up here, I married into a hunting family.”

Bestul tans the hides of the animals before mounting them on a type of sculpted form similar to Styrofoam. Glass eyes are added to make the taxidermic animals look “alive.”

“Deer are the bread and butter of taxidermy in Wisconsin,” she said.

That trophy buck is a Wisconsin standard, but Bestul has worked on everything from turkeys to a black squirrel to a black bear.

The mounted black bear. (Courtesy of Amanda Bestul)

The mounted black bear. (Courtesy of Amanda Bestul)

“I think the most challenging [project] to date I did a three quarter black bear,” said Bestul, who’s 5’2”. “It was a bit of a wrestle getting the hide on the form.”

Bestul — who’s one of the few Wisconsin women to own a taxidermy company — has only been in business for three years, but her workshop’s freezer is full.

She said she has many animals she would like to preserve.

“The next project I’m really excited about is a bobcat. It’s in the freezer, ready-to-go, tanned. I just need to put it on the form,” she said. “This was actually a roadkill bobcat that a customer picked up. It was in good shape. That’s another way to get specimens for taxidermy.”

Bestul feels she is honoring the animals with the mounts. She also said most customers use the meat, especially venison. As a hunter herself she said her freezer is filled with more than pelts.

Mounted fish (Courtesy of Amanda Bestul)

Mounted fish (Courtesy of Amanda Bestul)

“Rarely do I buy any meat from the store that’s been produced from factory farms and all that. You know where your food’s coming from and I think that’s important to a lot of people.”

Bestul said she feels the killing — or harvesting — of deer and mounting them is a respectful thing to do.  She feels it is part of the state’s heritage.

Amanda Bestul and a buck she mounted. (Courtesy of Amanda Bestul)

Amanda Bestul and a buck she mounted. (Courtesy of Amanda Bestul)

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SONG: “Taxidermy” by Kassi Ashton

Patty Murray

Patty Murray hasn’t seen it all quite yet, but is working toward that goal in her position as Wisconsin Public Radio’s reporter based in Northeastern Wisconsin. 
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