- Associated Press - Monday, April 11, 2016

ALGONAC, Mich. (AP) - If you walked into Paul Burczycki’s Algonac taxidermy shop in November, after peak hunting seasons, he said things might look “pretty gruesome.”

By early March, there’s a lot more nearly completed deer mounts and waterfowl riddled with pins while drying in positions like they’re about to take flight, the Times Herald (https://bwne.ws/1pZKEwt ) reported.

The Harsens Island resident called himself an outdoorsman. He started out helping care for honeybees with family before getting his first duck-mounting kit for Christmas at age 19.

Over time, however, the newfound hobby translated into schooling through a variety of animal-specific taxidermy courses, acquiring his state-required license and gradually picking up a clientele all initially through word of mouth.

Burczycki said he’s owned and operated what’s now St. Clair Flats Taxidermy for about 30 years.



“It’s mechanical. There’s certain things you have to do. But you can put your artistic ability into it,” he said. “That’s kind of what makes a difference between an OK taxidermist and a good one, when you can envision and do what the person’s looking for. Anyone can kind of do a duck mount, but to make it look alive, like it’s going to get up and fly away, that’s the artistic part of it.”

His website and Facebook, Burczycki said, has only aided the business side of his work.

While it’s mostly involved a lot of fish and waterfowl because of his establishment’s proximity to the water, he also gets plenty of deer and other animals native to Michigan.

He also gets occasional chances to preserve some African and more exotic-type animals fresh after hunts, and the requests have begun to come from all over the country.

“We had someone just come in from West Virginia to pick up some mounts. People ship stuff to us for us to do for them. I’ve got something going out to a guy in Alaska, actually, ready to go,” Burczycki said. “. We just did a wallaby someone brought back from a trip to New Zealand. It’s fun to do different things from different parts of the world you don’t get to very often.”

Burczycki’s hobby had procured a part-time taxidermist gig, but once his business took off, he said he hired two employees who were straight out of high school.

These days, he doesn’t do that much waterfowl, but employee Matt Geremesz, who’s been there roughly 20 years now, does.

Geremesz said it didn’t start out that way.

Unlike Burczycki, he said he never went to school for taxidermy. He started at the St. Clair Flats business sweeping up floors, prepping mannequins and doing bare horn mounts.

Then, already a hunter, he tried a couple duck mounts for himself and, with time, began to do them for customers.

“I was always into art in high school, like just sculpting and stuff and playing around.” Geremesz said. “I kind of took the best of both and put them together.”

During one recent Saturday, Burczycki was stretching a cured deerskin over a mannequin and sculpting putty around glass eyes, while Geremesz traced the skinless body of a duck into a brick of foam.

Certain tools and supplies such as larger animal mannequin, Burczycki said, are preordered for clients’ mounts. It allows them to get the larger muscle features defined and play with positions of a fox walking down cobblestones or a standing bear raise its paws.

Mannequins for fish and smaller waterfowl, he said, they make themselves.

That’s the stuff that allows them to get creative.

“Skinning and prepping is probably the least fun for all of us, and the actual mounting process is probably the most enjoyable,” Burczycki said. “Actually taking the skin and stretching it on the form and mounting it, because you can get an idea of what your finished product’s going to look like at that point.”

Both Burczycki and Geremesz said they’re still learning new stuff about their craft all the time.

There might be recurring problems that Geremesz said he runs into he’ll attempt to fix, or tips he picks up elsewhere, such as in trade magazines.

They also both agreed there’s a large artisan part to their trade, and Burczycki said people don’t often realize how long it takes before they get mounts back after a hunt.

Fall is busy, he said, though they get fish and other orders all year round.

Laborwise, Burczycki estimated it’s a day or so to do a deer or a duck, but the process involved and back-up orders stretch that wait for a finished mount out weeks or sometimes months.

While fish and waterfowl skins are tanned and manikins are constructed onsite, others are ordered out. Materials for acrylic or glass eyes, some plastic jaw pieces and paints are also ordered out.

And again, once animal skins are stretched and sewn into place, it takes time for the mount to dry.

In a workroom at St. Clair Flats Taxidermy, there are fish mounts in various stages of completion hung and waiting completion. Burczycki said they airbrush or hand paint things like fish scales.

Geremesz said it also takes a practiced skill set to sew around an animal, and knowledge of its anatomy.

“These two birds are totally different. This one, there was no damage to it. This one had damage to it,” he said, motioning to do duck bodies he was preparing to mount. “So you come across some that are really shot up, and there’s a lot of sewing in it.

“. It’s not just putting a hole together. If you’re like working on a deer, there are hairs that have to line up. If you overlap your stitch, you’ll pull a hair and it’ll look like a stitch when the whole point is to look flawless. With a duck, same thing. They have feathers.”

Geremesz said for him, learning as he went was important.

Burczycki said those interested in the niche hobby, or the profession, should consider a course in taxidermy, which are often offered at trade schools or community colleges, to get an idea if it’s something they’d like.

Though the “mechanics” to the job often leave them performing the same tasks over and over, Burczycki said there are other small parts to the job that make it fun.

Like recent work mounting an owl and peregrine falcon, he said, they did for the state Department of Natural Resources, which required a special permit.

There are also other things that add to their own experience.

“You know what’s really cool? I had a little girl come in two days ago and pick up a deer from me. She was probably 7 or 8,” Burczycki said. “Just this cute little girl and it was her first deer ever, and she came with her dad and picked up her deer mount and she was so thrilled and so excited.

“That kind of gives you a nice feeling. It’s kind of neat when that happens.”

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Information from: Times Herald, https://www.thetimesherald.com

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