- Associated Press - Monday, January 23, 2017

WILLISTON, N.D. (AP) - Mert Kirschbaum is a purveyor of great hunting stories, which are attested to by the dozens of handcrafted mounts throughout his home.

“I’ve been to Mexico and shot the Coues deer in 2006, and this is a moose I shot up in Alaska in ‘98, shot the Dall sheep in Alaska. In 2000 I shot the elk in Montana. In 2002, the mountain goat was shot in British Columbia,” he said, gesturing throughout the room. “And then in 1998 I shot the mountain lion in Montana.”

The color of the walls in his home was barely visible due to the surface space dedicated to his handcrafted mounts. Antelope, bison, elk, moose, deer of various species, migratory birds and bears seemed to nod to the still wild country in North America.

Kirschbaum, a former military man, closed out more than three decades in the concrete business and retired in December. While he ran operations for Cactus, now McCody Concrete, he reserved the evening hours for himself and his taxidermy hobby.

It stemmed from a correspondence kit as a young man when he tried his hand at immortalizing a squirrel, and with each mount, his skill improved. Soon he found a lucrative side business that has followed his day job career.

“It kind of grew and grew, and now it’s a full-time job,” Kirschbaum said. “I get so much now, I probably shouldn’t take as much as I do. As I do my taxidermy work for other people, every two three years I can go on a hunt.”

His basement work station was lined with furs, antlers and completed busts. He happily explained the taxidermy process of soaking hides and the tedious stretching, tucking, and sewing to recreate an animal’s likeness - which all comes down to specific measurements to make them work.

“I’ve probably got about 65 heads this season,” the Mounts by Mert owner said.

The growing demand for his service, although he doesn’t advertise, has taken him nearly the year to work through one hunting season’s take.

Apart from retiring that should expedite the process, now he has help.

To Kirschbaum’s excitement, his teenage grandson has taken a liking to his hobby and helps when he can.

“He helps me out a lot in the fall,” Kirschbaum said. “He likes to hunt, so he’s always after grandpa to go hunting.”

It is not a common hobby like gardening or reading, but it has suited him well over the years, and the extra income helps pay for his big game excursions, the Williston Herald (https://bit.ly/2iE2Pao ) reported. The pride and joy among the multitude of stuffed creatures is his Dall sheep.

“My mother said when I was real little I always wanted to hunt sheep, and that was the last hunt that I had been on,” he said. “It was expensive.”

Nearly $15,000 expensive.

Attached to each creature was his great hunting story and the Dall sheep took him to an isolated region in Alaska. It took four days in the mountains with an experienced wildlife tracker before he crossed paths with the white ram.

“It was bitter cold,” he recalled. “But the scout didn’t want to shoot while it was laying down. We didn’t get back until 3 a.m.”

The trip ran him nearly $15,000, but for him it was a small price to pay to fulfill a quest he created as a small boy.

Ultimately, it’s the stories that invigorate his taxidermy work and his passion that have earned his popularity with area hunters.

“I love hearing the story from every person that comes in,” he said in his jovial manner. “When they shoot an animal, they have to tell you how they snuck up on them, how far they shot, how many yards away it was, how long they scouted the animal. I like it.”

Retiring hardly seems to mean slowing down anytime soon.

“I’m 67 now, and I felt it was time to start doing the things I want to do,” he said. “Now if there’s a good day and the sun’s shining, I can go fishing.”

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Information from: Williston Herald, https://www.willistonherald.com

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