Trails End Taxidermy owner John Hlebaen may make his living working with the dead, but its a field that is very much alive and kicking.
He’s been in the business about 35 years with his primary location in Rice. He recently made the decision to open a second location on property he owns northeast of Wadena. While this new location is by appointment only, Hlebaen said, with a phone call, he can be there in just over an hour to meet those who may have an animal and some memories they’d like to preserve.
Hlaebaen, 56, had the workshop and living quarters built a couple years ago partially to provide him a hunting shack on his hunting land and to have a site close to the hunters of some of the biggest deer in the state.
“I don’t like crowds so this is perfect,” Hlebaen said of his location tucked away in the woods.
On top of his taxidermy business, Hlebaen teaches the art of taxidermy at Central Minnesota School of Taxidermy. There he works with men and women looking to get into the taxidermy field in Rice. He explains how taxidermy is an art form and hunters are always looking for an artist that can best display what might be a once-in-a-lifetime animal. He hopes to give folks the pointers they need to create that art.
Hlebaen got his start making a pheasant mount in high school for a class. He found the work to be enjoyable and noticed that the supplies to make the bird were under $10, yet a taxidermist he knew was going to charge him $95 for the job. The impressive markup made it clear that he could make a living doing this kind of work if he applied himself and became skilled in the work. He worked his way up to owning his own business in Rice since about 1990. Over the last 30 years, he’s been making a name for himself working on animals from antelope to zebra. Some memorable mounts include a bighorn sheep he had on display during his open house in August. He’s also done numerous bears, fish and anywhere from 50 to 75 deer mounts a year. Some of his biggest work involves African exotics like cape buffalo and eland.
“Bear are the worst,” he said. He’s not opposed to doing them, he just expressed frustration in the difficulty in sizing up the proper filling for a lifesize mount of the rather large critters.
Hlebaen said most mounts can be completed in eight to 10 months or they can be rushed at a cost. He won’t take longer than that because he knows everybody wants their mount in place before the next season comes along.
If you are in the market for taxidermy work, you may want to consider Trail’s End Taxidermy, located at 12401 200th Street, Wadena. To see some of his work, prices, and options visit his site at trailsendtaxidermy.org.