The good old days are now
How conservation has created an abundance for this longtime taxidermist
You might think being surrounded by dead critters could bring a person down, but Dewey Schmitz is still lively as ever, after over 30 years in the taxidermy business.
In fact, he’s busier than ever in a profession that’s seen a boost from pandemic hunting and fishing. All those hunters and anglers that were cooped up inside, stormed the fields, forests and water holes and returned with a bounty worthy of the wall. That’s where Dewey’s Taxidermy comes in.
Schmitz meddled in taxidermy early on in high school.
“My first several mounts ended up in the garbage,” he admits. But with practice came a skill that shows years later. His very first mounted deer — a roadkill doe — is still a prominent display at Weber’s in Wadena, where you can see it reminding hunters of the deer season. His workshops have a steady flow of work in progress and finished pieces.
“I enjoyed the outdoors, it wasn’t just about the killing,” Schmitz said about his reason for getting into it. “You’re preserving a memory of it.”
Of course the painful trade-off for running a taxidermy business is that you are needed most during those key hunting and fishing seasons. That means he misses out on rifle season and barely has time to bow hunt. Trapping remains a hobby near and dear to his heart. While it too is plenty of work, it’s his form of outdoor therapy he needs.
Schmitz got his professional start in taxidermy when he went to taxidermy school in 1982 in Nisswa. He turned the passion into a business in 1990 and within a decade became busy enough to need to hire on more help at his headquarters northwest of Wadena. In 2002, Ryan Schmitz started helping. Now those two work full time, others work part time and more still work seasonally to keep up with the demand of all those trophy animals. Their current work includes bears, ducks, fish of all sizes and soon there will be an onslaught of deer. Dewey said the 10 days of deer season typically brings in eight to nine months of work for the taxidermy business. Right now an abundance of bear, and big bear at that, have been steadily arriving.
The main entry into the workshop is filled with mounts including a wall of deer shoulder mounts, ducks, geese, small game and a counter filled with bear skulls. These are all ready for customers to pick up. Many will be back in the fall to pick up the order and possibly bring in the next big trophy animal and a great memory to go with it.
In the last five years, Dewey said demand for taxidermy services has doubled. Some reasoning behind that is a healthy deer population. The Quality Deer Management Association has been helping to increase the number of more mature deer being harvested and overall population thanks to a selective harvest. More people planting food plots has also increased the odds for some to bring in a trophy deer that’s had an excellent nutrition. A renewed interest in buying land just for deer hunting means more people have clued in on the strong population. Even the mild winters have helped ease the lives of growing deer. It’s a stark contrast to decades ago when seeing a deer was the talk of the town.
“I remember as a kid when somebody saw a deer in the neighborhood, we all went to see the tracks, it was like seeing a bear now,” Dewey said. Of course, even seeing a bear now is not unheard of as they become more common in this part of the state. A lot of that has to do with conservation. One cannot enjoy tomorrow what’s been eradicated today.
“Because of the deer coming back we have a lot of other wildlife making a comeback, such as the fisher, bobcat, timberwolves,” Dewey said. “All that is coming back while regulated hunting is taking place.”
Dewey often hears from old timers about the good old days. Looking around his shop, huge northern pike hang from the ceiling; tables of crappies the size of frying pans lay drying; and months of work are at his fingertips. All are reminders of just how bountiful the wildlife really is around us.
“Through conservation we have better fishing, better hunting, better everything than when I was a kid, especially fishing,” Schmitz said. “Just that conservation attitude. Don’t kill it unless there is extra.”
Dewey’s Taxidermy strives to have all their work done within a year. They like trying new things, though have not ventured into reptiles.
“I like variety,” Schmitz said. “I like parts of all of them and all of them have parts that are just work.”
You can find Dewey’s located northwest of Wadena at 63539 340th Street. You can reach him at 218-631-4988 .
Fresh is best
On top of Dewey’s many skills is his ability to come up with rhymes for preserving his animals.
When explaining to people about the proper steps to take in making sure you get the best results, he has a couple important rhymes to remember.
“Fresh is best” and “Treat it like you’ll eat it.”
Getting an animal to the taxidermist quickly is key for them to take the proper steps. If you can’t get there quickly, here are some steps to take at home.
Let it cool. It surprises people but simply wrapping a large animal in plastic and putting it in the freezer can cause your critter to go bad. Consider a bear for example. These animals have so much fat on them that if they are not cooled down first, wrapping them up can hold the heat and steam inside of that animal's layer of fat. They’ll start to rot from the inside out even in a freezer. If you let the body cool off first, then wrap and place it in the freezer it should be good to go for quite some time. But time itself can gradually dry out the animal and create undesirable changes to the skin.
If it’s a fish that’s not frozen, be sure to lay the fins in tight to the body before trying to freeze it. If the fins are frozen out, wrap them in wet cloth or paper towel then plastic and freeze. Do not gut a fish.
Big game skinning. Depending on how you want your big game mounted can affect how you should skin it. A major consideration for shoulder mounts is to avoid cutting the chest or neck area. If blood gets on the hide, wash it off or brush off with snow.
Do not gut a bird or small game. Let it cool, put it in a plastic bag, and freeze it.
Always have the appropriate DNR tags with your animals.