Adventures in Taxidermy

First of all, "Taxidermy" is just a fun word to say.
Beyond that, the practice itself is fascinating -- and busy around this time of year. I wonder how many of us have hides and horns currently piled in the back room of some workshop somewhere.
When I was a kid, I used to think those heads on people's walls were simply lopped off a dead animal and nailed to a plaque. The idea of there being a "craft" involved never occurred to me. Jackalope
Of course, as it turns out, the world of taxidermy is a wide, varied, sometimes disturbing place. There's competition taxidermy (the 2008 World Taxidermy Championships -- a National Taxidermy Association sanctioned event -- will be held this February in Salzburg, Austria), novelty taxidermy (the jackalope is a proud example), and just plain bizarre taxidermy (I keep running into "rogue" taxidermy associations that make mythological creatures out of game animal parts).
I've had pretty good experiences with taxidermists so far - my favorite piece is a European antelope mount in my living room. I've also met some pretty interesting taxidermists themselves - most notable is an old order Amish gentleman in Lancaster, Pa. His barn is half horse stables, half workshop, and his oldest son is busy learning the trade (that apprentice system still at work is really special to see).
My first experience with the excitement of finally getting a much-anticipated mount in the mail, was watching a co-worker on the day his delivery from an African safari arrived. This crate was easily the size of a small tool shed (how they got it up to the 10th floor of an office building is still beyond me). And the sight of all those heads packed so efficiently inside was impressive to say the least. I was excited, and it hadn't even been my hunt!
My own deliveries have been much humbler affairs. I recently got the hide from that same antelope mailed back to me (I was told that particular hide wasn't the best, but in the spirit of using the whole animal, I had it done anyway). I was thinking about taking part of it to make a guitar strap - the rest I'm looking forward to figuring out. - K.H.