She'll Save Your Hide

A national champion taxidermist who's too young to drink.

Field & Stream Online Editors

For some of us, the 2004 hunting season ended with a trip to the taxidermist. But chances are the professional currently working on your shoulder mount couldn't also pass for a prom queen. Amy Ritchie can. The 18-year-old from Midland, North Carolina, started doing taxidermy in 2002 in her family's attic. Now she has her state taxidermy license and her own shop and is a national champion in the trade. Her first-place ribbon from the 2003 National Taxidermy Championships is one of the 22 awards she's received over the past three years. Later this month, Ritchie is off to the world championships in Springfield, Illinois, where she'll display a full-body mount of a coyote in midair leaping after a fleeing doe-a piece that took her 40 hours to complete. F&S; caught up with Ritchie recently at her home.

Q: What got you into taxidermy?
**A: **I was 13, and I found a dead king snake and asked my mom if I could skin it. I cut it open with a scalpel, peeled it, and salted it. But I didn't know how to tan then, so it's old and stiff now. Then I moved on to rats.

Q: So this just naturally progressed into larger-
**A: **Yeah, squirrels, possums. My dad had a paper route, and he was always coming across fresh roadkills. But I was teaching myself and really didn't have a clue.

Q: How did you get interested in hunting?
**A: **I wanted squirrels to mount, so I talked my mom into letting me buy a pellet gun. Now I've got a .22, a .410, and a .25/06 deer rifle, and I want a 12-gauge for turkeys. I shot my first deer this year with a bow.

Q: So, what's a taxidermy competition like? **
**A:
I always go in thinking I have this perfect piece, and then I discover all these things I didn't think of-the eyes aren't right or the pupils are slightly off. They'll shine a light in your mount's mouth and stick a dental mirror down there to see how far you took your work.

Q: What's in your shop at the moment?
A: Six deer heads, three bobcats, two coyotes, some squirrels, a skunk, and an albino raccoon.

Q: Do you have customers picking up their mounts now?
A: Yeah. There's always a little bit of nervousness when they come to see it. But so far everyone's been very pleased. I've had a few cases when they didn't take care of the skin. A guy brought me a deer three days after he shot it, and it wasn't in a cooler and it already smelled. But I think I'm going to be able to save it.

Q: What's the strangest mount you've done?
**A: **I did a squirrel with grouse wings attached once, just for fun. It looked like a mythical creature.

Q: What's the hardest animal to work with?
**A: **A porcupine. I got stuck by the quills. It's hard to mount something you can't really touch.