Photos: 25 Top Mounts By Taxidermist Russell Knight

Russell Knight has come a long way from the day he ripped an ad from the pages of Field & Stream and sent off for mail-order taxidermy lessons. His first effort--a gray fox he shot while crow hunting--was so bad a neighbor laughed at it. But Knight, star of the hit History Channel series "Mounted In Alaska," didn't give up. He tried another fox, which earned a $25 commission to mount a pheasant. That led to an after-school job at a taxidermy shop near his Mississippi home, and there he first heard tales of Alaska's big-game hunting. "At 14 I started telling my parents, 'I'm moving to Alaska to be a big-game taxidermist,' and when I graduated from high school I jumped on a jet and flew to Anchorage," Knight recalls, his southern drawl still thick as sorghum syrup after more than three decades in the frozen north. "And 34 years later I got me a TV show--just like that, an overnight success."
"Mounted in Alaska" follows Knight and his crew of crack taxidermists (from left to right: Doug, Dave, Tina, Aaron and Sam) as they try to deliver top-flight mounts for the steady stream of hunters who march through the doors of Knight's anchorage shop. As with most shows of the type, there's a fair amount of drama and tension as egos collide and tempers flare under the pressures of deadlines and high expectations. But Knight says his true goal is to demystify taxidermy for the average viewer. "People have a lot of misconceptions about how a mount is made, so things get a bit cattywampus," he notes. "You have to know anatomy, sculpture, painting, airbrushing; you have to know casting, woodworking, fiberglass and Bondo work. We want people to understand this is an art form and a craft that takes a lot of skill." The "Mounted in Alaska" premiere April 7 drew 2.3 million viewers, History Channel's best ever Thursday night launch. Knight enjoyed making the first season's 15 episodes, but was ready for some well-deserved R&R in his native state after filming wrapped. "I don't forget the great woods of Mississippi, the plinking and turtle shooting, the deer hunting and turkey hunting," Knight says. "All that stuff I did growing up gave me the foundation I needed to make it as a taxidermist in Alaska."
That first gray fox is long gone, but Knight does still have the Field & Stream ad that started it all, (pictured here) along with a lucky deer's foot he mounted at 13. "I keep it locked up in my safe," Knight says. "I've done lots of fine taxidermy, but you ask me what's the most important one and that's it: my deer's foot." Keep clicking to see what F&S thought were Knight's most noteable mounts.
Wolf Hat "I started making hats of wolf and fox and wolverine heads 25 years ago," says Knight, who revived the idea for the show. "Hollywood wanted something unique and different but didn't know what that might be. So I pitched them the wolf hat, and we used it in an episode about the Iditarod."
Rearing Mountain Lion "A client bought this skin at auction in Nevada, and he had to outbid the poacher who killed it. The guy has a bear-guarding business: We've had so many bear attacks that guards stand watch over construction crews and surveyors as they work in the Alaskan wilderness and protect them from bears."
"His motto is 'No animal or no man harmed,' and his goal is not to shoot a bear, but to drive it away from the crew. For his training class he wants animals standing around in attack mode, so people can walk up and see an animal about to leap on them. This is a training-purpose cat."
Grizzly Bear "This was kind of a personal thing for me, because this was a bear that attacked my secretary's husband. The bear grabbed him by the head and was shaking him when his hunting partner shot the bear in the head. That bullet flew within inches of that man's head."
"I mounted it at no charge for my friend just to help him get over the trauma of this attack. I took bear's teeth out of its skull and put them in the plastic jaw sets so he'd have the original teeth that clawed his head in the mount."
Gator "You're not going to believe this, but there's not one single mounted animal in my house," Knight says. "Not one." Which makes this gator, prepared for the episode "Later Gator," something of a rarity. Knight killed it himself more than 25 years ago and then put it in cold storage.
"I hunt all over the world and one day I'm gonna build me a big trophy room, but I don't want my trophies wore out until I am where I'm gonna end up," he explains. "So I keep packing all my animals in my freezer museum. I did this one just for the show. It only took 25 years to get it done."
Cape Buffalo "Alaskan bear guide Gary LaRose was hunting Kodiak Island 4 years ago when a giant bear charged down the mountain and attacked. It broke his jaw in three places, ate part of one arm off, chewed down his back and tore off the calf of one leg. Somehow he was able to hold his face together and hike over two mountain ranges to get help. He decided to get back on his horse by hunting one of the meanest animals in Africa, the Cape Buffalo, which kills about 200 people a year."
"This mount is about two ferocious animals and one hunter getting back in the game."
**Camel
**
"You can't find a commercial camel manikin; there's just none available. We had this woman come in the shop who went hunting in Australia and shot a camel and she wanted it mounted. Well, she was just so pretty that one of my guys let himself talk us into making this camel--and we had nothing to go on but an old camel skull."
"We basically fabricated a camel out of thin air using foam and sculpturing techniques. We have to be very resourceful in Alaska, because everything is shipped in. So we build maybe 40 to50 percent of forms we use. If we can make it we will."
Tahr "The tahr is a challenging animal to mount, because it's got all these weird hair patterns and a weird body shape. The hide is very thick, and the hair is long and stringy without a lot of down to it, so the challenge is to make it look full."
Leaping Deer "This is a very dramatic mount. Skip Winfree, who owns a seafood company in Anchorage, had this memory of deer jumping over a split rail fence. He went and killed this humongous whitetail deer, and he wanted us to recreate his childhood memory."
"The only caveat was we had to mount it 25 feet in the air. That was a challenging job, dealing with all the scaffolding and the height. It's also a technical challenge because you had to be able to view the thing all the way around, from the bottom, each side. It has to have a very pleasing underside you look up to. "He loved the mount. Loved it. But it was a struggle getting it up on the wall."
"People think you're hanging a trophy on the wall so you can stick your chest out; they say you're hanging your ego up there. That is so untrue and unfair. That's not what taxidermy is about. It's about memories. It's about hanging the experience of that hunt up there, and honoring the animal that you took."
**Vancouver Bull
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"Believe it or not, this was a sport-hunted animal. It's a Vancouver bull from Hawaii. Skipper George Vancouver gave these cattle to King Kamehameha of Hawaii so mariners as they passed through could collect fresh meat. The cattle went wild in certain remote parts of the islands, and this big bull is a descendant of those."
Nyala "These are some unique animals. Both were taken by a guy who booked a hunt with a guide in South Africa. When he landed, he learned the guide had been killed. Well, the guide's son took him hunting, but he later learned that the permits weren't valid after the guide passed away, and he couldn't get the animals out of the country."
Knight, who has hunted all over the world, including five trips to Africa, drew on his status as a U.S. Customs-approved import/export facility and called in help from a friend in South Africa to convince wildlife officials there to release the skins. "It took me 5 years to get those animals out of there. The thing that saved us is that I have a friend on virtually every continent."
King Crab "This was a personal project I'd wanted to do for a long time. For years I did crab mounts with real crabs. It was literally eating my lunch, because every time I shipped one it would break, and I'd have to pay to ship it back and repair it. I decided I had to do something about that. I decided to make a mold of one, and as far as I know this is the first king crab mold ever."
Warthog "That was a very fun project. I've done a lot of asses over the years--a deer's backside, a moose's butt--but we've never had someone who wanted one busting through the wall. It was unique and different; someone was thinking outta the box. I didn't dream that one up, the client did."
Knight and his crew installed the final mount in the client's home. "We do a lot of installs for the TV show, because we like to get out of the shop. Alaska is almost like a character in our show. We're trying to showcase the state and its people."
Howling Coyote "A buddy who's a trapper popped that coyote and wanted it mounted in a howling position. It turned out to be a really fun project, because in 34 years I'd mounted only a couple of coyotes and none in that position. It turned out great."
The mount illustrates a bedrock principle of taxidermy: Expression is everything. "What's the first thing you look at on an animal? The eyes and face. Blow that and you've blown the whole mount. You can get one foot wrong, and people might not notice. Set the ears wrong, set the eyes wrong, set the mouth wrong and nothing else matters."
Lion "This lion came out of Tanzania, and Tanzanian lions have no manes. Most lions you see in pictures with the big manes--those aren't wild lions. There are very few wild lions that have manes like that. The reason is they're living in the wild, running through these real thorny bushes, and all the hair gets yanked out of their manes."
Red Stag "This gold medal red stag from New Zealand was taken by a very good client of mine, Clayton Rue. He probably paid in the neighborhood of $25,000 to hunt that animal. Guys who are well-heeled enough to do that usually don't even ask about the taxidermy bill. That's the kind of client I like to have."

Russell Knight, star of the History Channel's hit show, "Mounted in Alaska" began his journey to become a master taxidermist when he ripped an ad from the pages of Field & Stream _and sent off for mail-order lessons. As soon as he graduated high school, Knight left his Mississippi home for Alaska and started a small taxidermy business. Thirty-four years later, the show follows Knight and his crew of crack taxidermists as they work to deliver top-flight mounts for the steady stream of hunters who march through his Anchorage shop.

Steve Hill got the story of how Knight got started and of what taxidermy means to him. Keep clicking to see what we thought were the best mounts from his shop with the best stories that show the almost unlimited range of taxidermy subjects, the various ways they can be showcased and the many subtle techniques used to create them.--The Eds
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