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Farmington man is in business for the birds

Farmington resident Eric Katzenmeyer believes the fact he has been a hunter most of his life helps him better understand what a good mount should look like.

For most people, a freezer full of dead birds means there will be plenty of duck for dinner. For Eric Katzenmeyer, it means practice.

Since October, Katzenmeyer has been fine-tuning his taxidermy skills in preparation for the launch of Taking Flight Taxidermy. He's been perfecting the art of removing fat from a bird's skin, and of getting positioned mounted just so. It's a messy job at times, but Katzenmeyer is enjoying himself.

Taking Flight took off in Katzenmeyer's mind sometime last summer. A lifelong hunter, he'd had one of his ducks mounted, and he wasn't happy with the results. So, he ordered some taxidermy classes on video, and taught himself to do the work. He had a pretty good idea even then that he was going to go into business. At the very least, he knew he wouldn't get to keep too many of the stuffed birds for himself.

"My wife won't let me have that many dead animals in the house," he said.

Much of the work for Katzenmeyer's taxidermy business started long before he broke out his equipment. When he hunted last year, he took a lot of photographs. He wanted to record how the birds looked when they were freshly shot. He took note of their coloring, of the way their wings hung. He paid attention to the details because he wanted his mounts to look as natural as possible.

Katzenmeyer figures that research plus the fact he has been hunting since he was old enough to handle a gun gives him an advantage over some other taxidermists who he said don't always seem to know what a duck or goose looks like in the wild.

"I don't think some of them ever hunted, or hunted ducks that much," he said. "I can create something you'd actually see."

Creating that mount is a long and sometimes messy process. Katzenmeyer starts by removing the bird's flesh, feathers and all, from its body. Then he uses something called a fleshing wheel to remove all of the fat and meat still attached to the skin. When that's done, he creates a form out of excelsior, a kind of wood straw. He puts wires in the wings and feet so he can position them just so, puts the whole thing back together and paints the bill.

The whole process takes about eight hours for a duck -- Katzenmeyer hasn't tried to do anything larger yet -- but seeing everything come together can be rewarding.

"I really enjoy posing them, putting them on a piece of driftwood," Katzenmeyer said. "I have to think through how I want it to look. Getting it to look that way is satisfying."

Getting every little detail just right is both an art form and an exercise in patience.

"I could sit there for hours and play with each and every feather," Katzenmeyer said. "I think that's important for doing a quality job."

Katzenmeyer is still in the early days of getting his business up and running. He's done a lot of work with his own birds, and with birds he got from his friends. One friend brought him a swan and four snow geese to work on. Those will be his biggest jobs yet.

He still plans to make himself a web page, and his brother-in-law is designing a logo for the business.

For now, Katzenmeyer does his work from a corner of the laundry room, but he hopes the business grows enough that he will need more space.

Katzenmeyer worked for the DNR last year inspecting boats for invasive species, but that is seasonal work, and with three young daughters in the house he'd like to find something steadier.

For more information about Taking Flight Taxidermy call Katzenmeyer at 651-468-4406.

Nathan Hansen

Nathan Hansen has been a reporter and editor with the Farmington Independent and the Rosemount Town Pages since 1997. He is very tall.

(651) 460-6606