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Taxidermy: the next big reality trend?

Dan Bantley and Joe Workosky are always up to their elbows in hunting. But their home is on a foreign range — Workosky’s video studio, where they’re fine-tuning a different kind of show for cable television’s The Outdoor Channel.Called “Taxidermy Trails,” it begins a 13-episode run 4:30 p.m. ET Saturday.“To my knowledge, this is the first sportsmen’s show ever to go that extra step
/ Source: The Associated Press

Dan Bantley and Joe Workosky are always up to their elbows in hunting. But their home is on a foreign range — Workosky’s video studio, where they’re fine-tuning a different kind of show for cable television’s The Outdoor Channel.

Called “Taxidermy Trails,” it begins a 13-episode run 4:30 p.m. ET Saturday.

“To my knowledge, this is the first sportsmen’s show ever to go that extra step, from the hunting and fishing experience to the ultimate mounting of the trophy,” said Wade Sherman, senior vice president of The Outdoor Channel.

While both Bantley and Workosky are hunters, Bantley is also a professional taxidermist who will show viewers the finer points of preserving their trophies during one segment of each 30-minute show.

“The general public, they’re kind of in the dark” about taxidermy, said Bantley, who has run the Pennsylvania Institute of Taxidermy in Ebensburg about 70 miles east of Pittsburgh for 20 years. “One thing that’s always disturbed me is that when a hunter comes in (to get a trophy mounted) pretty much the only question they ever asked was, ‘How much is it going to cost?”’

The art of taxidermy

More than 100 years ago, game animals, birds and fish often were stuffed with rags or sawdust. In the 1930s and 1940s, that gave way to putting the hide on mannequins made of paper layered with resin and plaster. And in the last 25 years or so, taxidermists have used mannequins made from molded polyurethane foam.

Bantley recently instructed 15 students in the painstaking measurements of the mannequin heads and the trophy hides as wind whipped the snow outside the school. Bantley spent more than 10 minutes lecturing his students on something as seemingly insignificant as the angle of a deer’s ear to make it appear more lifelike.

The actual time spent on a trophy can be less than 20 hours, but those hours can be spread over several months while the taxidermist waits for the hide to tan.

Bantley and other taxidermists have state, national and international competitions, some of which were shot for the television show. The goal is to score 90 points or more on a 100-point scale, with judges using references, photos and casts of real animals.

“Everything that’s unlike a live animal is deducted. On eyes, if the lid shape is not correct — if the high spot (of the lid) was in the middle of the eye on a deer, it wouldn’t be correct, for example,” Bantley said.

Homegrown reality show

Footage for the show’s pilot episode was shot last year by Workosky on an elk-hunting trip to the Clearwater National Forest in Idaho. In that episode, Bantley, 51, explains the taxidermy process step-by-step.

Other trips include a black bear hunt on Prince of Wales Island, Alaska, and fly fishing for trout on Kettle Creek in Pennsylvania.

Workosky and Bantley have hunted together for more than 20 years with Workosky often selling photographs, newspaper and magazine articles of the trips. Workosky, 53, runs a Johnstown, Pa.-based company that makes instructional and business videos. He didn’t begin video recording hunting trips until smaller, digital cameras came along a couple years ago.

“Since the video gear has become so compact ... we figured, ‘We’ll put a pilot together and market it to one of the outdoor networks,”’ Workosky said.

They did that in June, and when The Outdoor Channel came calling in September, the men were elated — and panicked. They had to begin editing footage from various hunting trips and begin shooting the accompanying taxidermy segments at Bantley’s school.

“This is the first time in my life that I haven’t hunted every day of buck season,” Workosky said. “I went out about three hours the first day and had to come back in and edit.”