For taxidermists like Rick Bewersdorf, business is booming.
"We're hoping for anywhere from 20 to 40 deer heads this year," said Bewersdorf, who has a workshop in a barn in Nashua. "We've already got seven full mount bear in with some rugs."
Rifle season for whitetail deer began only a couple of weeks ago. But already, wildlife officials say the state has topped its record for registered deer kills compared to the previous nine years.
That's good news for taxidermists.
This time of year, Bewersdorf puts in long hours in his barn. It’s like a refrigerator inside his workshop, ideal for preserving the skinned whitetail deer underneath a blue tarp. Bewersdorf unwraps the pieces.
"This is a hide that's been salted," Bewersdorf said. "It needs to be flushed out some more. It's inside out completely. You can see the nose. The lips need to be split. Turn that ear completely inside out and then i thas to be shaved down to the hair follicle."
Bewersdorf is old-school. He prefers hand tools to machines.
"This knife is very sharp," he said.
Bewersdorf drapes the hide over a wood beam to scrape off the residual flesh and hair.
"You see how it comes off? It gets down even further when the tannery gets it. But I get it down as far as I can so it gets a proper salting," he said.
Because of the gory visuals of his prep work, his customers, usually don’t watch
They’re more likely to visit his shop in Wilton. Customers come to the taxidermist after a stop at the butcher. Bewersdorf says it will take close to 20 hours to complete a deer mount.
He says it’s satisfying work. And it pays.
"My deer heads start at $500 and work their way up," he said. "Full mount bears start at $800 and work their way up to $2,000, $3,000."
After years of experience, those fees drum up an income between $30,000 to $60,000 a year.
Bewersdorf says most taxidermists begin their craft as a hobby — often at a young age.
"One summer I was at my grandparents' house," Bewersdorf recalled. "We were up in Warner and I caught a small rainbow trout. I asked my Oma for some tissues and I crammed it in the fish's mouth and nailed it to a board. I gave it to Oma and she was not enamored by it at all. In fact, she said, 'That's wonderful. Why don't you go outside and play?'"
That crudely-stuffed fish is a far cry from the wildlife art he now creates.
Whether it’s deer, moose or raccoons, his goal is to make the animals look natural — from their anatomically correct postures to the expressions on their faces.
Taxidermists don’t need college degrees or certificates. Some states require proficiency exams. New Hampshire doesn’t. The state merely asks for $50 for a license application.
Close to thirty are licensed in the state.
According to the local branch of the United Taxidermist Association, that number has gone down from previous years. With a sluggish economy, many hunters are forgoing the luxury of mounting their deer.
The industry may be hurting. But the association also reports the level of talent is on the rise.
And the number of women entering the field has doubled in the last five to ten years.
Amy Morrill is Rick Bewersdorf’s girlfriend. She’s also his office manager and assistant.
"So I used to go around and pick up roadkill and bring it home and cut it up and bring it to my friend's place who had a local wildlife rehabilitation center to feed the raptors and owls," Morrill said. "So when we reconnected, because we were best friends in high school..."
"I saw the bumper sticker on her car," Bewersdorf interjected.
"I had this bumper sticker on my car that said, 'I love long walks on the beach, reading poetry and poking dead animals with a stick.'"
"And I saw that, and I said, 'That's my girl,'" Bewersdorf said.