Carl Chavez has been fascinated by animals since he was a little boy. The owner of Mountain Legends Taxidermy Studio Carl views the mountings and drawings of animals he produces in his shop as artistic tributes to wild animals and nature. “I started drawing when I was 6 years old, always animals,” he said. “It’s kind of come full circle. What I used to do in classrooms, drawing wildlife, has started to pay off. This has been a passion that burned since I was a kid, drawing, painting, being in the forest or on a lake or stream fishing. In a way, this is a way to give back, by doing good artwork or a good mount.”
Carl, a life-long hunter and fly-fisherman, took up taxidermy as a hobby by learning from his brother. After working as a meat-cutter and then working for a taxidermy studio in Albuquerque, Carl and his wife, Patricia, also an avid hunter, decided to take the plunge and start their own business.
Carl hopes to use the studio not only as a place of business but also as an educational facility for children and adults alike on the ethics and art of hunting. “You see people that are anti-hunting, and if they would come in the shop, I hope they might appreciate it for what it is and say, You know, this is really tastefully done, and we had misinterpretations of what was actually going on,'” he said. “We have actually had people who are kind of standoffish and they end up thinking it’s really nice. I have a couple of schools that are coming in for field trips, and I think it’s kind of neat that they would bring them in … so they can see that these were live creatures and we want to make them look as if they were alive.”
That’s easier said than done, according to Chavez, who said that from the time a hunter brings an animal in to be mounted, the process of taxidermy can take approximately 10 months of painstaking work. “We take it in and flesh it down, taking all the meat and membrane off, two stages of salting, and then we do a total dehydration,” he said. “Then we fold and stack it all until we get our mannequins or forms, then we send them off to be tanned. Then you do all the sculpting work with clay, like the position of the eyes, and then you sew it up and do taxing, which is adjusting and pulling the skin and pinning it all down, and, after a drying period of two weeks, then comes the final work of sculpting around the nose, and painting and actually washing and blow-drying the hide. After all that, we call the customer.”
But before any work is done, every hunter who comes into the Mountain Legends studio must prove he or she was licensed to hunt the animal they are bringing in to be mounted. “One of the first things I ask the hunter for is their permit number,” Chavez said. “I have a game warden that works closely with me. That way, we know these animals are being taken legally and are not being poached. If I see something that is not right, I will report it, because I feel that, when they’re doing that, they’re stealing from me and everyone else who’s trying to do the right thing.”
Chavez said one of the best parts of his job is hearing the stories from fellow hunters who come into the shop. The business encourages the story-telling with a “bragging board” where customers post photos from their latest hunts. Chavez said telling the stories is half the thrill of being a hunter.
“That’s why we named this studio Mountain Legends, because they (the animals) are legends,” he said. “We hear stories upon stories, generations of men and women who have gone hunting, and that’s the neatest part about the hunt is hearing and seeing the excitement of their stories. That’s what fuels a lot of hunters.”
“I want this to be a nice, family business, and if we’re able to take care of customers as a family business, that’s great,” he said. “My lifelong dream has come true. From drawing animals when I should have been studying to finally doing something I really love.”