Rural Missouri Magazine

Taxidermy 101
Chip Stamper's Missouri Taxidermy Institute teaches how to bring trophies to life

by Bob McEowen

The lesson for the day is snot — specifically, the mucus that coats a deer’s nose and hangs off its whiskers. It’s the last week of a four-week class at the Missouri Taxidermy Institute and students are putting final touches on their mounts. As two men watch intently, Chip Stamper carefully applies a milky white compound to the eyes and nose of a deer head.

Chip Stamper, owner and instructor at the Missouri Taxidermy Institute, shows students Roy Moorhead and Tom Gooden how to add lifelike details to a deer head mount. Students are shown techniques and expected to repeat them on their own projects.

Chip explains that the material will dry clear and appear as wetness around the eyes and as mucus dripping off the nose. Details such as these, he says, create the illusion that the deer is alive.

“The real art of taxidermy is bringing it back to life,” Chip says. “It really, truly has to look alive. If it looks like a mount I don’t think it’s very good.”

After the brief demonstration the students recreate the effect on their own mounts. By the time they complete the course the two men will have mounted seven animals and will be prepared to apply the skills they’ve learned in their own taxidermy shops.

Located north of Linn Creek near the Lake of the Ozarks, Chip and Carrie Stamper’s Missouri Taxidermy Institute offers practical instruction aimed at launching new careers. It’s a goal Chip understands well.

A student prepares a foam mold before covering it with fur. A generic bobcat form has been modified with modeling clay to provide a more accurate depiction of a lynx. The students learn that proper preparation of an animal’s eyes is key to lifelike presentation.

A professional educator, Chip taught high school art for 14 years before deciding he was ready for a change. Taxidermy seemed like the ideal way to combine his artistic talents with his lifelong love of wildlife and hunting. Although he had dabbled in the craft as a youth Chip knew he needed expert instruction and traveled to Montana to study under a master.

Even while still learning the trade Chip says he knew he wanted to teach taxidermy to others. Following his training he returned home and hung out his shingle, mounting deer heads, wild turkeys, fish and other game part time from a home-based shop. Occasionally he helped would-be taxidermists with one-on-one instruction. In August of 2002 Chip and Carrie built a new shop along Highway 54 and formally opened their school.

“There aren’t many taxidermy schools,” Chip says. “There’s a lot of guys who do private lessons but as far as actual schools I don’t think there’s 15 or 20 schools in the whole nation. And we’re the only one in Missouri.”

Chip’s school offers four-week and eight-week courses. Both focus on hands-on instruction rather than bookwork.

Tom Gooden, a bricklayer from Illinois, airbrushes the body of a mounted bass. The only thing remaining of the actual fish is its skin and head. The rest is a creation of the taxidermist.

“I teach the way I learn. I have to do it myself. I don’t think you can learn by reading it or watching it,” says Chip, who also volunteers as a hunter safety educator for the Department of Conservation.

Students in the four-week class mount a waterfowl, an upland game bird, a whitetail deer head, a full-body pose of a small mammal such as a bobcat or fox, two fish and an antler plaque. The $2,600 fee for the class includes a set of basic tools and all materials, including antlers, fur “capes” and the Styrofoam forms to mount them. Besides gaining experience the students go home with examples of their work to display in their own shops.

“They leave here with a set of really good mounts,” Chip says. “That’s really important — to have a good showroom.”

The eight-week course costs $3,800, including tools but not the fins, feathers, fur and horns the students use for their projects. Otherwise, this class differs only in length and the size and complexity of projects..

“The eight-week class is for people who have more time and more money to spend,” Carrie says. “They can mount whatever they want but they have to pay for it.”

Carrie Stamper designs a Web page for a graduate of the school. Each student receives a Web page they can use to promote their business.

In addition to finding and buying the materials the students mount, Carrie maintains the school’s Web site — the primary means of attracting students — and creates a Web site for each graduate to use when they open their own business. She also assists students in obtaining necessary state and federal licenses.

To date 51 students from as far away as Maine, New York, Florida and Colorado have attended the institute. Classes are small, usually seven people or less. Students have included a teenager, fresh out of high school, and retired people. Six women, including Bridgette Crank of Marble Hill, have completed the classes.

“The very first day I skinned out a bird. The next day I mounted it,” says Bridgette, who enrolled in Chip’s first class and opened Crooked Creek Taxidermy Shop when she finished.

“I left here in August. My first customer came in September and business has been very, very good. It’s the greatest thing I’ve ever done.”

Students in the eight-week school learn to mount a wild turkey, like this one on display in the institute’s showroom.

Bridgette says she had no prior experience and little artistic or crafts background before enrolling in the course. Even using basic tools was a new experience, she says. Still, with Chip’s help she was able to master the skills necessary for taxidermy.

Students learn basic skills of the trade — how to skin animals, prepare hides, mount antlers, carve fish bodies, airbrush turkey heads and create natural looking displays. They also study materials available to taxidermists, sound business practices and the intricacies of wildlife regulations.

“He teaches you everything you need to know,” Bridgette says. “No matter how long it takes for you to get something he will sit there until you get it. He’s just a very patient man. He’s wonderful.”

Chip is a bit more modest. He says the work is not difficult and that almost anyone — given a degree of patience and the desire to succeed — can learn the basics of taxidermy.

“We’ve never sent anyone out there that can’t do it,” he says. “Can I say that everybody is at exactly the same level? No. Some people just have an eye for it. But everybody who leaves here can be successful.”

So far, every one of Chip’s students has finished the course and more than two-thirds have launched businesses. Of those who did not, a few never intended to and others decided there are easier ways to make a living. Typically, though, his students are looking for a new career.

Roy Moorhead of Camdenton prepares a full-body mount of a lynx while Tom Gooden of Pittsburg, Ill., works on his own project. Students at the Missouri Taxidermy Institute near Linn Creek produce seven mounts during a four-week class. An eight-week class involves twice as many projects.

Roy Moorhead, a local construction worker, enrolled in a recent eight-week class after a particularly taxing season building houses. He says he hopes to begin offering taxidermy part time and, as his business grows, eventually give up construction work altogether.

Since Roy lives in the Camdenton area his business will likely compete with Chip’s shop. Despite this, Chip encourages the student and welcomes him to the trade.

“There’s plenty of work to go around,” Chip says. “Every taxidermist I know has more work than they can do. Taxidermists are anywhere from six months to two years behind.”

Chip’s instruction does not end when his students graduate. Often, he says, he fields calls from students who need a refresher on some technique or who face a project more difficult than the ones they tackled at school.

Recently, Bridgette loaded up 14 fish customers had dropped off at her Marble Hill shop and drove up to Linn Creek for a refresher in the fine art of fish painting.

Chip gives former student Bridgette Crank a refresher lesson on air-brushing a turkey head. After completing Chip's class Crank opened her own taxidermy shop in Marble Hill.

“I think it’s important to have a little support when you leave,” Chip says. “I want people to be successful. And maybe that’s not even as a business because I have no control over that when they leave. But when they leave here they’ll know how to do this and they will think they got a good value for their money.”

But those students, like Bridgette, who leave the school and open their own businesses are especially gratifying, Chip says.

“I take a lot of pride in that Bridgette, for example, has a business that’s working for her,” Chip says. “I had a small part in that. It’s her business, her work, her work ethic but, yeah, I’m pretty proud of that.”

For more information about the Missouri Taxidermy Institute log onto or call (573) 346-6871.


Rural Missouri | June 2020 Issue

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