For taxidermists like Joe Wayner, the complicated process is more than just a hobby or a job. It’s an artform, and these are the moments he is trying to capture in time.
Wayner, 25, is still relatively young in the world of taxidermy — where steady, experienced hands often work wonders on lifeless carcasses to recreate these action-packed scenes as a sort of memento of the hunt. Despite his age, however, the Topeka resident and Washburn graduate has been honing his craft for more than 10 years and even owns his own business, Misty Waters Taxidermy.
“Well, my dad used to bring home pheasants and all that all the time,” said Wayner, who began learning about taxidermy when he was 14. “I thought they were pretty, so I thought, ‘Man, I ought to be able to do something with this.’ So basically, I started reading books and trying to figure it out. Just a lot of trial and error.”
After teaching himself some of the basics, Wayner took his tutelage to the next level by learning from a neighbor who had more than two decades of experience in the taxidermy profession.
“When I was in middle school, I went and learned from Larry Longhofer — a local taxidermist down the street from me — and he taught me how to do a fish and a bird, and it took off from there,” Wayner said.
Longhofer, a retired teacher, coach and school administrator, was introduced to the art of taxidermy in a similar do-it-yourself fashion as his pupil.
Wayner continued to fine-tune his abilities while studying at the professional course in taxidermy at Dan Rinehart’s School of Taxidermy in Edgerton, Wis., and at Washburn, where he advertised his business by posting business cards on corkboards around campus. He earned his bachelor of fine arts in painting last spring and still utilizes many of the same skills he developed while painting wildlife scenes in college.
“For instance, when you’re painting a fish, all the color fades on those so you’re basically repainting the whole fish,” Wayner said. “There’s a lot as far as sculpting, making the anatomy right and everything. There’s a lot of stuff that applies.”
Along with his abilities, his business also has evolved from a part-time hobby to a full-time career.
“It’s been pretty much full time, that’s the way it’s felt this year,” said Wayner, who also works a part-time seasonal job at Lowe’s. “This is my main job.”
In March, Wayner attended his first Kansas Association of Taxidermists convention in Manhattan. While at the convention, one of his works — a black bear brought in by a customer — was particularly well-received, and it earned him a third-place award in the professional division of the competition.
With his first award under his belt, Wayner plans to take the competition more seriously at next year’s convention in Wichita, and he has some “killer” ideas in store.
“I really like mounting fish and doing game heads,” Wayner said. “I’ve done some cool waterfowl mounts. I’m starting to mess with the polytranspar resin, which is artificial water. You can do splash scenes and all of that stuff, so that’s been a lot of fun.”
As far as his business goes, he plans to continue working hard to provide his customers with high-quality, realistic replicas done in a relatively short amount of time.
“I can get a deer mounted up in a day, but it takes drying time and then you have finishing details and epoxy work, so from start to finish it’d be ready to go back to the customer in two and a half weeks,” Wayner said. “I usually give a six-month turnaround time.”
So far this year, Wayner has taken in 33 deer from area hunters, as well as other animals. On Thursday night, for example, he was working on a beaver mount.
“People like getting their stuff back,” Wayner said. “You know, they don’t like waiting a year. I try to get stuff back in spring and early summer, as far as deer goes.”
For more information about Misty Waters Taxidermy, visit Wayner’s website at www.mistywaterstaxidermy.com or contact him at (785) 215-9500.