Tom Schiermeier and Ryan Schiermeier, the father/son team of Schiermeier Taxidermy, look at their lives’ work as more than stuffing trophy animal mounts.
Whether it’s a teenager’s first pheasant harvest or a Kodiak Brown Bear taken from Alaska’s permafrost terrain during a once-in-a-lifetime hunt, their job is to first, pay homage to the creature at hand and second, give credence and preserve the memory behind the shot.
“It’s not about how big or small the animal is but the memory of the hunt,” said Tom, the business’ founder. “It’s not all about the kill. It’s about the time spent with people you love and remembering that good time, having fun.”
At 60 years old, Tom is still as involved in the business as he was when he opened the doors of his first shop in 1972. Although he always loved animals and wilderness, had his parents not moved from Illinois to Twin Falls when Tom was just 10 years old, his life may have taken a completely different route.
“I’m self-taught and took a correspondence course from the Northwest School of Taxidermy when I was 10. My father helped me out some – I started with pheasants, working in my dad’s basement and have been able to grow it from there to garages to opening the first shop in 1972, after high school and going to college.”
Even then, the business was family-ran. Wife Farla was by his side when he put out his first shingle and continues managing the paperwork, Tom said.
The tradition of looking at taxidermy as an art continues, although Ryan Schiermeier’s vision is oftentimes different than his father’s.
“My dad taught me everything I know,” Ryan said. “But there are times when we’ll go head to head, back and forth, on how we think a particular project should be completed. Just as every animal is different, so is two artists’ take on how to portray that animal. There is no right or wrong.”
Often father and son work side-by-side. When the project is an African Elephant, there is no other way to work but as a team.
“The elephant was a cool project,” Ryan said.
Tom added, “But the hardest to do was the rhino.”
With a worldwide clientele taking game across the globe, the work is steady. There is a hunting season, somewhere on Earth, every three months so there are no “peak” times. The pair complete 300-500 projects a year and do all the work themselves.
It takes, on average, about eight months for customers to get back their preserved animal. Each animal must be properly skinned, with the hide sent to a tannery for processing. Once the hide comes back, the pair works at framing it onto a mold. In the past, molds were made of paper but technology has improved the process. Today, molds are a polyurethane product. Every part (eyes, teeth, tongues, hooves, etc.) is synthetically made to add to the mounts’ longevity.
“We always try to carry the best products and add more realism to every animal,” said Tom. “Taxidermy has changed so much since when I started… but for the better. They last longer, have more longevity.”
Their extensive front-room gallery in the 10,500 square-foot shop off Highway 30 in Filer offers a glimpse of what the team is capable of. After seeing the work, it isn’t surprising the company has completed projects for corporate giants like Cabela’s and Bass Pro Shops.
“If its an animal we don’t know much about we study it, find out about its habitat,” Tom said. “While we have taken a lot of pictures ourselves and have observed animals in their natural habitat, there are those animals that come in that we don’t know a lot about.”
There are brown bears browsing berries, mule deer sifting through long tufts of golden grass and wild cats leering from rock cliffs.
The Schiermeiers try to stay a notch above other taxidermists by focusing on quality and artistry. Plus, their website has helped shift the customer base from primarily the Northwest to worldwide.
That shift came while growing wolf numbers in the Northwest have decimated elk numbers, causing a drop in out-of-state hunters and bread-and-butter type clientele, said Tom.
“Having customers worldwide has helped balance out and grow the business,” he said. “It’s made a big difference to be in an area with a lot of sportsmen and hunters. The people here continue to honor that tradition, so our company being here is a good fit.”
The pair hopes that tradition continues into the future. As long as people continue to hunt and value wild game, the Schiermeiers plan to provide taxidermy services – although one day it may be the grandchildren running the show.
Schiermeier Taxidermy, at 21336 Highway 30, Filer, is open from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. (closed noon to 1 p.m.), Monday through Friday. For more info call 208-734-5111 or visit taxidermyidaho.com.