Fall Issue 2010
Spearville youth a professional taxidermist
by Charlene Scott
At 19 years of age, Mary Nietling, a graduate of Spearville High School, is one of the youngest–if not the youngest—taxidermist in the state of Kansas.
“I think it is unusual and remarkable that someone as young as Mary could start her own business as a taxidermist,” commented her Aunt Debbie Schmidt, the postmistress of Spearville.
And her business, “Alive Again Taxidermy,” is booming for Mary, who grew up on a ranch owned by her dad and mother, Dennis and Judy Nietling. It was on this ranch east of Spearville that Mary learned to love and care for all sorts of animals.
“In high school, I wanted to be either a vet or a taxidermist,” she recalled. “When I learned that I had to have eight years of schooling to be a vet, I decided I preferred taxidermy.”
Studying with taxidermist Cindy Cunningham of Bonner Springs, Kansas, Mary learned techniques that would bring her 33 deer, 22 shoulder mounts, 11 European mounts (an animal’s skull and antlers mounted on a plaque), and five birds during her first year of business.
“It usually takes six months to a year to finish a deer,” explained Mary, who sat at a table under the watchful eyes of a snow goose, a grey fox, a prairie chicken, a pheasant, a bobcat, and three deer hanging from the walls around her.
“Deer are my favorite animals to mount,” she said. “I have six ready now: four for customers and two for sale.”
A bird, on the other hand, takes only two weeks: “a week to mount it and a week to dry and paint the beaks and wattle.”
While studying in Bonner Springs, Mary mounted two deer, a gray fox, a bobcat, a wigeon duck, a pheasant, and a prairie chicken. She also has pheasants and quail available to sell.
“A customer came in who had seen a stuffed bird on its back holding a beer bottle!” she said. “I made a bird like it for him, and then a friend of the owner wanted one too, so I furnished the bird and did the mounting for him. At a convention, I saw a stuffed snake eating another snake. That was pretty cool.”
Mary said she refuses to mount dogs, cats, snakes, fish, or alligators, however.
“I don’t do reptiles or snakes,” she said, shaking her head at the thought. “You never know the family history of a dog or cat. But a deer is a wild animal; you don’t have to think about its emotional history.”
One man brought Mary a large bear to have her mount it as a rug.
“I sent it off to have it done,” she laughed. “I’ve had people say they might bring me an elk or moose, and I’m sure I could handle them. My teacher told me if I had any questions, I could always call her and she would help me out.”
Mary does her own tanning, but all tanning is accepted at the owner’s risk only. Successful tanning depends on the quality of the game that is submitted.
For bird lovers who wish to preserve their finds forever, Mary has a few hints.
“Handle a bird by its feet,” she suggested. “Never wring its neck if it is to be mounted. Keep the bird as dry as possible, and keep blood off the plumage. Plug the mouth with tissue or a cotton ball, and wrap the bird in plastic. Bring it to us as soon as possible or freeze the bird solid.”
Mary has learned so much about the animals brought to her.
“Elk and moose are basically a type of deer,” she said. “The difference is around their antlers. White Tail deer and Mule Deer are different. White Tail ears are smaller and their eyelashes hang down. Mule Deer lashes stand out. There are different ways of positioning their ears.”
Prices vary depending on the size and specimen of the animals to be stuffed. A life-sized Bugling Elk would cost $3,175, while a quail or dove would be only $110. You can take home a porcupine for $450, or a strutting turkey for $500. A life-sized brown Kodiak bear would cost $3,450, a Grizzly, $2,100, and a little Black Bear, $1,600. (All are highly unlike to be found in southwestern Kansas.)
“I can buy all the parts of an animal: the claws, nose, ears, and eyes,” Mary said. “Replicas of deer eyes are made of glass.”
Her shop at 12722 Foothill Road is open from 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. weekdays. For weekend or after hours appointments, call (620) 385-2209.