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by Steve McCadams


    What started out as a sideline has turned into quite a business for 30-year veteran taxidermist Dickie Wooten of Paris. He has been helping sportsmen preserve their memories for over three decades.
    "It started out as both a hobby for me and helping some buddies but I also had a desire to supplement my income as a teacher," said Wooten when asked how he got started. "I liked to hunt and fish back then and really wanted a little money to buy a nicer bow and other hunting supplies. Pretty
soon, it turned into more than a part-time thing."
    Two years ago he retired after a 30-year career of teaching science to seventh and eighth graders at Grove and Henry school, where he also coached basketball. Since then, he's devoted the lion's share of his time to his artistic work where time, talent, patience, and creativity are prerequisites to success.
    As I entered the door of his shop last Sunday came the view of hefty whitetail bucks lining the walls. Deeper in the door found me face to face with a bobcat that appeared ready to leap from a rocky bluff.
    To the right was the skin of a 63-inch eastern diamondback rattlesnake coiled on a table where it was about to go on a form in a curled position and ready to strike from the confines of a grassy cage. A trophy bass was over the desk, still drying and awaiting one of several painting processes.
    "I used to hunt a lot but this business has kept me out of the woods around here. About the only hunting and fishing I can do is at our hideaway out west near Ennis, Montana," said Wooten when asked what he does for pleasure. "My wife Kathy is still teaching and she started helping me in this when we married back in '79. I'm not sure she knew what she was getting into," he said with a grin.
    "Each year we spend the months of June and July out there where there's no humidity and the rushing rivers beg you to toss a trout fly their way. There's grouse and more animals and overall beauty than you can imagine. It's a little bit of heaven on earth."
    Wooten takes his work very seriously as his mounts reflect the long hours and tedious work put forth. Being a hunter has helped him understand the natural look of a big buck where cocked ears and a keen eye look and listen for a distant sound.
    His work has earned several state and national awards at conventions where fellow taxidermists judge the work of others. Blue ribbons cover the walls in his shop serving as a testament to his efforts.
    "Trips to conventions really helped me understand the field of taxidermy. I looked at other's work and paid attention to score sheets from judges on how and why they evaluated this or that mount. Mail order courses also got me started," he continued.
    More trophy bucks have passed through his office than most hunters will ever dream of seeing in the woods. A 12-point, Boone and Crockett buck that scored 177 points towers high above the desk. Shane Oakley took it this year near New Johnsonville. What appears to be an offspring of the same deer, a 10-pointer, was taken in the same area this year. The rack has distinct similarities and is also there for mounting.
    "Deer heads are probably my favorite when it comes to mounts. I had some dandy mount of various animals that burned in the Uncle Lee's fire a few years ago. I like to do waterfowl and fish too but fish take up to 13 different paint processes so there's a lot of steps."
    Much of his work is now displayed at various Bass Pro Shops across the country where new stores have opened up. From fish and fowl to full-bodied mounts of deer, bobcat, and just about every critter you can imagine, Wooten has preserved the lifelike features for display in stores, homes, offices, and cabins.
    From the warmth of a crackling fire have spun stories of how the big deer came into range or how the fish pulled and jumped. A glance toward the trophy often rekindles the hunt and sportsmen always seem to have a story to tell.
    Handsome plaques and inscriptions help recall the time and place that years of foggy memories often erase.
    Watching him work is like observing a surgeon. Each step and move is planned. Delicate maneuvers are standard procedure. There's a lot of tricks of the trade too, often learned by countless hours of hard work. Truth is, you've got to be a little bit of a chemist, painter, surgeon, and overall artist to address the challenges of taxidermy.
    "Montana is my escape. We went there on vacation back in '82 and fell in love with it. We videoed elk and the awesome scenery of Yellowstone. After several years of returning there, we bought 40 acres and a cabin. Now we make it there twice a year where life has a different pace.
    His reputation has drawn clients to the Paris area from all over the country. A hefty buck taken by Hank Williams, Jr. is almost finished. The rattlesnake goes to Florida and ducks and geese have been mounted and shipped to several states.
    Soon another phone call or someone else will enter the door with a bag full of memories and a long story to go with it. They have come to the man who will help them hold on to fond times spent in fields and streams.


    Wooten offers these suggestions before taking your game to a taxidermist:

(1) Wrap or cover the bird, fish, or hair portion of the animal in a good, sealed plastic. It doesn't hurt to have the antler exposed on deer heads but cover the hair, face, ears, etc...
(2) DO NOT use paper to seal your potential mount as it sticks to the scales and skin and will harm the texture.
(3) Preserve your potential mount the same way you would take care of meat in your freezer.
(4) A year is about the limit on keeping a deer head, fish, or
bird in the freezer. Freezer burning destroys the taxidermist's ability to work with the skin of the mount.
(5) Bloodstains are not that big of a problem as washing and shampooing is part of the taxidermist's process.
(6) Where possible, a vacuum-sealed process would work great for preserving the animal in your freezer.

Steve McCadams
  is a professional hunting and fishing guide here in the Paris Landing area and host of The Outdoor Channel's television series  IN-PURSUIT. 




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