Western Bear Hunting - Bear Taxidermy

Choosing the Right Taxidermy For You

After that bear tag is notched and the adrenaline has dissipated from the hunt, many  hunters are left with the tantalizing decision of what to do with their beautiful bruin. I’ve written  other articles featuring the more unique things I’ve done with my bear hides such as pillows,  vests, jackets, purses, etc. But I’m aware that may be the girlie girl coming out of me, a seasoned Tomboy. I’d like to go back to the basics and talk about the variety of taxidermy that can be created from a successful bear hunt.
Taxidermy is an art form that is often unappreciated by the non-hunting community. I’ve had many discussions over the years about this topic with my non-hunter friends. Some  appreciate the idea of bringing an animal back to life to be able to preserve the emotions and  memories of the hunt, while others find it hard to fathom enjoying their morning coffee while  something stares back at them. I personally have taxidermy in every room of my home, including bedrooms and bathrooms, so that my husband and I are surrounded by our favorite  moments in time.
I’ve been beyond blessed to have the opportunity to hunt bears throughout the Western  states, including Alaska, as well as in Canada. Bear meat is one of my personal favorites and there are so many options when it comes to taxidermy. While some hunters may consider a bear hunt a once in a lifetime adventure and are ‘one and done’, so to speak, others have the opportunity to bear hunt every year where public land is plentiful and tags are over the counter. Most ‘one and done’ or first-time hunters that I’ve spoken with have turned their bears into the classic bear rug. I’ve always loved the look of a bear rug in front of the fireplace or proudly hanging on a wall for all to see. Rugs are a great way to display the unique characteristics of the bear, including body size, head size, hair color, claws, and overall hide condition. Bears taken in the springtime typically have healthier, thick hair before the heat and ticks of the summer cause them to rub against trees and shrubs, rubbing off patches of hair and leaving unattractive bald spots.
The bear rut can also have that same effect. That’s one thing to consider if you’re on a baited or hound hunt and you have the opportunity to look closely at the condition of the hide. I’ve seen bears in June that look like hyenas after they’ve rubbed half their hair off. You can also choose the color of the backing of your bear rug that can really add to its beauty. I’ve had rugs made with red, blue, black, light brown, and dark brown backing. And lastly, when it comes to decisions for a rug, you have the options of a relaxed, closed mouth, a semi-closed mouth, or a wide-open, angry appearance. It’s just personal preference and often reflective of the bear’s personality.
If space or budget is a concern in regards to a full bear rug, another option is to simply tan the hide and display it over a railing, the back of a couch, or on a piece of furniture. I have many tanned bear hides throughout the house to give our home a more rustic feel. One sits under a pile of deer sheds and another half dozen hang on a skull hooker tree in the basement. Hides make for a great tabletop display where you can also feature skulls, knives, or other collectables. I’ve also seen them used as a backdrop when hanging other shoulder mounts on the wall. In my opinion, the more a home reminds me of the Bear Claw Chris Lapp’s cabin in  the movie Jeremiah Johnson, the better. Plus, if you decide later on that you’d like to do a shoulder mount or even a full rug, you have the tanned hide to do so. 
A full-bodied bear mount is an impressive option. Nothing greets your company better than a life-sized, big bruin staring them in the face. Out of the 17 bears I’ve been blessed with, I’ve only had one turned into a full body mount. In 2018, I hunted hard all spring in Montana, passing on a few very nice bears in search of that next-level bruin. After weeks spent spotting and stalking our favorite spots, we located what looked to be a big chocolate bear high on the mountain top crossing one of the last patches of snow still remaining in early June. By the time we made our way up the steep, rocky incline, we noticed he was tending another large, jet black sow. From 375 yards across the canyon, I fired a shot from my 30 Nosler that hit its mark! The beautiful chocolate boar, who sports a white blaze chest patch, stands with a regal pose in the corner of our living room and reminds me of that incredible day in the Montana mountains.     
A shoulder mount or ‘half mount’ is another popular option. In my opinion, bears, bobcats, and mountain lions are the most difficult taxidermy to perfect. When you choose just a shoulder or half mount, you’re not showing off the size of the bear’s body as much as the bear’s
head, shoulder mass, or facial expression. Their faces can appear unnatural or almost goofy if you don’t have a taxidermist who specializes in predators. Personally, I’ve never had a shoulder mount done, nor have I favored ones I’ve seen until recently when I stumbled upon an account called Orion Taxidermy out of Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan. Their half mounts are incredibly realistic and include beautiful habitat. If you take a bear with a chest patch, this is a great way to feature that coloration. I have four bear hunts this next spring and have a feeling I just might be adding a shoulder mount to my collection.
If you’re looking for a unique way to display your bear that’s not the classic bear rug or wall mount, I highly recommend the old school pack frame mount. Last year while walking through the Western Hunting & Conservation Expo in Salt Lake City, I came across a company called Borderland Supply Co. that makes a convenient, antique-looking trapper’s pack to mount your big game animal. For years, I had my very first bear rug lying in front of my fireplace where it took a lot of abuse from the dogs in the house. I had been wanting to redo that tattered bear rug and when I saw this idea, I knew it’d be perfect. I simply cut the backing off the rug, rolled up the hide and mounted head, attached it to the pack frame, and added a pair of old rawhide snowshoes for a little flair. It hangs by my front door and helps tell a great story of my very first bear hunt.
There are many ways to preserve your bear hunting memories. I’ve been a taxidermy buff my entire life and am always looking for ways to bring the outdoors into my home. I hope I’ve given you some ideas for your future hunts and, as always, stay safe out there in bear country.