Maakad opened her business, Ruttin’ Ridge Taxidermy, at the beginning of the year after completing her taxidermy studies at the Artistic School of Taxidermy in Kooskia, Idaho from November to December, 2013. She also has a degree from Washington State University in natural resources with an emphasis in wildlife ecology.
Now a licensed taxidermist by the State of Washington, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, and U.S. Fish and Wildlife, Maakad started out in her garage up north of Bellingham at the beginning of this year. She moved to South Bend after securing employment with the Pacific Conservation District as a fisheries technician.
“I’ve been hunting and fishing my entire life. I’ve never missed a season, so it’s always been natural for me to be around wildlife,” Maakad said.
“Both my sister and I are very artistic, so it kind of came naturally to me in that aspect,” she continued. “There’s so much art that goes behind each mount, when I was in school I never really thought to think of the muscle definition of individual feather placement.”
She decided to get into taxidermy in order to be financially independent. “I ended up in between temporary jobs and decided to go back to school. I need to be able to take care of myself and taxidermy seemed like the next best thing for me, because it’s pretty much an extension off the degree I already have and the hobbies that I’ve grown up with,” she explained.
Although she’s new to town, word has spread fast about her business and she is already working on mounts for people. “I’ve gotten some pretty cool requests. I have a bear that’s at the tannery right now and then I’m working on a cougar for another guy. Then I have a couple horns that some clients wanted me to European mount for them,” Maakad said. “I know that they’re just testing the field right now, but hopefully come deer season I’ll have a lot more clients.”
Right now she works only as a part-time taxidermist, but she hopes to continue to grow her business. “Eventually I’ll be taking my work and putting them into competitions, but I’m still building up my clientele before I can get that far. I do pretty much anything the clients ask me to do. I work with North American mammals, small game, upland birds and waterfowl.”
Maakad explained that creating good products comes from attention to detail. “What you’re really looking for is to create the most realistic mount. You can see a mount and think, ‘Oh wow they did a really good job,’ but when you compare it to a real life animal, you can see that there are missing aspects to it,” she explained. “One of the hardest things to do is to get a mount to look alive. After moving down here, I actually had people running for a gun because they thought I had a live raccoon in my truck! But, it was actually a life size mount that I had made. That has to do with the dewiness in the eyes, if the animal looks awake, which direction it’s looking. There are a lot of finite details, for example, the definition of certain glands in a deer’s head, or the muscle position in a bird’s wings, or how its weight is distributed over its feet.
“There are so many diverse animals; that makes it really interesting,”Maakad added. You have to really study the wildlife itself in order to be a really good taxidermist.”
Maakad explained that the process of creating a mount is long and a bit tedious. For example, she recently received an entire coyote – frozen. “I brought it home and I had to let it thaw out because it was frozen solid. . . I have to skin the whole body out of it, take the tailbones out, and you have to turn the lips, the nose and the eyes, which means you’re unfolding them like a book. The hair can fall off if it’s not prepared properly.”
“There’s a long process, dismantling the bones and taking the joints apart at the claws. It’s actually pretty fascinating.”
Once she completes that phase, she sends them to a tannery. Then she preps the hide, soaks it, stretches it out, and fits it on its form.
“There is a lot of prep work that goes into the form. It’s just sheer plastic and foam when you get it,” she continued. “You have to do all the detailing, to the form that you want to visually see with the hide on. If the client wants a deer mount to have certain wrinkles in its hide, you need to manipulate that in the mold before you put on the hide.
“You have to mimic each muscles definition, for example, if a client wants a deer mount in the rut, then you have to make the neck fuller,” Maakad said. “There’s a lot of reading underneath the skin, understanding which muscle group goes where. It’s a lot more difficult than it appears. There’s a lot of work that goes into taxidermy, every piece is unique. It’s definitely a fine art.”
Maakad has a Facebook page, under “Ruttin’ Ridge Taxidermy”. She can also be reached at (360) 296-0038.