Ricky Spoon of Rutledge is a perfectionist.
Thatís why he gave up on his taxidermist business until he could learn new techniques. After 45 years at learning his trade, some people might think he has it mastered, but he doesnít agree.
"I could satisfy customers, but I couldnít satisfy myself," he said.
His work must have impressed a lot of people because they kept bringing game to him to mount. He was making money at it, too. He just thought he could do better.
"In 2008, I did over 100 animals. You can make a good living at it," he said.
In 2009, he gave up professional taxidermy until he learned more. For five years he worked as a carpenter, building houses. But while his hands earned a living with saws and nails, his heart was always in the room at his home he used for taxidermy.
Around Sept. 1, 2014 he renewed his license, laid down his hammer, and went into full time business. But he is putting his carpentry experience to good use by building taxidermy studio near his home.
Spoon began taxidermy at the age of 12 when he began to hang around with a taxidermist who happened to be a neighbor. He also enrolled in a correspondence course through the Northwestern School of Taxidermy. Those youthful years were devoted to learning the basics and he had what he considers a master teacher in the neighbor, Bob Long.
"He was more like a daddy to me than anything else," Spoon said.
He recalls that Long offered him $2 for each deer head the apprentice mounted.
"When I first went there, he had 12 big deer heads. That was a lot of money to me. It was a lot of work, too."
When they worked together in later years, Spoon would tease Long about only paying $2. Long would remind the younger man he didnít charge him anything for years of instruction.
Through the years, Spoon worked at a variety of jobs. Besides the carpenter work, there was five years in a factory and a couple of years running a store, with his wife, Peggy. All that is behind him now, he said, and he intends to devote all his working hours to taxidermy.
"Taxidermy work is what I really love to do," he said.
He has mounted many kinds of wildlife, including deer, bear, coyotes, bobcats, fish, wild turkeys and an assortment of birds. The one thing he doesnít do is work with domestic animals. And, for now, he doesnít do ducks, which require a special federal license he currently doesnít have, although he may get one later.
He said hunters donít always want just trophy size animals mounted. He has worked with small ones many times that have had some special meaning to the hunters.
"Trophies are in the eyes of the beholder," he said.
It typically takes about 15 hours of work to mount a deer head, although the actual time is much longer than that because of the need to allow drying after various steps in the process. He keeps two deep freezers to store animals and keep them fresh until he can finish them.
The secret to having a good mount is to have an animal taken care of by the hunter before itís taken to a taxidermist.
"A good mount starts in the field," Spoon said.
He offers tips to hunters who may want a mount made. For birds, carry pantyhose because itís the best thing in the world for carrying a bird without damaging the feathers.
"Just stuff the bird down in you wifeís panty hose," he said.
Fish can be kept fresher by wrapping them in newspaper and then putting them in zip-lock bags. Deer and larger game should be handled with care. As much as possible, avoid dragging a deer over rough ground or through briar patches, he said.
Autumn hunting season is his busy season, but the work doesnít all come in at once.
"Theyíre starting to bring stuff in, but thereís usually something to do all year, fish or something," he said.
During his self-imposed layoff, Spoon worked on mounts for himself or family members, but did not do any work he charged for. That was all to learn new ways of doing a better job.
"Bob Long was old school," he said. "He didnít want to change. Taxidermy evolves, itís always changing. The new ways are better."
Spoon recently lost his teacher and long-time friend.
"He died from complications of a wreck," Spoon said.
Now, he is determined to carry on the perfection the master demanded of him years ago. Spoon finally feels like he has reached a level where he can do good work, even as he continues to develop new techniques and he never wants to stop learning. At age 57, with a wife, two children and three grandchildren, as well as a new shop under construction, he plans to fulfill his dream for many more years.
"Itís a good life," he said.
Ricky Spoon can be contacted by calling 865-719-3282. His business is located just outside Rutledge.