A couple of years ago this 6x6 bull elk was bugling in the mountains of Colorado when bowhunter Jack Chmielowic Jr. first laid eyes on him. It was a moment in time he wanted to remember. In recreating the moment, he would need someone with experience and a meticulous nature who provides quality work. Not long after arriving back in Genesee County he placed a call to Doug Harloff of Back to Nature Taxidermy.
Several months later the process was complete and Jack Chmielowic, above left, was quite satisfied with the outcome. That's Doug on the right.
"It's hard to believe 24 years have elapsed since I began my own taxidermy business here in Oakfield," Harloff said. "During that time, my business has grown and I've mounted fish, upland game, waterfowl, small game, bear, buffalo, antelope, elk, caribou and thousands of deer heads. Every day is really neat because there is something new to work on and I am never bored."
While he enjoys working in his studio, there was a time when taxidermy was the farthest thing from his mind.
"After graduating from Batavia High in 1984 I worked on my dad's farm for a year. The following year I enlisted in the U.S. Air Force, and while I didn't give it a whole lot of thought at the time, I suppose there was the possibility of going to college after I did my hitch," he said.
But never in his wildest dreams did he imagine he would have the opportunity to receive an education while still serving in the military.
"I was stationed at Shaw Air Force Base in South Carolina when I first met the Reynolds, an elderly couple who had their own taxidermy business. I just walked into their shop one day and eventually we became good friends. After a while they took me under their wing, introducing me to the old-school style of taxidermy.
While it was a bit primitive by today's standards, working with them gave me the basic knowledge of mounting fish, birds and deer heads. Nowadays, a person can spend a lot of money on tutition to attend a professional taxidermy school or training. Needless to say, I was very fortunate to have met the Reynolds."
While the Reynolds taught Doug Harloff the art of taxidermy, what he didn't reallize at the time were some of the realities and responsibilites of running his own shop and the costs involved.
"When you take into consideration the outlay for supplies, electric, heat, advertising, just to mention a few, by the time you're done paying the bills, you're not that far ahead at the end of the day. If I stopped to figure out the amount of time I invest in each mount, I would cringe if not for the fact that what really matters is the end product.
"To take a downed animal and bring it back to a lifelike state, (and) in the process recreate the customer's wildlife encounter is an endeavor requiring practice, patience and a great deal of tolerance. It has been a learning process and, in my estimation, it has become an art form as well."
One of his future goals is to become heavily involved in state and national taxidermy organizations and to enter his work alongside the best competing with the best taxidermists in the country and to have his work critiqued by those considered tops in the business.
"A quality mount takes time and for this reason, as well as a backlog of job orders, a customer should expect to wait a year to 18 months to get their mount back. I will not and do not rush to push my mounts out the door. It's hard enough making sure the tanning process worked (one lesson I learned the hard way a while back). Now I am basically doing a double tan on all my mounts, which of course takes a lot more time."
Harloff is well aware that, due to the sluggish economy, money can sometimes be tight and a full shoulder mount might be out of the question. For this reason he offers an affordable option called the European skull mount.
In this process he utilizes dermetid (flesh-eating) beetles which clean the skull before he lightens them to a bone-white finish.
"It's a very neat and cool looking mount," he said, a statement underscored by the number of requests for such a mount.
"Seven years ago I expanded my business into offering a high quality, very clean deer processing operation where a hunter can drop off his deer and have the venison cleaned, trimmed and vacuum sealed.
"It's convenient for someone having taxidermy work done, as it eliminates having to make two stops. For this reason I've built a walk-in cooler and limit what I take in on a daily basis."
In addition to the traditional cuts of venison he offers fresh sausages, jerky, snack sticks, venison jalapeno hot dogs and venisom ham.
Despite his workload, Harloff has found time to help the down and out.
"A few years ago I also began working with the vension donation program. It allows a hunter, if he or she so chooses, to donate their deer to the Western New York food bank to help feed local needy families. All a hunter needs to do is have their deer freshly harvested and legally tagged before dropping it off. It is an organization which I am proud to be affiliated with."
Doug would like to extend his thanks to all his past customers and wish everyone a safe and enjoyable deer season. You can reach him at Back to Nature Taxidermy, 585-356-9905.