Stalking stuffers

Bradley Patton airbrushes along the mouth of this black bear rug inside his taxidermy shop in Woodstock. Rich Cooley/Daily

WOODSTOCK — Local taxidermist Bradley Patton never quite got over stuffed animals.

If it’s got feathers, fur or fish scales, chances are he’s probably skinned and mounted it. If it’s been shot at, pierced by an arrow or hit by a car, he’s probably turned it into a wall trophy.

Patton, 48, the owner of Patton’s Taxidermy in Woodstock, has pretty much stuffed them all.

A showroom in his shop displays a menagerie of animals frozen in time, from bears and buffalo to trout and turkeys. Other animals he’s mounted include skunks, baboons and a lion in mid-flight taking down a gazelle.

Patton has worked at the shop off U.S. 11 for nearly 30 years, fixing up animals from the far reaches of the world and servicing customers from all over the tri-state region.

Bradley Patton removes the hide from this deer that will be transformed into a shoulder mount. Rich Cooley/Daily

Longtime residents might remember Hunter’s Habitat, a retail and gunsmithing store that offered his taxidermy services. Today, his business solely sells his animal mounts, and shares a building with a Spanish church.

Patton, who grew up in Woodstock, recalled seeing his father tinker around with taxidermy in the basement of their home. It was only a hobby for his dad, but it instilled in him a lifelong interest.

After graduating from high school, Patton studied at Piedmont Community College in Roxboro, North Carolina, where he learned more about the art and science behind the trade.

An avid hunter and fisherman, he said the job keeps him out of the field.

“It was kind of a bad choice in a way, because if you like hunting and fishing, it’s not the best thing to be into, because you’re stuck here right in the middle of hunting season,” Patton said.

A bobcat that Woodstock taxidermist Bradley Patton mounted at his shop. Rich Cooley/Daily

After he receives an animal from a customer, he said he capes it — or removes its hide — and cuts the antlers off, then fleshes and salts it.

He also takes measurements of the hide and orders a specially designed mannequin made of urethane foam that fits the dimensions of the skin.

In the past decade, he said the skyrocketing price of supplies has forced some taxidermists out of the trade. The mannequins he uses to shape his mounts can cost anywhere up to $800, he said.

Patton lets the hide dry before sending it to a tannery in Michigan, which treats it for about three to four months.

When he receives the hide back, he’ll apply the final details to it, fleshing and airbrushing it and fitting it over the mannequin.

A brown bear that Woodstock taxidermist Bradley Patton mounted. Rich Cooley/Daily

He said he mounts about 200 animals a year. The turnaround time customers can expect to get their mounts back, he said, is typically between eight and 10 months.

As someone who interacts with hunters on a regular basis, Patton’s business is a natural barometer for where wildlife levels are at. This hunting season, he said, has felt remarkably slow compared to other years.

“A lot of hunters are saying they’re not seeing as many of the deer as they’re used to seeing,” he said. “The deer number may be down, or maybe there’s a lot more food in the woods this year so deer don’t need to move around as much.”

Patton advised hunters to turn in their animals to a taxidermist as soon as possible. He said hunters can also keep their skins and heads in the freezer to help preserve them.

In a plastic box in Patton’s workshop, compartments contain all sorts of replica animal parts, including eyes, noses and teeth.

A turkey that Woodstock taxidermist Bradley Patton mounted at his shop. Rich Cooley/Daily

He said people have many misconceptions about his job.

“They have no clue what’s underneath the hide,” he said. “They might think it’s real eyes. They don’t know they’re glass eyes, or that there’s a mannequin underneath it.”

Where: 22255 Old Valley Pike, Woodstock
When: 8 a.m.-4 p.m. Monday through Friday
Cost: Patton said he charges about $520 for a deer shoulder mount
Call: 540-459-8380
Online: http://www.pattonstaxidermy.com

Contact staff writer Ryan Cornell at 540-465-5137 ext. 164, or rcornell@nvdaily.com