How to Become a Taxidermist: Education and Career Roadmap

Learn how to become a professional taxidermist. Research the career requirements, training information and experience required for starting a career in taxidermy.

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Do I Want to Be a Taxidermist?

Taxidermy is the art of preserving dead animals with the object of restoring a lifelike appearance for display as trophies or museum exhibits. The process involves preparing, tanning, stuffing, mounting and retouching animals that include fish, birds, small mammals and large game. Taxidermists may work part- or full-time in sports or taxidermy shops. Some work for natural history museums. Many enter the field with the goal of opening their own taxidermy shops.

Work in the field can be sporadic, and many taxidermists take on jobs as they come. The career can be considered a craft art, which takes a good amount of skill, training and attention to detail. Obviously, taxidermists should also feel comfortable working with deceased animals on a consistent basis.

Job Requirements

Though there are no formal educational requirements to enter this field, hands-on training is available through specialized trade programs. Some people learn this craft through private classes or apprenticeships. The following table outlines common requirements for this career:

Common Requirements
Degree Level No degree required, but trade school certificate and diploma programs available*
Degree Field Taxidermy*
Licensure and Certification State licensure required in most states and a federally issued permit for working with migratory birds**; voluntary professional certification available through the National Taxidermists Association***
Key Skills Artistic skills to render lifelike representations of animals using photographs as references, strong hand-eye coordination and attention to detail*
Additional Requirements Knowledge of animal form, coloring and fur/scale/feather texture; administrative and marketing skills for operating a taxidermy business*

Sources: *'Taxidermy 101' in Rural Missouri (November 2003), **U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and ***National Taxidermists Association.

Step 1: Complete a Taxidermy Program

Taxidermy certificate and diploma programs, available through accredited trade schools and some community colleges, provide training in the technical and artistic skills required to become a taxidermist. Programs provide the opportunity to work with professional taxidermists in studio environments working on authentic projects. Course topics typically include tools, techniques and knowledge related to specific types of animals, generally small game, birds, fish and large game. Additional courses may include state and federal taxidermy regulations, air brushing techniques and entrepreneurship. Students can typically take individual courses or complete certificate and diploma programs of varying lengths.

Success Tip

  • Develop business and marketing skills. Since taxidermy offers the opportunity for self-employment, a basic knowledge of business and marketing is important for success. A professional-quality website with photos of taxidermy projects, for example, can help a fledgling business get started. Though some taxidermy programs incorporate training in the business side of taxidermy, additional courses may be helpful.

Step 2: Obtain State License and Federal Permit

Most states require taxidermists to be licensed, but specific licensure and professional practice requirements vary by state. Some states require applicants to pass an exam on taxidermy regulations to obtain licenses in various categories, such as general, mammals, birds and fish. Applicants need to consult state departments of natural resources or fish and wildlife to verify licensure requirements and obtain detailed information on professional practice regulations. In addition to a state license, taxidermists who intend to work with migratory birds need to get a federal permit through the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, for which a state license is a prerequisite.

Success Tip

  • Learn state and federal taxidermy regulations. Not all taxidermy courses and programs provide thorough instruction in laws regulating wildlife and professional practice in their respective states. Infringement of these regulations can make license and permit applicants ineligible or cause licenses to be revoked. Some state departments provide study material recommendations on their websites.

Step 3: Get Certified

The National Taxidermists Association (NTA) offers voluntary professional certification. Though professional certification isn't mandatory to practice as a taxidermist, earning professional certification can help improve taxidermists' career opportunities or businesses. Certification through the NTA is awarded on a point system, in which applicants need to place or have their work evaluated in approved taxidermy competitions to earn points. Certified taxidermists receive useful marketing tools from the NTA, including a certificate that may be displayed in shops, emblems for advertising and an NTA news release for local papers. Additional membership benefits include life and business insurance.

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