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St. Croix Taxidermy merges with A-1 Archery

A month and a half after A-1 Archery's purchase of St. Croix Taxidermy, the managers of the two businesses say the merger is meeting expectations.

"Archery and taxidermy is really a good fit," said Dan Ellyson, general manager and co-owner of A-1 Archery, 1830 Webster St.

Ellyson said he and partner Paul Korn bought Mark van de Sande's North Hudson taxidermy shop in order to provide their bow-hunting customers with yet another service.

Customers would frequently ask where they could get a game animal mounted.

Ellyson sent them to St. Croix Taxidermy, 705 St. Croix St. N. But van de Sande, because of his reputation for high-quality work, was getting more of it than he could handle.

With the buyout, A-1 Archery took over the record-keeping end of the business and van de Sande was able to concentrate on what he does best, producing life-like trophies. He also was able to hire two apprentice taxidermists to work under him.

"The knock that I was getting was that it was taking too long to get the work done," van de Sande said. "Now that we're a bigger business, we've eliminated that problem. We're caught up."

The goal is to return the trophy to the owner within eight to 10 months after the animal was brought into the shop.

"They want to be able to harvest the animal and put it on their wall within a year. They want to remember their hunt as soon as possible," Ellyson said of taxidermy customers.

Van de Sande was introduced to taxidermy as a high school student. He has 20 years of experience in the field, working full-time as a taxidermist the past 12 years.

St. Croix Taxidermy has operated out of the basement of van de Sande's North Hudson residence since 1993. He added onto the back of the house in 1998 to provide more room for the shop.

The business will continue to operate out of van de Sande's home for at least the immediate future. The long-range plan is to move it to the archery shop, located at the corner of Webster Street and O'Keefe Road.

A recent visit to the taxidermy shop found van de Sande and employee Matt Cahill at work on half mounts of several black bears shot in this year's hunt. Employee Tyler Phillips - like Cahill, a recent graduate of the taxidermy program at Pine Technical Institute in Pine City, Minn. - was elk hunting out West.

Van de Sande said he's done up to 20 bear mounts a year. Most people that shoot a bear want it made into a trophy of some sort, he said. Some opt for rugs, while others choose the mounts, which start at $800 for the front half of the bear. A full-body mount, with a base and scenery, can run as high as $3,500.

Shoulder mounts of whitetail deer are by far the most common trophies produced at the shop, according to van de Sande. The shop takes in anywhere from 50 to 150 whitetails a year.

The number depends largely on whether there is snow cover during the hunting season, he said. If there is, he can expect a big demand for mounts.

Van de Sande and his assistants also preserve fish, waterfowl, turkey tails and exotic game.

"The exotics are one of the neatest parts about this business," said Ellyson.

Among the trophies that van de Sande has preserved are African wildebeests and impalas, Mouflon sheep and wild boars from Hawaii, Alaskan brown bears and mountain lions from the western states.

What sets van de Sande's mounts apart from work by lesser taxidermists is the attention to detail, Ellyson said. It's the set of the eyes and the realistic curve of muscle beneath the skin.

"He's a perfectionist, almost to a fault," Ellyson said.

Van de Sande refers to close-up photographs of live game to create the lifelike mounts.

"I study the animals," he said. "We have to give the guy back the bear that he brought in. Not a bear, but the one he brought in."

Van de Sande's employees now handle much of the process of creating a mount, but he still adds the finishing touches and approves each trophy before it leaves the shop.

The reasons for preserving an animal can be highly personal, he said. He's made a mount of a six-point buck because it was a boy's first kill, he said. Another ordinary buck was preserved because it was the last that a grandfather shot.

It's the big buck or bear that is usually made into a trophy, however.

People also have mounts made to reflect their lifestyle, van de Sande said.

"They enjoy to hunt. They enjoy to fish. And they've got fish and deer on their walls to show that. They have pride in their lifestyle."

St. Croix Taxidermy remains located at 705 St. Croix St. N. The shop is open 9 a.m.-6 p.m. Monday-Friday, and 9 a.m.-noon Saturday. Call the shop at (715) 386-6318 for information about having an animal or fish mounted.

Randy Hanson can be reached at

Randy Hanson

Randy Hanson has reported for the Star-Observer since 1997. He came to Hudson after 11 years with the Inter-County Leader at Frederic, and eight years of teaching social studies. He’s a graduate of UW-Eau Claire.

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