Western Colorado includes variety of skilled craftsmen

High-quality taxidermy isn’t monopolized in Craig and Moffat County. Western Colorado includes a variety of passionate and skilled craftsmen in the field.

Ryan Huitt started Wildlife Expressions Full Service Taxidermist in Rangely three-and-a-half years ago after studying the profession. “Rangely is a Mecca for hunting, and we didn’t have a full-time taxidermist,” Huitt said. “So I figured, ‘What is there to lose?’”

Despite his relatively short time in the business, Huitt’s company has taken off. He attributes that success to finishing well in competitions.

Huitt competed at the 2011 World Championships in St. Charles, Mo., garnering third-place awards in the large life-size mammals and coldwater fish categories.

“You do competitions, get yourself out there and learn from the best guys you can,” he said. “You’re seeing taxidermy from all over the world, and you learn what works and what doesn’t.”

Huitt grew up a hunter and has seen and worked on animals from across the globe. Where many area taxidermists prefer to work on mammals, Huitt also enjoys working on fish. “I’ve worked on everything from stingrays to elephants, but I enjoy fish the most,” he said. “I like the artistic side of what you can do with them. Bears, cats and game-heads are your bread and butter, but it’s nice to finish an elk one day and then move on to a fish the next.”

Bill Wille, of Antler Taxidermy in Meeker, feels the same way. Wille, who has worked in taxidermy ever since taking a $9 correspondence course after shooting an albino chipmunk at age 12, has been in the business since 1976.

“I consider myself very blessed. I’ve mounted some of the rarest animals in the world,” said Wille, who also guides hunts in Africa every year. “I have Ibex from Turkey in here now. I still get excited with some of the animals coming in. I’m still fired up doing elk, but I don’t have to do 30 of them in row. I can break it up with an African antelope or something.

“My shop looks like Noah’s Ark right now, with 12 animals,” he added. “One is a mule deer and the rest are animals you wouldn’t be hunting around here.”

Wille acknowledges the dedicated, talented artists in the area, but said he think it’s passion for the craft that sets great taxidermists apart.

“If you don’t have the passion, you shouldn’t get into it,” he said. “I love wildlife, and that’s why we’ve been here for 33 years and are still growing.”

Huitt didn’t foresee his business taking off so quickly, or loving the job as much as he does. “Most people around here dream of that week or month when they get to go hunting,” he said. “As a taxidermist, we have animals coming in from guys hunting all over the world year-round. We get to live and breathe hunting 12 months a year. It’s a dream job, really.”