Photo by WJFW Newswatch 12
Busy bear hunting season encourages surge at North Country Taxidermy
Story By Lilly Zoller
Local News Published 09/21/2021 4:50PM, Last Updated 09/22/2021 4:01PM
Hazelhurst - "What I'm doing here is taking his toes out," said Balie Strasburg, a co-owner of North Country Taxidermy.
Strasburg has been a taxidermist for the last 15 years. Now, she's nearly two weeks into her favorite season of the year: bear season.
"Every bear is a little bit different," said Strasburg. "The hunts are really neat. The stories that go along with it. The time you put into a bear, it's just a personal preference of mine... It's a super unique animal."
And this season alone, Strasburg and her husband have already taken in a couple dozen bears. Strasburg credits the recent high temperatures for how busy they've been.
"It kept the bears moving. It kept them hitting baits, and that just made for a lot of successful hunts," said Strasburg.
That's how it worked out for bear hunter Sam Doebler. She waited 12 years for her bear tag before getting the chance to get out there this weekend.
"I was sitting in the tree stand and he came in and gave me the perfect shot, and I lined it up and shot and didn't look 'cause that's what my dad has told me for the last 25 years when I've been shooting bow n' arrow, and it ran 50 yards and died right there. I was so excited I was shaking and crying," said Doebler.
Doebler is from Rhinelander but flew all the way back from Eastern Europe for the hunt. She is too proud of her harvest not to show it off, so she took it to North Country Taxidermy to make it into a rug. As soon as she dropped the bear off, the dirty work began for the Strasburgs.
"The behind-the-scenes work is pretty labor intensive, so you don't just take in a bear and pop out a mount the next day," said Strasburg. "It's, you know, a full day of prepping the animal to get it to where it needs to be a really nice mount at the end."
The process begins with field dressing and weighing the bear for the customer. Next comes the skinning and fleshing to get the extra meat off the bear. That part of the process alone takes four to six hours. After that, they rub the bear hide with salt to preserve it, which is one of the final steps before it makes its way to the tannery. The hide then spends up to six months at the tannery, where it's turned into leather. Then it's back to the Strasburgs for the mounting process.
"Rebuilding the body, redoing some of the structure, and then as it's in the mounting process you're recreating the facial expressions and bringing that animal back to life," said Strasburg.
That's where creativity and patience come in. Balie will put the final touches on the animal, which will conclude a process that takes nearly a full year.