Sunday, March 8, 2009

The magnificent cinnamon teal returns

One of the most exciting days of my 2008-09 waterfowl season was New Year's Eve, when I not only got my first limit of ducks, but when I also got my first cinnamon teal drake.

I was hunting a private club in the Grasslands, a duck-rich area in California's San Joaquin Valley, and the greenwing teal were flying thick as Minnesota mosquitoes.

I'd been having a horrible shoot - I missed something like my first seventeen shots. But I'd finally started relaxing and letting instinct take over, instead of overthinking every shot. My partner Craig and I were sitting in our pits when I spotted something through the grass at the edge of our blind - a red head coming in low over the water and straight at me. Without a word, I stood, fired one shot, and dropped the duck.


A brilliant cinnamon head and chest. Feathers of orange and brown on his back. That lovely powder blue on his wings. I was smitten.

For the rest of the hunt, I kept stealing glances at him, admiring the colors that so delighted my eyes.

I was planning to eat him, like I do all my ducks. But back at the clubhouse, Boyfriend persuaded me that this should be my first mounted duck. So I left him in the hands of our host and friend Pete Ottesen, who would deliver him to local taxidermist Terry Shoeffler.

But Pete said something strange that had me wondering if he'd been hitting the Aquavit early that day: I would have my duck back in probably six to eight weeks.

Six to eight weeks???

Hell, Boyfriend had been waiting nearly a year already for his first taxidermied duck, a lovely drake wigeon he'd gotten on a hunt with Pete the year before. Our friend Matt had waited well over a year for his first mount, a beautiful drake woodie.

Either this guy Shoeffler was spectacular, or Pete was sending my duck to a Kmart taxidermist.

I looked around Pete's cabin, though, and I did not see one ugly duck on his walls, so I swallowed hard, left my cinteal wrapped in a dish towel and said good-bye.

Two days ago, my phone rang and it was Shoeffler. My duck was ready! And today was the day I would pick him up.

When I arrived this morning at Shoeffler's place in Stockton, about an hour south of where I live, he took me first through his living room, which rivals the mounted-animal displays you see at Cabela's. I quickly looked around and saw lots of beautiful animals. Nothing cheesy. A couple things that blew my mind, like the bobcat reaching out to paw the surface of a trout stream - complete with trout under a sheet of resin - while a mountain lion perched on a rock over him.

Everything was beautiful.

When I'd taken that in, he took me out back to his workshop, where I got to see a few works in progress.

"Your cinnamon teal is right behind you," he said.

I spun around and there he was, just as I'd envisioned him - wings outstretched and parallel to the wall so you could see those gorgeous feathers on his back and wings. Perfect.

"How was he?" I asked.

"Just one shot that went in the head and out the neck," he said.

I beamed, then told him the story. I'm sure every hunter must do that, but he didn't seem to mind.

"So how do you do this so quickly?" I asked. "Everyone I know waits forever."

The answer was simple: He doesn't overbook. The process takes six to eight weeks, and he typically promises ducks back within about three months. It's first-come, first-served - he starts work on your animal in the order it arrived. And when he has taken enough animals (or heads) to keep him busy until the beginning of the next season, he won't take any more, period. He refuses to get into a situation where he's working on last season's animals after the next season has begun.

Wow. Not overbooking. Note to self: Take a lesson from this guy!

We chatted a little while longer, talking about how to take care of this bird, and how to preserve future birds for the best possible taxidermy work:

- Don't wring their necks - it often breaks feathers at the break site.

- Don't put them on a strap, for the same reason. (Oops, I'd done that. But I hadn't realized yet I was going to have him mounted.)

- Don't tuck the bill under their wings - leave the neck straight.

- Though some taxidermists recommend slipping a nylon (yes, as in pantyhose) over the bird, he advised against it, because if any feathers get bent the wrong way and you freeze the bird in that position, the damage can be hard to un-do. He recommends laying them out straight on a piece of newspaper, rolling it up, and carefully folding over the ends beyond the tips of the bill and the feet.

- If you want a mount like mine with wings outstretched, the wing can't be broken near the ends, though a break near the chest is OK. Mine of course were fine, since I'd barely touched the bird.

I was glad for the advice, because seeing how nicely this bird came out - and seeing the spectacular display in Shoeffler's living room - I had a feeling I'd be coming back for more.

So now I'm back home with my bird, who has so far occupied two spots and may yet move again before he finds a permanent home. The challenge in our house is keeping him away from 1) the kitchen area, where vaporized grease travels a surprising distance from the stove, and 2) the cats, particularly my very naughty little calico, Giblet, who has already found and mercilessly tortured my turkey beard from last spring. Little booger.

It doesn't really matter where he ends up. I'm still smitten. And for the first time, instead of having just a story or a photo to help me remember a hunt, I have the whole duck.

My first drake cinnamon teal, mounted by Terry Shoeffler of Terry's Taxidermy in Stockton, Calif.

© Holly A. Heyser 2009


Albert A Rasch said...


As I was scrolling down and came upon your picture, my first thought was that I was looking at one of those Audubon pictures.

What spectacular work! You must be pleased as punch!

Albert A Rasch
The Rasch Outdoor Chronicles
The Rasch Reviews: Tactical
Proud Member of Outdoor Bloggers Summit
Southeast Regional OBS Coordinator

Native said...

Beautiful Holly!
Most people do not realize just how difficult taxidermy really is and even more time consuming, is the extraordinary talent that it takes to do birds!

Holly Heyser said...

Michael, one part of me wants to learn how to do it. Then the other part of me slaps me silly for thinking about adding one more thing to my life.

And yes, Albert, I am tickled.

Jon Roth said...

He sure is a beauty Holly. Congrats!

Blessed said...

He is gorgeous!

One more thing about where you end up putting him in your house... make sure he won't get hit by flying pillows during a pillow fight... at least our taxidermist was able to fix our duck when that happened. I can still tell it's wing is messed up now, but most people don't look close enough to notice :)

Anonymous said...

Great bird, Holly... a lifetime of memories wrapped up in a little "sawdust" and feathers.

Blessed... I have to admit I never really thought about a pillow fight as a risk to a mount, but I guess your house is a little more active than mine. Hilarious, although, it probably didn't seem that way at the time.

SimplyOutdoors said...

Great looking bird Holly. And I think that taxidermist's philosophy is spot on.

One of the reasons I've never had anything mounted is because of the time it takes to get your trophy returned.

It's too bad I don't live in California.

Holly Heyser said...

LOL - that's the first time I've ever heard a hunter say that!

Terry Scoville said...

Holly, simply jaw dropping beautiful! Absolutely fantastic. What a relief to finally have Cin Teal home.

Anonymous said...

I am impressed with the shot you made on the beutiful teal. I love the way it is mounted. Thanks for sharing the picture of it. I would love to have one mounted also. See you in a duck blind soon.
Penny Keller

Holly Heyser said...

Impressive how I put just one shot in it - I meant to do that! ;-)

As for you, I hope to see you at skeet or sporting clays even sooner. It's a long way to October...

Anonymous said...

Yeah, Holly shoots all her birds behind the ear with a single, golden BB.

Anonymous said...

I am very picky about paying good money for something that I will look at for a long, long time. And I don't want it if it is not going to look great and really capture the essence of the animal.
Congratulations on a great hunt and an beautiful mount.

Anonymous said...

Oh my, what a beautiful bird and what a great mount. He's gorgeous.

Unknown said...

Beautiful mount Holly! Do you find yourself just staring at it sometimes. My husband just got his pintail back from the taxidermist as well last week and I can't stop admiring it.

We were in TN just after New Year's and we had a bull sprig buzz the blind. Three of us unloaded our guns at it and it kept flying. As we all stood there trying to figure out how ALL of us missed, it flipped upside down and dropped on a sand bar 80 yards away, stone dead. I'm pretty sure we scared it to death, there wasn't a mark on it. lol.

Our guide recommended a local guy for the taxidermy work and the stuff in his workshop looked great. But I too was a little concerned when I heard it was finished already. It seemed like such a short turn around, but it turned out beautifully.

Kudos to anyone who has the patience and attention to detail necessary for good taxidermy work!