How do I get started in Taxidermy?

posted 2024 May by Paloma Strong

Hello, stranger! It seems like you are interested in becoming a taxidermist, but you are overwhelmed with how to go about it. There are plenty of free resources online to get you going, but I wanted to put together a blog for those who are lost and need to pull over and ask for directions. In our effort to encourage diversity, inclusion, and representation, I am hoping that a free blog post will help guide you in your taxidermy journey. Fair warning: it will take a lot of hard work, time, and patience. This is a difficult art form and just like any art, you need a lot of practice to get better. Taxidermy is an endurance sport and you have to build and train your muscles. But - you can absolutely get there.


A fluffed acorn woodpecker after being prepped and cleaned.


I knew I wanted to be taxidermist when I was in middle school. After moving to Los Angeles with my family, I visited as many of the local museums as possible. My mom was someone who took me and my brother to museums on rainy Seattle days and had drilled in my brain that going to museums was the ultimate goal when traveling. After going to NHMLA in my first few weeks of living here, I remember seeing new exhibits with new specimens (Foreshadowing: Allis was the one working on those new specimens and exhibits!). It dawned on me that taxidermy isn't something that was only done in the 1800s, but rather still a career. I decided I would make it my career. After doing some research online, I found Allis and Prey Taxidermy - then decided that would be my place of employment. I didn't reach out with my nonexistence experience, but rather, found myself doing late-night research on Google and watching Youtube videos of artists putting together ducks, large mammals, and prepping out all types of specimens. I started getting into live reference and going birding more often. I highly recommend exploring the natural world around you to get up close and personal with the animals you are looking to honor with your art. 

To get started, you should look into different classes in your area. If you don't have a local taxidermy studio, opt for an online course that will show you the basics of the process. Getting to know the process will help you understand the different skills you need to learn in order to become a taxidermist. Every taxidermist has a different method and process, but the general steps will be the same, so getting familiar with the taxidermy process in important in your journey as an aspirational taxidermist.


A European starling with partial leucism, whole frozen and untouched.


While I opted for a more scientific approach when I was beginning my career in taxidermy and focused primarily on anatomy and naturalism, there is the more artistic approach as well. Taxidermy is a multidisciplinary art that requires skills in many types of media. Becoming proficient in different types of arts, such as painting, sculpting, and drawing will only improve your taxidermy skills. If you are looking at taking classes at a local college, consider signing up for some studio art classes that focus on reading reference, practice sculpting natural forms, and paint the outside world around you so you get a sense of blending colors and reproducing nature in your art.

A big part of becoming a taxidermist is being self-taught and practicing on your own time. Most taxidermists won't take apprentices without any experience, so make sure you are practicing at home and creating a portfolio to present to potential mentors. While this seems like a daunting task, don't put too much pressure on yourself. With each project you complete, you will learn more and hone in your technique. Don't expect perfection on the first try, or second, or third. Even experienced taxidermists struggle working on a species they haven't worked on before. It takes a few tries to get it right. With time and practice, you will get better - I promise. 

Once you are deeply looking into getting started at home, there are a few key tools and supplies you need. For one thing, a designated deep freezer is key. Some food freezers have a thawing cycle which will thaw and re-freeze your specimens, so it's best to have that is set aside for only specimens (plus, your roommates might end up hating you). A big question I get from taxidermists who are just starting out is about how to get specimens. It's really hard to start getting specimens until you have to buy another freezer because you have too many specimens. I highly recommend going to and browsing the for sale section. This is probably the easiest and quickest way to get the specimens you want and to create relationships with suppliers who can reach out to you when they get certain specimens they know you want. You can also look at different Facebook groups, find companies that sell game birds, skins, and tanned specimens. One thing to keep in mind is that places like can be ripe with scammers. Please make sure that you are vetting the seller and that they have a number of sales and/or has been a member of the site for a while. 

If you are starting out in taxidermy, you should start with buying commercial forms available online. Start with a mammal that is a good size, but not too big (skunks are fantastic beginner mammals). Every website will have a measurement guide to help you pick out a form that will fit - make sure you check the individual site you are browsing for their measurements, as every site will require something different. When you receive the form, you always want to test fit the skin on the form and make alterations to get that perfect fit. Do as many test fits as you need until you get the fit you need. Using a knife, rasp, and perseverance will get you there. A good rule of thumb is to always size down the ankles, stomach, and the back of the head. You will also need to make some alterations to the face: carve out holes to set earliners, carve out larger eyes to set the glass ones, and make slits to tuck the lips and nose. 


A grey fox, about to be in a diorama at a museum walking down a hill.


After putting together a few mammals using a commercial form, try making your own! In California, our mammals run on the small side, so we find ourselves making a lot of our own forms. Since we have permits to work on protected specimens (I'll say it again: with proper permits!), we often have to make our own forms for those species as well, since you won't find any commercially-available sea lions. We carve or wrap every bird - not only do we mainly work on protected bird species, but we find it saves time to carve that perfect little egg shape out of leftover foam every time rather than wait for shipping. Keep an eye out for a future blog on creating a custom-made red fox form, or join our class this October to make one of your own with some expert guidance! 

The most common question I get is about getting specimens. While this may seem like a daunting task at first, you will soon fill up your freezer(s) with more work than you can keep up with. We have found the most success with our favorite taxidermy forum, Browse the "buy" section to see what people are getting rid of. You can buy specimens in different states: whole frozen, green, tanned. Whole frozen means that you are buying an untouched, frozen solid specimen. Make sure you ask for ice and insulation and pay for 2-day shipping. Green will mean that the specimen has been skinned out. A tanned skin only applies to mammals - they have gone through the entire tanning/leathering process and are nearly ready to put together. They may have a few toe bones left in and will need some further detailing on the face.


In-progress opossum for the world show in 2017, custom form.


The best piece of advice I can give to taxidermists who are just starting out in their journey is to have patience and keep practicing. It took me a few years to learn taxidermy, and it will take the rest of my life to get better. Never settle for your first fox, first starling, or first skunk. With each project, you will improve and learn how to do better for the next project. Keep it up and stay curious - always ask questions, use reference, and try your best. I promise that with time, you will become a seasoned taxidermist just like the rest of us weirdos. Welcome to the community!

If you want more detailed steps and tools for each specific process, our students get detailed step-by-step instructions with tool lists for the specific curriculum being taught in their course. See you soon!

Taxidermy Resources/Links:


- Mckenzie & Van Dyke's 

- Research Mannikins

- East Coast Capes for the best tanned mammal skins in the states

- Anatomy textbooks (we love The Unfeathered Bird, Art Anatomy of Animals)

- All About Bird Anatomy, and Cornell resources in general

- Youtube and Vimeo: find taxidermists who post their process of skinning, tanning, mounting, grooming, finishing work, etc.

-Reddit has plenty of subreddit groups dedicated to taxidermy and asking questions regarding technique, resources, and laws <3 

- CITES list

Migratory Bird Treaty Act: This is an extensive list (available for download) of every bird you are NOT allowed to have in your possession. Please refer to this list if you are trying to get different specimens (sometimes even the sellers on taxi net are listing illegal birds). 

- Roadkill laws: Before you pick up anything to bring home, make sure you are following your state laws. There are many states that do not allow picking up of animals for any purpose. If you are allowed to pick up roadkill in your state, please make sure you are following the conservation laws for that specific species as there are certain animals you are not allowed to have in your possession. 


  • I would like to start a taxidermy business in lake placid Florida

    Posted by Terry Lee Lewis on July 23, 2024
  • I have some taxidermy training I was thinking about starting a taxidermy business in lake placid Florida but I need help thank you and God bless

    Posted by Terry Lee Lewis on July 23, 2024

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