By John Weiss
CHATFIELD — A deer's eye is more of a tapered oval, and its bottom lid's lowest point is in the middle, but the part's highest point is further forward, about a third of the way to the end.
Mark Mayer of Chatfield has had to learn that. And he's learned that a deer's eye has a nictitating membrane that humans don't have.
Surely; however, when you're preparing a deer for judging in the Minnesota Taxidermy Guild's annual convention and competition April 16-19 at the Rochester International Event Center, you're got to have the details right. Experts who look at every little detail will be judging, so Mayer, 31, whose business is M&M Taxidermy, has to know them, too.
He plans to enter the head of a 9-point buck he shot several years ago and a bobcat with a snowshoe hare in its mouth; he bought the bobcat from someone up north.
On the wall of his shop behind his Chatfield home are second- and third-place ribbons he earned for novice and professional classes. He wants to see some blue on that wall from the professional class. He wants to get that good, enough to push him into the masters class that is earned with two blue ribbons in a category.
The only way to get those blue ribbons is to get the tiny details right, Mayer explained last week as he painted in the membrane on his buck. He wore special magnifying glasses with small lights on the side to get that detail right. Behind him, the bobcat was close to being done, but the hare was only roughed in.
That deer has to not only have the eyes right, but also the antlers set the right way, the ears tilted at a natural angle, the hide sewn perfectly.
Sewing on the hide is the boring part, he said. He likes the artistic part, "the little details that make a novice into a master."
Mayer, whose main job is working with X-rays at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, said he grew up in Lewiston where he loved to hunt, fish and trap. He still hunts deer with bow, firearm and muzzleloader, "Anything to get my deer in the freezer," he said.
When he was in high school there, he loved art classes. He was also buddies with Jered Lorenz, who was killed in the 2007 flood. Lorenz did some taxidermy, Mayer said, so he decided to give it a shot. It was mostly trial and error, and going to competitions to see other taxidermists' work, get feedback and advice from them.
Getting that deer head right is a lot of work, he said. He first has to cut off the hide and scrape away any fat, get the hide tanned, buy a form that has to be roughened so it will hold glue, buy the right-sized eyes, put on the hide and eyes, attach antlers, and sew up the hide.
But to get it right, really right, takes those little details, the artistry, Mayer said. "It's more than slapping the animal together and putting the antlers on it," he said. The artistry comes in how the animal is presented. Some of the works at the competition will be exquisite, showing fish or animals in motion, as they were frozen in a leap or spin. Many of those are from master taxidermists, a level Mayer knows he's not at, at least not yet.
With masters, "they judge you even harder," he said. "The whole goal is to make it as realistic as possible."
Part of his love of doing that work is the satisfaction of getting things right, of knowing those details, he said. If he ever gets a blue ribbon, he said his goal will be to get another one and to get even better.
It's just like fishing, he said -- when you catch a big fish, you want to catch an even bigger one.