School is drawing to a close, but there’ll be little rest for Justin Clark who teaches wood shop and construction technology at West Fork High School.
Teaching fills his days nine months of the year. Evenings during the school year find Clark busy in his taxidermy shop creating lifelike mounts of deer and an array of game animals and fish for his customers.
White-tailed buck deer keep Clark the busiest. That’s obvious from deer mounts in various stages of completion that line a wall of his shop, Red Arrow Taxidermy, beside his family’s home near Prairie Grove. Behind that wall are dozens of antler racks from bucks that will be part of the hunting trophies crafted by Clark.
He’s turned caribou from Quebec and wild turkeys from Arkansas and beyond into taxidermy mounts that rekindle memories of the hunt for customers from several states. Clark has mounted bobcats, bears, a rattlesnake and more.
“A lot of people travel to hunt,” Clark said. “Every animal that comes into this shop has a story behind it.”
Art and biology may seem like opposite ends of a skill set, but a taxidermist must be well versed in both, Clark said. Knowing the biology and ways of a deer, bear or wild turkey help him turn a dead animal into a trophy that appears as it does in nature.
Trophies are in the wide eyes of the beholder. A parent might bring his son or daughter’s first deer or fish to Clark. It might be a modest spike or fork-horn buck, but it’s truly a trophy for the young hunter or angler and proud parents.
Clark, who served as a firefighter with the Fayetteville Fire Department for more than 19 years, learned the taxidermy craft from another taxidermist, Eric Burnett. The two started working together in 2015 with Clark learning as they went along. Clark opened his own shop in 2018.
For students thinking about a trade, Clark recommends looking into taxidermy. Taxidermists across Northwest Arkansas stay extremely busy, Clark noted. “Our area could definitely use more taxidermists,” he said.
That’s why it takes a year, sometimes more, before a finished taxidermy mount is ready for a customer to pick up. Plus, hours and hours of work go into completing each trophy. Customers should plan on paying several hundred dollars for, say, a shoulder mount of a white-tail buck. Partial payment is typically made up front, then the final payment is due when customers pick up their works of wildlife art.
For fish, Clark said a replica is the way to go. That way an angler can release the fish or take it home to dinner. Be sure to get measurements, and photos if possible, to give to the taxidermist.
Clark learned from Burnett, but there are taxidermy schools across the country. Taxidermy courses are available online, but Clark doesn’t recommend learning that way.
Taxidermy is like most trades in that technology changes the way some of the work is done.
“As time progresses, you learn new things all the time,” Clark said.
He takes pride in knowing that, years after a hunting or fishing trip, a customer can gaze at that trophy buck or fish and bask in the memory of that exciting day.