Taxidermy: Turning a hobby into a profession
By Maria Wyllie
Explorebigsky.com Editorial Assistant
BIG SKY – In a place with prime hunting and fishing, Big Sky seems like the perfect place for a taxidermist. But running a year round taxidermy business isn’t as easy as one might think.
Cory Payment, known by most as Norm, is Big Sky’s only licensed taxidermist and owns Shedhorn Mountain Taxidermy, located 1.2 miles south of the Big Sky turnout on U.S. Highway 191. The business sits right on the Gallatin River, one of the nation’s premier fly-fishing spots.
Having opened 2 ½ years ago, Norm is still working to grow his business and hopes to work solely in taxidermy one day. For now, he’s head of housekeeping at Moonlight Basin, a job he’s had for the past 7 years.
After working his way up the ladder to housekeeping manager, Norm realized he couldn’t go any further in his career and looked to turn his hobby of taxidermy into a possible profession.
Although he grew up in Northern Minnesota, Norm has been coming to Montana, Wyoming and Idaho for fly-fishing trips since he was a kid. As an avid huntsman and fisherman, he decided Big Sky was the perfect place to call home.
When Big Sky resident Adam Skaggs first met Norm, he had two mallard ducks for pets that would ride around with him in his truck and keep him company.
“He’d open the car door like two dogs would jump out, but it was two mallard ducks. They were following him around like dogs.”
Like many hunters and fisherman, Norm respects and cares for the animals he kills. But his passion goes beyond the hunt.
Before gaining his taxidermist training, Norm mounted bleached skulls and antlers, called European mounts, for four years. Boiling the skulls to get the meat off takes anywhere from 10-16 hours, and bleaching them takes another 4-7 days.
“Buddies were bringing them by, and I’d do my own, so I was into some of the stuff before I went to school,” Norm said.
In 2008, he attended the Missoula Valley School of Taxidermy in Thompson Falls, Mont., where he learned to mount fish, birds and mammals.
Norm has found birds to be the most difficult and the most time consuming to mount. One bird has tens of thousands of feathers that must be straightened out perfectly, he says. Big game animals are among his favorites to mount.
After getting the skins back from the tannery, Norm measures them and orders a foam form that is as close in shape and size to the original animal as possible. A lot of sewing and great attention to detail over a long period of time is required to get it right.
For Norm, the hardest part of the job is the immense amount of detailed work taxidermy demands.
“I’m really anal when I’m doing it, but sometimes you have to get away from it,” said Norm.
After the fall rifle season, customers bring Norm the skins they want mounted. He then sends them off to the tannery and doesn’t get them back for another 6 months. With little to do but wait during the winter months, a second job is crucial.
Most of Norm’s business has come via word of mouth, but he hopes to attract more locals as well as those from out of town who are hunting and fishing in the area.
Shoulder mounts are Norm’s preferred mounts to work on. He mounted the elk in Choppers, which belongs to Jim Scwalbe, and he is planning on putting a mount of his own big horn sheep in the gymnasium at Lone Peak High School.
Full-body mounts are the most expensive, and not many people want them due to lack of space. However, Norm is hoping to change that by decorating the resort homes around Big Sky with these full-sized mounts, allowing him to grow his business and make Shedhorn Mountain Taxidermy his only job.
Although Norm spends hours alone sewing skins to foam forms and perfectly aligning feathers, he also likes to gather his friends around to enjoy the meat from his kills.
From hunting, to skinning, to mounting and cooking group dinners, taxidermy is more than just a hobby or a profession for Norm. It’s why he calls Big Sky home.