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School is coming to an end, but there will be little rest for Justin Clark, who teaches carpentry and construction technology at West Fork High School.

Teaching occupies his days nine months a year. On evenings throughout the school year, Clark is busy in his taxidermy studio creating realistic deer mounts and an array of game and fish for his clients.

The white-tailed deer are Clark’s busiest. This is evident from the deer mounts in various stages of completion that line a wall of his shop, Red Arrow Taxidermy, next to his family’s home near Prairie Grove. Behind this wall are dozens of antler mounts that will be part of the hunting trophies made by Clark.

He has transformed caribou from Quebec and wild turkeys from Arkansas and elsewhere into taxidermy mounts that bring back memories of the hunt to clients in several states. Clark rode bobcats, bears, a rattlesnake and more.

“A lot of people travel to hunt,” Clark said. “Every animal that walks into this store has a story behind it.”

Art and biology may seem like opposite ends of a skill set, but a taxidermist should be well versed in both, Clark said. Knowing the biology and habits of a deer, bear, or wild turkey helps him turn a dead animal into a trophy that appears just like in the wild.

The trophies are in the big eyes of the beholder. A parent can bring their son’s or daughter’s first deer or fish to Clark. It may be a lowly spiked or forked buck, but it is truly a trophy for the young hunter or fisherman and his proud parents.

Clark, who served as a firefighter with the Fayetteville Fire Department for more than 19 years, learned the taxidermy trade from fellow taxidermist, Eric Burnett. The two started working together in 2015, with Clark learning as they went. Clark opened her own store in 2018.

For students considering a career, Clark recommends looking into taxidermy. Taxidermists in northwest Arkansas remain extremely busy, Clark noted. “Our region could definitely use more taxidermists,” he said.

That’s why it takes a year, sometimes longer, before a finished taxidermy stand is ready for a customer to pick up. In addition, hours and hours of work are required to complete each trophy. Customers should plan to pay several hundred dollars for, say, a shoulder mount of a whitetail buck. Partial payment is usually made up front and then final payment is due when customers pick up their wildlife artwork.

For fish, Clark said a replica is the way to go. This way a fisherman can release the fish or bring it home for 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.

“Over time, 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 upon that male or trophy fish and reminisce about that exciting day.

The woods seen behind Clark are a clue to how busy the taxidermist stays all year round. The antlers will be part of the whitetail deer mounts for customers. (NWA Democrat-Gazette/Flip PutthoffP
photo Deer mounts in various stages of completion await finishing or are ready for customer pickup. (NWA Democrat-Gazette/Flip Putthoff)
photo Clark learned the trade from another taxidermist. He opened his own taxidermy shop near Prairie Grove in 2018. (NWA Democrat-Gazette/Flip Putthoff)
photo Clark’s attention to detail translates into realistic trophies for his clients. (NWA Democrat-Gazette/Flip Putthoff)
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