50 years of preserving wildlife

By LISA BRITTON Baker City Herald April 10, 2009 04:02 pm
Delbert Moulton, 68, began his taxidermy career in high school

In 50 years as a taxidermist, Delbert Moulton has worked with just about every creature known around these parts.

But has he ever worked on a ground squirrel?

He smiles, and holds up his hand in affirmation.

“Of course,” he says.

And it was an albino, after all.

But those varmints are pretty small, and this particular specimen was a bit worse for wear.

“So I called him up and said ‘how about a head mount?’ ” Moulton says with a chuckle.

Moulton, 68, decided to learn about taxidermy when he was still in high school.

In fact, the March 30, 1959 Baker Democrat-Herald offers the proof — underneath a photograph of preserved animals is this caption:

“These five birds, rabbit and bobcat preserved by Delbert Moulton, an 18-year-old senior, was one of the interesting displays at Friday night’s Baker High School Science Fair. Moulton, who lives in Pondosa, began taxidermy work last year as a hobby and these are his first results.”


Moulton’s taxidermy education came by a correspondence course.

He moved away for 20 years, and during that time practiced his skills on animals he’d taken himself.

He moved back to Baker in 1980.

“I thought, ‘What the heck, I’ll get my license.’ ”

He has three hanging on the wall — one for furs, one for taxidermy and one for hide and antlers.

But it is his photo albums that tell the story of the last 50 years and his work with elk, deer, birds, rattlesnakes and more (the photos of the rattlers, which Moulton captures himself, can make any viewer cringe).

His favorites to work on are elk and deer.

When he moved back to Baker, he thought he was the only taxidermist before learning about Louise Sly in Halfway.

“And it turned out we were related,” he says with a smile.

The taxidermy business has evolved over the years — away from the more toxic chemicals and labor-intensive handmade models.

His work begins when the phone rings and he finds out what kind of animal will come through the door of his shop.

And then the paperwork begins as Moulton documents the hunter’s name, address, location and date of the kill, and the hunting license and tag number.

His detailed records help when the police come knocking.

“The state police come in all the time,” he says.

And then he flips through an album to find a photograph of his truck’s bed filled to the brim with antlers he’d just picked up from a contest at York’s Park Grocery.

“The state police went by and slammed on their brakes,” he says with a laugh.

In his shop on this blustery day he had no new projects — well, not recent ones anyway.

Mounted near his worktable is a handmade wooden model of a deer head, bulked up with newspaper and wrapped with string.

This is a re-do of a deer mount originally done in 1954.

“They deteriorate,” he says.

His task is to remove the deer skin — called a cape — and replace it with a new one from the customer.

He knows the date for sure because a few scraps of newspaper fell from the deer’s ear and the yellowed paper, the San Francisco Examiner, is dated August 15, 1954. Another sheet is dated April 17, 1955.

“He had storage of paper to make mannequins,” Moulton says.

The process is a bit different these days.

First, he encourages hunters to think ahead if they plan to get their animal mounted.

“What’s the first thing you do? Cut the throat — well, you’ve ruined the mount.”

He’s actually printed instructions for skinning an animal.

“Not that any of them have read them...” he says. “One time a guy brought a bear in — guts, the whole thing.”

The hides must be tanned before he starts work, and these days he sends the animals away for that labor-intensive task.

“The commercial tanners can get such a beautiful finish,” he says.

Then he orders a mannequin made of Styrofoam he can shape and build up with plastic or clay to match each particular animal.

“You can do anything you want with it,” he says.

Antlers are screwed to a wooden plate on the mannequin’s head.

He also orders eyes, which are designed specific to the species.

Birds are a different challenge, with a Styrofoam body outfitted with wires he uses to shape the wings.

If preserved properly, these mounts can “last forever, depending on the treatment,” he says.

To guard against any nasty bugs, he suggests putting the mounts in plastic bags, spraying the entire thing with insecticide and then letting it sit overnight. He recommends this treatment about every other year.


Though Moulton is fairly low-key in his shop on Cherry Street, chances are you’ve seen some of his work, both at Baker Heritage Museum and the National Historic Oregon Trail Interpretive Center.

Nearly every project warrants a story. Take the cougar he posed lying down with the head perked up at attention. Moulton’s cat took a liking to this distant cousin.

“That cat would come nuzzle that cougar, then the next time he’d come swat at it and play with its tail.”

And then there was the project he received from science teacher Bill Ott. The specimen was Siamese twin lambs that were joined at the head. They’d been born dead by Caesarean section.

“When I saw that, I thought ‘Gosh, what do I do with that?’ I just threw it back in the freezer,” he says.

When he did tackle the challenge, Moulton posed the lambs standing on their hind legs.

That mount went back to the high school’s science room, and it even survived the fire in 1989.

“When they had the fire, a fireman picked it,” he says.

It was, by far, the strangest mount he’s ever done.

“Most definitely,” he says.

And in 50 years, there are a few animals he’s never worked with.

“Oh yeah — there’s quite a few exotics,” he says.

But there is a rather exotic creature here in his shop — something he calls the “Hoof-A-Loo.”

The accompanying description is this: “Ever wondered about those strange tracks? Well, finally here is absolute positive proof of  of what is making the tracks.”

Moulton just grins at this gift he makes out of elk hooves.

“The governor got the first one I ever made,” he says.