By Jennie Zeitler
Every day is different for Mike Kahlert at Great Bear Taxidermy west of Long Prairie. One day he could be stitching on a lion and the next he could be doing a white-tailed deer trophy.
“You never know what will be here,” he said. “We get stuff from all over the world.”
Bears arrived at Great Bear from Missouri, belonging to someone Kahlert had never met. He has shipped his work to Germany and England. A father and son from Kentucky were fishing in Alaska and shipped an eight-foot-long halibut to Kahlert to mount.
Kahlert is now trying to get caught up with a recent order for African trophies before Minnesota’s firearms deer hunting opener, Nov. 9.
His interest in taxidermy started when Kahlert was growing up in Browerville. He read his uncle’s “Outdoor Life” magazines advertising taxidermy “for fun and profit.”
“I thought that was really cool,” he said. “My first project was a pheasant using excelsior wrapped with string.”
Within a year, Kahlert did his first deer. Taxidermy continued as a hobby while he worked for Tractor Supply Company in Long Prairie, where he was the store manager. After a few years, he named his hobby “Great Bear” and ran it on the side. In the late 1990s, he quit at the store to do taxidermy full time.
He and his wife, Marilyn, moved to their current location in 2002, making their home and the studio in the second level of a barn. The silo is wood-panelled and serves as a giant showcase of his recent projects.
While he used to do deer, ducks, pheasants and fish almost exclusively, African animals have really taken off in the last 10 years or so.
Great Bear is an approved import facility for hunting trophies by the United States Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Right out of the blue, Kahlert got a phone call several years ago from someone in Wyoming about fixing elk horns that had belonged to the man’s grandfather.
“Everyone else had said, ‘No way,’” Kahlert said. “We did it for him.”
Kahlert recalled being told one time that nothing is impossible — some things just take a little longer and a lot more thought.
“We make them exactly how the customer wants,” said crew member Teresa Olson.
That might involve cutting forms into several pieces to reconstruct them in the perfect position.
Kahlert recently completed a project with three lions from South Africa mounted on the wall of an area residence. Two of them were posed ready to pounce on prey, which were also part of the display.
He just completed his first monkey, a vervet, for a customer in Melrose.
“We generally do deer from November until the end of July,” Kahlert said. “On slow days, Teresa builds bases or works on fish.”
Olson first came to Great Bear while taking a class in Sauk Centre.
“I love it out here,” she said. “Every single day is interesting, with something new and exciting.”
Kahlert employs up to five people during the busiest times, generally in November and December.
The hardest thing is the detail work, Kahlert and Olson both agree.
“Anybody can put a deer together,” Olson said. “But for it to look like a real, real deer. …”
“No one is allowed to work on anything without looking at pictures for reference,” Kahlert said. “It doesn’t matter how many they’ve already done.”
Great Bear mounts can be found at the Todd County Museum in Long Prairie and at the Runestone Museum in Alexandria.
For more information call (320) 732-2675 or visit www.greatbeartaxidermy.com.