The Art and Science of Taxidermy

In 1969, 13-year-old Jim Malone won a dead rooster pheasant in a poker game with a neighborhood buddy. Using his brother’s taxidermy book, he prepared, stuffed and mounted the carcass and a lifelong passion was born.
Malone, now the owner of Bear Bones Taxidermy in Osseo, continued to experiment with “skins” as a teenager and throughout his years studying zoology at St. Cloud State University. Taxidermy also played a pivotal role at several key junctures in his life. Newly graduated from college, he arrived at a job interview in the anatomy lab at the University of Minnesota College of Veterinary Medicine with a preserved weasel specimen in tow. “The interviewer looked at that mount and said: ‘It looks like you got the job,’” says Malone.

He went on to spend 20 years managing the lab and serving as a teaching assistant to aspiring veterinarians. He prepared “bone sets,” complete samples of the bones in a dog’s body, for 80 first-year veterinary students each fall. “The students could take those bone sets home and handle them to learn every bone in the dog’s body,” he says. All the while, he continued with taxidermy as a side pursuit, mounting many species of fish, waterfowl, upland game birds, small mammals and big game animals. “There is definitely art to it,” says Malone. “Two taxidermists can take the same animal and produce very different results.”

Taxidermy proved pivotal again much later in Malone’s life. He had been working in Medtronic’s heart research lab. “One day after I was laid off, I got a call from a family who had been big-game hunting in Wyoming,” Malone says. “They needed seven deer heads mounted. That’s when I became self-employed as a full-time taxidermist.”
Today, Malone’s business is a part-time retirement pursuit focused mostly on big game specimens, mainly deer. His business moniker reflects his specialty in “European-style” mounts, in which the animal’s skull is displayed. He also prepares more traditional “natural mounts” with hides preserved. Most clients find him by word of mouth or referral by local game processors including Brother’s Meats in Maple Grove.
A lifelong student of the animal world, Malone is an active deer hunter and outdoorsman. He continues to refine his craft through membership in the Minnesota Taxidermist Guild and participates weekly in the meetings of the Fur, Fin & Feather Club, the oldest sportsman’s club in the state. The club meets weekly at the Osseo American Legion to hear from experts on hunting, fishing and natural resource conservation. And, on occasion, he displays portions of his personal collection at club events.

Most of Malone’s work is displayed in the homes of his clients. However, St. Cloud State’s natural history collection includes a number of his early mounts. He also maintains a collection in his Osseo home and workshop, including a number of white-tailed and mule deer that he shot locally and throughout the United States. “When the time comes, I’ll leave my collection to St. Cloud State University. I know they will be well cared-for and benefit generations of future biology students,” he says.  

For the moment, however, Malone continues to enjoy the art and science of preserving elements of the natural world.