A Legendary Taxidermy Legacy in the Making
Jamie Flewelling lends award-winning artistry to nature
By Jennon Bell Hoffmann; Images courtesy of Legends Taxidermy
The sharp glare of a wolf looming over his buffalo kill stops us in our tracks. Several deer and elk shoulder mounts preside over an entire wall of the 6,000-square-foot showroom, beckoning visitors deeper into the richly detailed tableaus.
At Legends Taxidermy in Scottville, Michigan, you can stand within inches of a hunting polar bear, measure yourself against the towering grizzly, and witness a grouping impossible in nature: The grand slam of North American wild sheep—Dall, Stone, bighorn, and desert bighorn—are perched together on a rocky outcrop. It’s as close to these magnificent beasts as many of us will ever get.
For more than 20 years, Legends Taxidermy has been preserving and recreating personal hunting memories and natural scenes of the animal kingdom for customers both domestically and internationally. The showroom features animals from every continent, from the exotic, such as the majestic African giraffe in the corner, to the familiar, like the timid red fox peering out from a hollowed log in the center of the room.
What started as a small, one-man shop in 1996 has blossomed into a 20,000-square-foot building that includes a showroom, a workshop, an art and photography studio, and an outfitter business with 14 employees and a strong reputation.
For Jamie Flewelling, founder and owner of Legends, perfectly capturing lifelike displays of animals in exquisite detail and artisanal craftsmanship is passion personified.
Growing up in the area, Jamie says he hunted with his dad and older brothers—“deer, rabbit, squirrel, fish–all the local stuff”—and taught himself the skills and techniques of taxidermy as a kid. Just a few years out of high school, Jamie kept up his hobby while working as a mechanic and enjoying the newlywed life with his wife Jen, when his father passed away. The sudden loss ignited a spark of motivation, and he decided to make his passion project a full-time reality.
“My dad never really had the opportunity to travel and go anywhere. He took his vacation at home, deer hunting. After [he] passed away, I thought, ‘I’m going to take an opportunity.’” In 1996, Jamie opened Legends Taxidermy in a storefront in Ludington, on Michigan’s western shore.
ARTISTRY AND CRAFTSMANSHIP
Jamie admits getting Legends off the ground was tough. In Michigan, only a license is needed to practice taxidermy; many taxidermists are self-taught and figure it out as they go, usually as a solo venture.
“I would go to seminars and educational clubs that were more for the hobbyist, but anybody that was full-time, if you went into their studio, they were real quiet about [their process],” Jamie says. The early years brought a lot of trial and error, but also a lot of connections. “Now there’s so much information out there and I get info from people and I share what I learn with others. It helps everybody.”
Jamie also credits this knowledge-swapping with helping him build his reputation and customer base. Since winning the title of “Best In World” in the Collective Artists Division at the Prestige’s World Championships in 1999 for a display of white wolves, Legends Taxidermy has grown into an invaluable resource for domestic and international hunters, outfitters, and outdoor enthusiasts.
“It takes a long time to get people to trust, or to get to know enough people that are hunting internationally,” he says. “But then the tree starts to grow, somebody knows somebody or got your name from someone. Trust in our work matters.”
Behind Legend’s is a crew of staff plying artistic specialties and thoughtful craftsmanship to each piece they work on. From fine artist finishers and cabinet makers to habitat creators and taxidermists, the employees of Legends share a common goal to provide the very best experience for customers.
“We are full-service, because you have to respect the investment and care people are putting into [their hunt],” Jamie says.
That white-glove service extends into every detail of the project, from organizing shipping, permits, and logistics of a hunt to often in-person delivery and installation. In fact, the day we spoke, Jamie had just returned from visiting a customer’s home in Arizona to help them lay out the trophy room, decide how best to design and feature specific items, and plan for the customer’s entire collection.
‘HUNTING GOT US THERE’
This kind of hands-on, fully customized, and tailored experience has created loyal customers and hundreds of referrals. Many of the relationships forged over the past two decades have afforded what Jamie and Jen have dreamed of most: the opportunity to see the world and expose their four children—Madalyn, 22, Claire, 21, Will, 19, and Olivia, 16—to new experiences and cultures. Jamie and Jen both light up when talking about a family trip to Namibia, Africa, three years ago.
“Hunting got us there. We spent a couple of weeks hunting, sightseeing, and checking it all out,” Jamie says. “To be able to offer those experiences [to our kids], it’s once in a lifetime. The whole world just cracks open for them.”
Jen adds, “I remember when we pulled [into the preserve] and wild elephants greeted us. We look back at the kids’ faces—they were just in awe.”
“I’m surely not trying to push my passion around with the kids. They have to figure out what they want,” says Jamie. “And maybe one day, [they] say, ‘Hey, what Dad actually does is kind of cool,’ and want to try it out. You never know.”
After all, being open to opportunities can turn a passion into a profession, and a dream to travel into a reality.
5 TIPS FOR BRINGING HOME TROPHIES FROM HUNTING TRIPS
Jamie Flewelling shares his expert advice for prepping animals for taxidermy
Preparation is key. Jamie shares five tips hunters should keep in mind:
1. Know the Laws
Before you go on your hunting trip—especially if it is out of state—make sure you know the local laws. In most states, it is illegal to travel across state lines with a whole deer or elk.
2. Talk to Taxidermists
Visit a couple different taxidermy studios to make sure you like their work. Like anything else, taxidermy is done at all levels of ability, quality, and price. Talk to studio owners about their experience with the animal you are hunting and ask to see examples and references. Make sure you discuss time frame, delivery, and setup options.
3. Clean the Animal
While in the field, once you harvest your trophy animal, clean any blood off the skin or fur with cold water. Blood can stain and cause the hairs to loosen.
4. Snap Photos
Take a lot of pictures, including photos of the whole animal, closeups, and anything that may be unusual.
5. Treat It Like Meat
Treat the skin of the trophy like you would the meat: Once the skin is removed, get it cooled down, then keep it cold or frozen until you can get it to your taxidermist.
Visit Legends Taxidermy online to learn more about the Legends shop, international hunting trips, and taxidermy.
Jennon Bell Hoffmann writes lifestyle and human-interest stories from her home in Illinois.