The president of the Mississippi Taxidermy Association said it’s a sure bet the state’s new regulations restricting the import of big game killed in other states will hurt the taxidermist business.
But, Dan Heasley said, he doesn’t argue the need for the new law.
“It’s going to hurt us taxidermists, no doubt about it,” said the owner of Dan Heasley Taxidermy in Raymond. “I understand what’s at stake and why they are making this rule. That (Chronic Wasting Disease — CWD) stuff is bad and we certainly don’t want to have it introduced in Mississippi. I get that.
“But there’s no doubt that it’s going to cost (taxidermists). It’s going to cut out all our elk mounts and the elk European mounts. Those are out. They are gone, and a lot of us get several of those every year. The big trophy bucks that Mississippians kill in states like Illinois, Kansas and Missouri, those are gone, too.”
Also lost, Heasley said, are the heads of exotic stuff like axis deer and fallow deer, that Mississippians kill in Texas.
The new rule, which was approved by the Mississippi Commission on Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks in May, states: “it is unlawful to import, transport, or possess any portion of a cervid carcass originating from any state, territory, or foreign country where the occurrence of CWD has been confirmed by either the state wildlife agency, state agriculture agency, state veterinarian, United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Animal Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), or the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA).”
A cervid is a member of the deer family and includes white-tailed deer, mule deer, elk, moose, caribou, red deer, sika deer, and fallow deer. CWD is a fatal neurological disease that affects cervids and has been found in 24 states, two Canadian provinces and two other foreign countries.
Mississippi officials have never confirmed a case of CWD within state boundaries, but Arkansas and Missouri have both joined the list of states with confirmed cases in recent years.
Ronnie Thomas of Hattiesburg left for an elk hunt this week, and found out about the regulation change after arriving in Wyoming, a CWD state.
“One of my friends who came from North Mississippi knew about it and was asking what we planned to do if we took trophy elk,” Thomas said by phone. “I had to ask him, ‘man, what are you talking about?’ I had no idea.
“I talked to our outfitter the night we arrived and before we left for base camp, he had gone online and checked it out. He said we needed to be prepared to have done whatever taxidermy work we wanted done before we go home. He gave us the names and cards of two locals up here. I guess we’ll have to pay to have them shipped back.”
Heasley said it was a law he can live and work with, but wonders if it is enforceable and if well-meaning taxidermists can’t get trapped.
“I’m not opposed to it, but I have some concerns about it,” he said. “How is a taxidermist to know he’s not being set up for a sting operation, if some guy comes in with a buck and says he wants it mounted? If he’s removed the tag that most states require before and during transportation, and it’s down in a bag, and all we can see are the antlers, how can we know for sure where he killed it? How do we know it’s not an undercover agent setting us up?
“If I don’t know the guy, and I’m suspicious of the deer, then I’m just not going to accept it. If I know the guy and I know he killed it (in one of the restricted states), then I’m not going to accept it. I can’t afford to. A $500 deer job is not worth risking getting shut down and losing my livelihood.”
Heasley said his concerns don’t end there.
“I was talking to (MDWFP’s chief of wildlife) Chad Dacus the other day about this and I told him what’s going to happen is that somebody will bring me one, or bring one to another full-time taxidermist, and we turn him away, what he’s going to do is go down the road to some jakeleg (a.k.a. fly-by-night, amateur …) guy and get it done,” he said, adding that the customer is going to get an unprofessional mount on a head he’s paid thousands to travel and kill.
Heasley said he tried to reach out to clients that had or might have booked trips out west or elsewhere to give them a head’s up.
“I contacted most of my people who hunt out there and told them what they needed to do,” he said. “If they have guided hunts with a reputable outfitter, then the guide can take care of caping the head off the skull and removing the antlers. That’s meticulous work that the typical hunter just can’t do. A guide might and if not he can find them a taxidermist in those areas who can do the head prepped for mounting and either have it finished there or shipped here to be finished.
“What the state doesn’t want imported is brain matter and bone marrow. As far as the head goes, there can be no brains or meat within a boiled-out skull cap. If you get caught with that, then it’s a violation.”
Heasley is adamant that he supports the intention of the law.
“No doubt about that at all,” he said. “We’ve got a great deer herd and it is a valuable asset to our state. We don’t need to risk it. I certainly wouldn’t want to gamble that as a taxidermist because Mississippi bucks are our bread and butter. That’s where we make our living.”
For more on the new regulation and a list of the states, provinces and countries that are considered “CWD Positive,” click here.