Perfections is her Profession

Story by Jeannie Stone

To look upon a head mount of a deer, slightly turned, with the most amazing eye, nose and mouth detail and well-defined muscles, even a non- hunter is impressed with the skill and grace with which Debbie Woodard practices her chosen art medium. She is, she admits, a perfectionist after all. 

Woodard of Danville is a hard worker. She was working full time in the Pottsville schools when she started learning taxidermy on the side as a way to defray costs for mounting the deer she and her husband collected during their hunting forays.

Woodard wasn’t always into the hunting scene. Raised in Dover, she has memories of her step-father hunting deer and turkey. “He’s done it all,” she exclaimed, but he didn’t take her. In fact, she didn’t go on her first hunt until she met her husband Ronnie. Together they hunt deer, turkey and squirrel, but it’s the deer that were her guinea pigs in the beginning. She continues to count deer as her favorite form to work with.

“A couple of guys brought me stuff to practice on at first. Then they started to come by all the time,” Woodard said with a laugh. “I don’t have time to sit down and just rest now. Whenever I stop, I’m thinking about all the things I need to get done.” she said.

Woodard jumped into her new endeavor and quickly outgrew the basement, which was her first workshop. She and her husband built an 800 square-foot, specially-designed workshop for her business. It is located outside their sprawling log cabin on the edge of the Ouachita National Forest.

She also joined the Arkansas Taxidermy Association and started attending classes held during the association’s conventions. She learned techniques from some of the industry’s finest taxidermists, and people began paying her compliments. Woodard’s work appears to stand ‘heads above’ the traditional mounts.

The process she uses is time consuming.She first removes the skin from the head and bones and removes the flesh “real good.” Woodard started using a water-pressure hose after learning the technique from a taxidermist in Vilonia. The petite Woodard isn’t afraid of asking for help. It’s simply a part of her drive toward perfection.

Fleshing by hand used to take Woodard all day. With the new technique, she is able to flesh a hide in 20 minutes.

Next she salts the hide. This pulls out the blood, wicks the moisture and sanitizes the hide.

“They say you don’t have to salt it down anymore, but I feel more confident doing it this way.” She leaves the hide to dry for a couple of days.

During deer season, Woodard develops an assembly line.

“With so many coming in, I’ll take three or four out of the freezer and flesh them at the same time.”

After the hide is properly treated Woodard glues the hide to the form and slides the cape over. It is then time for the tedious work of adding dimension to the mount.

“The guys seem to like the muscle-detail work,” she said. Woodard spaces brad nails about 1⁄4” apart, so there are literally hundreds of nails defining the muscles. She even adds dimension around the base of the ears.

“It just makes it more realistic. I add muscle detail in the face, too. I mean, I might as well do the whole thing.”

The mount must dry for two weeks before Woodard can complete the trophy with the clay and paint work — tucking the tear ducts, treating the nose and mouth, making sure everything is perfect.

Woodard has completed three shoulder mounts, two European mounts (only the skulls), a bobcat, a bear, and an elk.

“The elk was so big my husband had to help me by holding the rack up, so I could screw it down. I had to use a big rock on the frame to keep the whole thing from flipping,” she said.

An early riser, she starts in at the shop by 6:30 a.m. and doesn’t come back in the house till her husband returns from work.

“I like a good turnaround time, so there may be a time coming when I have to turn jobs down. When I put out a deer head, I’m putting out my reputation, and I want people to come back to me.”

Her quest for perfection has earned her a reputation among hunters in the River Valley. “They’re proud of their mounts, and that makes me proud because I want it to look like the day they shot it.”

Woodard is interested in learning to mount duck and fish. She recently caught her first catfish.

“Around here, when hunting stops fishing starts,” she said with a happy sigh.

Duck mounting is not a venture to enter into lightly, she says.

“Ducks are the only animals that require me to have a special permit and pay a fee,” she said. “They are federally monitored. You have to keep records and have them tagged. If a hunter has extra ducks, he can’t just give them to me. He would have to sign them over.”

She doesn’t like to eat the duck or fish, however, nor the deer.

“Chicken and turkey are about the only meats I eat,” Woodard said. After all, husband Ronnie is the plant manager for Petit Jean Poultry.

When she is not involved in her taxidermy business, she is involved in woodworking. Woodard recently fashioned a cross to mark the spot where a friend‘s daughter fell in a fatal accident while riding a four-wheeler.

In addition to building the plaques for her mounts, she builds furniture with the same attention to detail. She favors cedar, although she also uses oak, cherry and walnut, and creates chests and gun cabinets. She also made the sign for her shop.

Woodard has another hobby now as she incorporates a new love interest. As of July 25th she is a grandmother. Grandson Caden Woodard is the joy of her life. The Woodards have four grown children: Tasha Harris, Ashley Titsworth, Nathan Woodard and Jason Woodard.

And what does she do when she’s not involved with hunting, grandmothering and woodworking?

“I also work on cars,” Woodard said. “I like things done right. I’m a perfectionist.” Maybe that’s why she doesn’t have time to sit down any more.

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