Texas white-tailed deer, fish, birds, reptiles and even African animals often find their way to Rene Escamilla, who can preserve them for hunters and fishing enthusiasts who want to keep a trophy. Escamilla is an expert in taxidermy, or the practice of stuffing or mounting an animal’s body for display or even educational purposes.
And the Brownsville taxidermist probably knows that line of business better than most of his colleagues in the Rio Grande Valley. The 70-year-old Escamilla has been practicing his craft since 1980, after years of working as a butcher processing beef and, later on, game animals.
“I processed deer and hogs for a while but decided to learn how to stuff animals,” he said from his shop on Old Military Highway in Brownsville. “I took a course through the mail and went to taxidermy school later on.”
Escamilla was referring to a correspondence course he took, a long-distance educational experience preceding today’s online classes. He then traveled to Phoenix, Ariz., where he enrolled in a 16-week course, which then launched his career as a full-time taxidermist.
Some taxidermists work on fish only, sometimes using pictures instead of dead fish. Others, like Rene Torres of Raymondville, the Valley’s newest taxidermist, work with deer heads only. Escamilla, however, works on practically any type of animal a client brings in.
“I have done Texas and African game animals – even a giraffe,” he said. “I also worked on pets like cats, dogs and birds but stopped doing that about two years ago.”
The late Brownsville philanthropist Johnny Cavazos and his wife, Nena, were avid hunters and many of the trophies they harvested through the years hunting in Texas and Africa were preserved by Escamilla, including the world’s tallest animal. “I remember that day when we took the giraffe on the bed of a pick-up truck,” he said. “You should have seen the look on people’s faces.”
Escamilla, a Vietnam veteran and longtime member of the Brownsville Charro Days Association, said working with animals takes a lot patience and dedication. “Sometimes you spend hours working on a deer head or on a bird,” he said while putting the finishing touches on a Canada goose. “If it doesn’t look right you start all over again until you are completely satisfied.”
Stuffing animals requires the use of chemicals and special tools to prepare a hide and horns for the job, he said. Escamilla, like most taxidermists, orders the molds from a catalog, but only after all the measurements and specifications of the animal are taken into consideration.
A person might want to have an animal looking left, right, up, down or straight, or bird a flying away or descending onto earth, he said. Also, some might want to have a whole rattlesnake or just the skin. A bobcat might be posed lying down or trying to catch a quail from a darting covey.
sked how many animals he has prepared during the nearly 35 years he has been working in taxidermy, Escamilla replied saying, “Hmm, probably several thousands.” He estimated he does anywhere from 80 to 120 a year.
Now that the 2017 hunting season is underway following the Oct. 1 opening of the archery season, Escamilla is processing game like venison into steaks, ground meat and sausage. After the hunting season ends he shifts from processing meat to taxidermy to preserve the hunters’ trophies.
“You can only do one thing at a time,” Escamilla said. “For me, taxidermy has been a way of life and I will continue doing it for as long as I can. It’s a one–person job, but I enjoy it.”
“He has done really, really good work for us,” Joey Lopez, a Brownsville account said. “Between dad, myself and other people I know of, he has worked on more than 80 trophies.”