MARSHALL - In most cases, students would be suspended for bringing dead animals to school, but in Paul Lanoue's fishery and wildlife class at Marshall High School, it's a requirement.
After four years of trying, MHS senior Elizabeth Fixen was finally able to get into the popular class, in which she has learned about fish, birds, all kinds of wildlife and gun training. But for the past two weeks, the class has been working on taxidermy.
"I was really happy to get in the class this year," Fixen said. "I'm kind of an outdoors-type person. Handling dead animals doesn't really bother me, so this class was perfect for me."
Photo by Jenny Kirk
Pictured are some examples of students’ taxidermy work that has been done in the fishery and wildlife class at Marshall High School.
Lanoue teaches two quarters of fishery and wildlife a year, and has done that for the past six years at MHS.
"The kids always look forward to the taxidermy class," he said. "It's something different from their traditional courses. Last year, we even had a kid that took his senior pictures with his squirrel. I've also seen some of the animals reappear at graduations."
While taxidermy is exciting for students, especially the hands-on aspect, it can prove to be a difficult project.
"You're working with live tissue, and there are so many variables that go into it," Lanoue said. "But this year we had some really nice projects."
Because of freezer space and time constraints, Lanoue typically suggests that the class of 30 students, who work in groups of two, choose smaller animals.
"Assignment 1 is to go get a critter," Lanoue said. "I usually suggest squirrels. Over the years, we've been able to keep the squirrel population down in Marshall."
Getting the newly deceased specimen to MHS has its challenges. Some students shot their own animal or used one from someone else's freezer.
"I usually have a few in my freezer at home," Lanoue said. "But it got unplugged, so now I'll have to start over. Some moms drop off 'packages' for us and the office staff tells us to come get them quickly. A lot of kids put them in a brown bag or a shoe box."
Fixen decided on a squirrel and used one her uncle had shot. Fixen shot three squirrels and brought them in for students to use last year.
"My project went really good," she said. "I got a 47/50. I got to skin it because my partner really didn't want to do it."
Fixen explained that she had to cut the muscle from the body, making sure she didn't cut the skin.
"There's a mount you have to put it on," Fixen said. "But before that, you have to wash it with soap and water."
Brady Mellenthin and Kyle Verdoes choose to work on a wood duck.
"I've always been a duck hunter, so I was used to seeing the outside," Mellenthin said. "But I had never seen the inside. I shot him last year and put him in the freezer nicely so his feathers weren't messed up."
The duo actually finished two wood duck projects.
"One turned out better than the other," Mellenthin said. "It was more realistic."
Devan Schultz and Dillan Sando got their hands on a Canadian goose.
"The project didn't go so good," Schultz said. "The toughest part was getting all the meat out. We didn't get it all, so we put on more preserver. Then you have to sew up the holes."
The preserver was Borax, in a white powder form.
"You have to scrub all the blood off," Fixen said. "You use a toothbrush to do that. If you leave extra skin tissue or muscle, it smells. So you really have to scrape it."
Fixen and her partner, John DeGraf, took an entire class period to scrape out the squirrel. The Canadian goose didn't turn out so well for Schultz and Sando.
"Dillan took it home, but he had to take it out because it smelled so bad," Schultz. "Now it's in his garage."
Fixen said that the most difficult task was working with the feet of the squirrel.
"You have to cut the feet right in the middle of the paw and then break it in the middle of the bone, without cutting the skin," she said. "You also have to be careful when you pin the eyes. Then you put in the clay and fake eyes."
Gjermund (Gerry) Oeyri, a foreign exchange student from Norway enjoyed the taxidermy class, even though his squirrel didn't turn out perfectly.
"It was pretty cool," he said. "But the hardest part was getting it to look like a squirrel with its expression. I've never done anything like this. We don't do crazy stuff like this in Norway."