Taxidermist mounts trophy Aspen bear |

Taxidermist mounts trophy Aspen bear

Baron Zahuranec
Rifle correspondent
Aspen, CO Colorado
Josh and Mark Gustad, of Elk Creek Taxidermy in New Castle, blow dry a newly taxidermied, trophy black bear, which was shot in the Aspen area in 2006. (Kelley Cox/Post Independent)

NEW CASTLE, Colo. ” A troublesome bear is now a Pennsylvannia hunter’s trophy mount, after she killed the bruin in the Aspen area in 2006.

The black bear is large enough to earn recognition from the Boone and Crockett Club, an organization that maintains records for 38 North American big-game species, from Maine moose to Alaskan walrus, and recognizes kills of trophy game.

Late in October 2006, a female hunter shot the black bear somewhere in the Aspen area, according to taxidermist Mark Gustad of Elk Creek Taxidermy in New Castle. Gustad recently finished a full-body mount of the bruin and will ship it off to the hunter in a few weeks.

The bear made it into the Boone and Crockett books with a skull measurement of close to 22 inches, according to Gustad. The length and width of the skull are added together to get a final measurement. The world-record black bear, killed in Utah in 1975, measured slightly less than 24 inches.

Gustad estimated that the bear weighed about 600 pounds, and by examining its teeth, determined that it was 8 to 9 years old.

The bear had two tags in its ear placed by the Colorado Division of Wildlife ” it was apparently captured and relocated twice after causing trouble. Wildlife officials would likely have euthanized the animal had they caught it again, but the black bear was killed legally during hunting season.

“Those bears can be troublesome,” Gustad said. “Especially like last year, with the acorns and berries not producing all that well. If they don’t have food to eat in the woods, they get used to coming down into town, and that’s when they become a problem. It will only take a time or two for the bears to realize that they can get all the food they want from trash cans and Dumpsters. Once a bear gets into garbage, it is real hard to keep them away. If a bear gets tagged once, there’s a good chance he could get tagged again.”

Gustad has been preparing animals and fish for sportsmen and women for 29 years, and his son Josh is now learning the trade. They do about 100 to 150 head mounts and about 20 full-body mounts each year. Bears account for 15 to 20 mounts annually, Gustad said.

For most mounts, the Gustads skin the animal and prep it for tanning. All the flesh is removed from the hides, salted and dried. The hide is then sent off to a tannery for the tanning process, which can take almost a year. When the Gustads get the hide back, they fit it over the appropriate animal form and stitch it shut. Glass eyes and a mouth are fashioned, placed and painted before a final washing and drying of the entire mount.

“We do more (mule deer) than anything, but there’s a good number of elk in there. We do fish and birds, too,” Gustad added. “All the mounts are different, and the life-size ones are a real challenge. You can get burned out if you do too many of one kind, and really, the hardest ones are what you do the least of.”