Ross Rojik of Pennsylvania Owns Wildlife-Mounting Business

Ross Rojik portrait
Ross Rojik turkey mount
Ross Rojik works on a mounted deer

Ross Rojik portrait

Ross Rojik of Petersburg, Pa., owns Mountain Man Taxidermy.

Ross Rojik of Petersburg, Pa., owns Mountain Man Taxidermy.

Ross Rojik turkey mount

A wild turkey mount by Ross Rojik of Petersburg, Pa.

A wild turkey mount by Ross Rojik of Petersburg, Pa.

Ross Rojik works on a mounted deer

Ross Rojik takes pride in the detail work he does for his clients.

Ross Rojik takes pride in the detail work he does for his clients.

Ross Rojik of Petersburg, Pennsylvania, always knew he wanted to be an entrepreneur, but he had no idea that dream would materialize from an unusual Christmas gift his parents gave him when he was 15.

“I always loved hunting and fishing, and I loved seeing different animals mounted,” says 21-year-old Ross, who graduated from Juniata Valley High School in Alexandria in 2009. “My family even had a few mounts done, and I was intrigued. I had gotten into tanning 
the hides of deer and squirrel, so my parents bought me a squirrel taxidermy kit for Christmas.”

After successfully mounting his first squirrel with the taxidermy kit, Ross began mounting other animals, including raccoons and deer.

“I already had the business going when I jumped into FFA, but looking back, the Agri-Entrepreneurship Program helped broaden my experiences,” Ross says.

“It was a hobby, but then teachers at school began paying for the materials if I would mount their animals,” Ross says. “When I was 16, I got my taxidermy license so I could legally do it as a job. I didn’t realize then it would end up being my career – it was just something I loved to do.”

Ross’s talent for mounting his friends’ and family’s prized hunting trophies spread by word-of-mouth throughout his community. By his senior year, he had a steady flow of work coming in and began to realize taxidermy had career potential.

“My dad and grandfather are both self-employed, and I grew up seeing my dad run his own schedule, which appealed to me,” Ross says. “I loved taxidermy so much, I wanted to do whatever it took to get paid to do it.”

Ross built upon the knowledge he already had by entering a state taxidermy competition two years in a row, where he attended seminars and workshops to learn more advanced techniques. He also joined FFA his junior year and used his growing taxidermy business to participate in the National FFA Agri-Entrepreneurship Program.

“I already had the business going when I jumped into FFA, but looking back, the Agri-Entrepreneurship Program helped broaden my experiences,” Ross says.

After graduating in 2009, Ross continued building his clientele under the business name Mountin’ Man Taxidermy, and it quickly became full-time. He runs it out of a squeaky-clean studio near his home, where he painstakingly takes lifeless mammals, birds and fish and makes them appear alive again.

“Most people think taxidermy is disgusting, smelly and rotten, but that messy part is actually the smallest part of the job,” Ross says. “Only the first couple hours of the process are messy, and after that point, it’s quite clean. A lot of detail goes into an animal’s face – every eye and nostril – and you have to know a lot about anatomy. It’s an art.”

People often ask Ross how he keeps his studio from “stinking,” but he says actually none of the original flesh remains during the taxidermy process.

“The finished product is basically tanned skin on a Styrofoam form, and the skin has been turned to leather,” he explains.

One unusual aspect of Ross’s taxidermy practice is that he maintains a climate-controlled, chest freezer-sized unit of thousands of Dermestid beetles, which he uses to clean the skulls of animals.

“You can find them out in the wild, and they eat the raw flesh of dead animals,” Ross says. “I can put the skull of a deer in the unit, and the beetles will chew everything off the bones, including the eyes and flesh. I leave it in there for about two weeks, and it’s clean.”

“It’s really rewarding to see a client satisfied. It re-creates that awesome hunting or fishing moment for them all over again.”

Many other taxidermists boil skulls to remove the flesh, which can cause chipping, cracking and shrinkage to the bone. That’s one of the reasons Ross uses his somewhat unconventional beetle approach.

“I’ve even gotten work from other taxidermists cleaning their skulls, because they don’t want to mess with it,” Ross says.

From start to finish, the taxidermy process can take up to six months. The price starts at about $100 for a squirrel and can go as high as $20,000 or more, depending on the size and complexity of the animal. Ross also offers clean skull-only mounts for customers who can’t afford to have the whole head mounted.

“I’ve been fortunate to work on some neat projects,” he says. “I’ve done work with Penn State University on birds of prey as well as for the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources. And I’m working on some primates for PSU’s anthropology department and anatomy classes.”

Although he loves his job, Ross admits it’s not easy.

“Running a business on my own is tough, because I’m responsible for everything from labor to taxes to secretarial work. It takes patience, that’s for sure,” he says. “But it’s really rewarding to see a client satisfied. It re-creates that awesome hunting or fishing moment for them all over again.”

– Jessica Mozo

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