Scores of little glass eyes watch Gene Beatty as he enters his basement workshop.
The eyes of deer, pheasant, grouse, brown trout and steelhead appear to follow his movements as he pulls up a chair to his cluttered work bench.It is eerie how lifelike the animals look. It is also a testimonial to Beatty's work.
His occupation is bringing harvested animals back to life in the dimly lit basement of his home.
With each stroke of his air brush, the brown trout Beatty works on looks alive again, as genuine as the day it swam in the chilling waters of eastern Idaho.
And the two massive mule deer heads hanging on the wall look so lifelike one half expects to see them blink.
Beatty, 50, of Idaho Falls, is just one of many local craftsmen preserving the art of taxidermy. That's right, the "art" of taxidermy.
Though it's highly unlikely you'd see someone compare a deer head mount to a Vincent van Gogh painting or a mounted sage grouse to a Frederic Remington sculpture, Beatty said it does take a certain amount of creativity and artistic talent to give a harvested animal a lifelike appearance.
"Fifty percent of (my customers) say, `I always wanted to do this when I was a kid,' " Beatty said. "It takes a lot of art. You get into painting fish and beaks on birds, and it takes some art."
Beatty took up the craft in 1976 as a part-time hobby, but when he was laid off from his job at Safeway he began devoting all his time to breathing life back into deceased animals.
"It worked out great for me," he said of being laid off. "I wanted to get into taxidermy more.
"It's a good business for me," he added. "I stay busy all year."
This is the time of year he's likely to burn the midnight oil, mounting animals that were harvested during the recent game seasons.
Beatty said he spends from two to 16 hours a day mounting anything from a rainbow trout to one of Idaho's best-kept secrets - the jackalope.
"People sure get a kick out of that," he said of the antlered rabbit head.
It takes Beatty six to seven weeks to produce a mounted fish and four to five months for big game head. Mounting a fish costs $5 per inch while a moose is about $550.
It takes skill to make a mounted animal look alive, but Beatty said materials also are important.
Taxidermists once made inserts out of papier-mache but now can buy foam bodies giving animals an even more lifelike appearance.
A foam deer head is detailed. Veins and muscles are accented to give it a realistic look when the hide is pulled over the mount. The animal's skull is discarded, and the eyes are replaced with glass look-alikes.
"In the `old' days, they (taxidermists) used to tan their own hides," said Beatty. "I don't get into that."
When he receives a deer hide back from the tannery, he soaks it in water for three hours, then allows it to dry for a day. After the hide is dry, it is ready to be placed over a foam head mount. Using the right sized form is critical.
He then sews the head on the mount and allows it to sit for about one week. Mouth, nose and ears are puttied and painted. Glass eyes are put in place.
The position of the ears and eyelids is important to get the right expression on the face of the animal. "That is the hardest part," Beatty said. "The forms today have become so detailed."
Mammals are his bread and butter, but Beatty also mounts fish and birds in realistic poses.
"You've got to do hundreds of birds to get good at it," he said. "It takes a lot of time."