Courtney practices art, craft of taxidermy

Published 6:11 pm Sunday, November 26, 2017

You’ve heard the old adage, “Waste not, want not.”

It’s one to which retired law enforcement officer Randy Courtney of Honoraville closely adheres.

“Actually, I’d say he was a pack rat,” laughs his wife, Robin. “But he actually knows where everything in here is—and if we move or take anything from here, he knows it!”

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“Here” is Courtney’s taxidermy shop located at their country home, and it is filled with his handiwork. From a fierce-looking raccoon (“the customer said, ‘Leave his mouth open’) and wild hog, to mounted fox, deer, squirrels and more, the fruits of his labor can be seen, along with the tools and supplies of the taxidermy trade.

You can also find examples of the primitive weapons, tools and accessories Courtney recreates in his shop—from an atlatal (“the cavemen actually used these for hunting before other weapons were developed”) along with blow darts, hunting bows carved from local wood, handmade arrows, deer hide knife sheaths and pouches for black powder or flint and steel, fur quivers, and sewing needles made out of a certain small bone known as the “needle bone” from a deer’s leg. Overhead, a fox fur cap worthy of Davy Crockett hangs from a mounted deer’s antler.

“I just don’t understand people throwing something perfectly good away. What we hunt, we eat. I can use some of the bones as scraping tools for the taxidermy, I use the pelts and the hides, Even made some moccasins for our youngest son a couple of years ago,” Courtney says, holding up a buttery soft deer hide. “Let me tell you, a deer has enough brain matter to tan his hide. Working in that brain solution will end up leaving your hands as soft as a baby’s bottom, too.”

He says there isn’t much money to be made from fur pelts or some of his primitive weaponry and “mountain man” items, and that’s OK. “Making things like this is just a lot of fun for me. If people want them, that’s great. I know some of what I do isn’t used, it’s just hung on the wall of a house or cabin. Nothing wrong with that, either.”

Long before he joined the Greenville Police Department, the Baker, Fla. native was learning about the great outdoors and preserving hunters’ trophies from his dad, Ferrell, a retired taxidermist.

“My dad is truly an outdoorsman. I grew up on the Blackwater River where we hunted year round. I remember him saying, ‘You can’t put an animal back together properly and make it look real if you don’t know what it looked like when it was alive,’” Courtney says. “And that makes a lot of sense. You have to observe these animals first hand to really do a good job of preserving them.”

During the years that Ferrell Courtney lived in the Greenville area and operated Blackwater Taxidermy, Randy helped out. He also branched out to expand the types of creatures preserved in his dad’s shop.

“Dad didn’t like working with any animals that didn’t have fur or a hide, so I really got into doing a lot of fish—I could practically do one blindfolded now,” he explains, holding up two fish that are midway through the preservation process.

“Notice they have lost their color . . . they end up this sort of grayish-white. The color has to be added back. So I actually have to paint them with an airbrush.” Courtney nods his head in the direction of two completed fish. “I finish up with a light gloss finish to give them the sheen of a fish’s scales when it’s living.”

Turns out taxidermy is both a craft and an art that requires time, patience, and a deft pair of hands. And Courtney is not a man to rush a project.

“Now that I have the time to do so, I want to do work to the very best of my ability and also give customers a pretty quick turnaround . . . within 90 days of receiving the project is my goal,” he says.

“I took a few projects in here and there while I was still working for the GPD, but I just didn’t have a lot of time to devote to the taxidermy while working full-time. And I wasn’t going to take away from time with my family,” the father of three says.

Now he hopes to turn Blackwater Creations into a full-time, home-based business offering him some flexibility of schedule—a schedule that will always allow him some time for family, hunting and staying in touch with the great outdoors and all that it offers an outdoorsman.

Because Randy Courtney doesn’t want to waste a thing.

To learn more about his taxidermy business, visit Blackwater Creations on Facebook.