He may be young, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t know his stuff.
Ryan Huitt, who operates Wildlife Expressions, is one of Rangely’s newest business owners. He will turn 21 in April.
“All I can do is invite people to look at the work, and that’s usually enough,” said Huitt, who is a full-service taxidermist and the only one in Rangely. “The work is the proof. Then they kind of overlook the fact that, hey, he is a young guy.”
Huitt, a 2007 graduate of Rangely High School, has been doing taxidermy work for about a year and a half. He received his training at Second Nature School of Taxidermy in Montana.
“They only let six students in and they have three instructors,” said Huitt, who attended the taxidermy school last year. “During that time, each student does 10 mounts. So, it’s pretty hands-on.”
Huitt may be starting out as a taxidermist — he opened the business one year ago this month — but he’s been around hunting and the outdoors his entire life.
“I killed my first bull (elk) when I was 12, which is the legal age in Colorado to hunt big game,” Huitt said. “Me and my brother (Chris) would pack .22s and go out in the hills and hunt rabbits and stuff when I was like 6 years old. Hunting has always been a big thing in our family. I was riding around with my dad since I think I was big enough to wear a pair of pants.”
Huitt’s father, Frank, is a big-time hunter in his own right and has several of Ryan’s mounts proudly displayed in his trophy room at his new house in Rangely.
“I’d say he’s my best customer,” Ryan said with a smile.
In fact, Ryan’s favorite piece he’s done — a 100-inch sailfish caught by his father off the coast of Costa Rica — hangs in his parents’ house.
“You’re taking a complete blank white canvas and adding every little scale and flicker of paint to make it look alive again,” Ryan said. “That’s what I like the most about doing fish. They are the most time consuming and you use the most cuss words, but they are the most rewarding in the end.”
Frank Huitt, who started KR Fishing and Rental in Rangely in 1994, before selling the business in 2008, has also served as a mentor for Ryan.
“He may not know much about taxidermy, but he knows a lot about the business side of things,” Ryan said of his father. “As far as business skills go, I don’t think I could have had a better instructor. My dad always told me if you do a good job for someone, they will tell five people. If you do a bad job, they will tell at least 10 people. Definitely, word of mouth around here is your best or worst enemy. You have to remember everything you send out has your name on it.”
That’s the way Ryan treats every mount he does.
“You can’t have the same recipe for every animal,” he said. “Every animal has a different look. The first thing a lot of people do is look at the horns, the antlers. Most people don’t notice the little things, and that’s OK. But when you look at the eyes, the nose, the stitch lines, the tuck lines, that’s when you start seeing good versus bad.”
As far as passing on the business skills he learned along the way, Frank Huitt, said, “I’ve tried to teach the boys … that honesty and good hard work will get you a long ways. I truly believe that.”
Ryan, his dad and his brother have hunted all over the world, which gave Ryan a chance to see a lot of taxidermy examples.
“I’ve had the chance to see a lot of good taxidermy and a lot of bad taxidermy,” Ryan said. “You see what you like and don’t like and you incorporate that into your work.”
Frank Huitt said the career move to become a taxidermist made sense for his son.
“He’s always been interested in the outdoors and wildlife and he has artistic skill, which he got from his mother, he sure didn’t get it from me,” Frank said. “This fits in with his lifestyle and what he enjoys. And if you enjoy doing something, you’re going to do a better job at it.”
For Ryan, taxidermy is a form of creative expression.
“Taxidermy is, without a doubt, an art form often overlooked, because you’re dealing with skins and hides. But to take a piece of fiberglass or plaster and make it all look real, it’s definitely an art form,” Ryan said. “Just like recreating a scene, that’s coming from the taxidermist’s or the artist’s mind.”
Being an avid hunter and fisherman himself is an advantage.
“In my opinion, if you haven’t hunted or fished, I don’t know how you could do it and be successful,” Ryan said. “Anybody can put a mount together, but when you start getting to the more elaborate or customized stuff, if you’ve never seen that kind of thing before, you’re just kind of winging it.”
Ryan likes doing special projects for customers.
“I like doing the different stuff,” he said. “A lot of people are just used to the head-on-the-wall taxidermy. I like to do the customized work … like adding specific habitat to a piece. It can be anything from icicles to snow to vegetation to rocks, pretty much whatever is in the customer’s eye, and then it’s up to us to fill in the gaps. The more creativity you can bring to a piece, the more lifelike it will be. When you’re just stitching it up for a paycheck, that’s when you turn into everybody else.”
Brad Casto, a local hunter and owner of Rangely Auto Parts, likes Ryan’s work.
“He does great work, from what I’ve seen,” Casto said. “It’s nice to have somebody local who went to (taxidermy) school and learned how to do it the right way.”
Ryan’s father agreed.
“I know we’re a little prejudiced, being he’s our son, but I’m very impressed with his work,” Frank Huitt said. “If I didn’t think it was good, I would tell him. It wouldn’t do him any good to lie to him. But he has done excellent work.”
Ryan grew up appreciating the outdoors, but becoming a taxidermist has changed the way he looks at wildlife and nature.
“Our (taxidermy) instructor was right, once you leave the school, you never walk into a store and look at a mount the same,” Ryan said. “You pay attention to things a lot more, the little things you didn’t used to pay attention to. You’ll see things out there that will give you ideas, it never stops. That’s what’s great about it. There are no boundaries, other than the taxidermist’s mind.”
Rangely didn’t have a full-time taxidermist, so Ryan figured he could fill that role.
“A lot of the towns around us had a full-time taxidermist, and we didn’t,” he said. “With as many outfitters and hunters as we have around here, I figured it couldn’t hurt to have a taxidermist.”
He grew up Rangely, and he plans on continuing to make it his home.
“I love this town,” Ryan said. “I’ve been to some big places and I just don’t like it. We have small-town problems like every place, but in the end, it’s pretty tough to beat. Everything I love is right here, so why leave it?”
Smart talk for such a young guy.
He may be young, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t know his stuff.