Bryan Waligura is the owner of and head instructor at Lone Star State School of Taxidermy in Llano. Behind him are the projects of former and current students. Staff photos by Dakota Morrissiey
Ten minutes outside of the city of Llano, known as the “Deer Hunting Capital of Texas,” students learn to turn dead deer, snakes, birds, and more into lifelike mementos of hunting prowess at Lone Star State School of Taxidermy.
Bryan Waligura created the school, combining his passion for hunting, keen business sense, and a desire to pass on his knowledge of taxidermy to others. A Texas native, Waligura moved to Llano when he was 19 years old. He learned the art of taxidermy and started his own business.
After 15 years as a professional taxidermist and wild game processor, he decided to sell the shop and open a school where anybody could learn the fundamentals of taxidermy and start their own career creating hunting trophies. Taxidermists prepare, stuff, and mount the skins of animals so they look lifelike, especially those posed in action positions. Although mostly done with mammals and birds, taxidermists also re-animate the carcasses of reptiles and fish as standalone sculptures or wall mounts.
It can be a lucrative business, Waligura said.
In 2020, white-tailed deer hunting generated $1.2 billion in the state of Texas, according to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. Added to that are the economic benefits of bird, wild boar, and exotics hunting along with fishing. Taxidermy is an indisputable slice of that pie, and those who know the business can take any size bite they want.
“You can do this full time or you can do this part time,” Waligura said.
Lone Star State School of Taxidermy’s curriculum is designed to equip its graduates with the tools necessary to become a successful business owner. Waligura teaches tanning techniques and the proper preparation of an animal carcass. Students also learn the anatomy and movement of animals, which helps in making them more life-like.
Waligura emphasizes the importance of developing the skills needed to be a strong taxidermist, but he also makes it clear that an understanding of business and current trends is vital for a rewarding career.
“I got a lot out of it,” said Donny Houseman, one of Waligura’s former students, who recently stopped by the shop to visit. “As a matter of fact, I opened my own shop, Housman Taxidermy (in Austin).”
According to Waligura, 40-50 percent of his students immediately jump into professional taxidermy. Almost all of them go on to work in the field at some point.
For Waligura, taxidermy is an art. It requires skill and a natural ability to understand the form of animals and, in some cases, capture a specific moment. A mount is more than a trophy, he said. It is a physical reminder for hunters of memories and stories they earned in what can be a once-in-a-lifetime experience. What a taxidermist creates has to satisfy the client and stand the test of time.
“They may have to do it 15 times, but, eventually, they’re going to get it right and it will become second nature to them,” Waligura said of the art.
As a teacher, he makes sure his students are doing everything themselves so they leave with a fundamental understanding of what it takes to finish a project independently and effectively.
Lone Star State School of Taxidermy offers classes for both hobbyists and aspiring professional taxidermists. The two-week course gives students enough experience to decide whether to dive into the full six-week course. Either way, Waligura is going to pass on his hard-earned knowledge.
“It warms my heart to see people thriving,” he said. “They come from just wanting to try this out, and, before you know it, they’re making a great living.”