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Montana taxidermy shop takes a natural approach to preserve memories

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Posted at 2:51 PM, Feb 01, 2023

DEER LODGE - There is a family in Deer Lodge built on beetles and preserving the memories of hunters from all across the state.

Dermestid beetles are a preferred cleaning method for removing meat from bone for father and son taxidermy shop Bone Head Skull Works.

Frank Slaughtner and his son JR have been creating these natural works of art for hunters since 2004.

Now, I guess using flesh-eating beetles might sound a little unusual to the uninitiated, but the practice is about as natural a way of preserving bones as you can get, and according to Frank it gets results that are unmatched.

“I refer to them as employees without benefits," joked owner Frank Slaughtner. "They are kind of finicky but in my opinion, I think they do the best job for the European mounts.”

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Hiring their first colony of beetles started as a father-son project to preserve their own hunting memories, but the business has since taken off — along with their employee numbers, having about four colonies working right now.

“It’s the larva that does most of the cleaning and eating of the tissue. And it will take, the quickest turnaround we’ve had on a deer was nine days," said Slaughtner. "From the time we got it, prepped it, put it in the beetles, degreased it, cleaned it, was nine days turnaround. That doesn’t happen too often, especially as the season goes along, we get more heads because we try to do those in the order that we come in.”

And with those deer, elk and even bison heads that come in — stories follow. A perk of the job that keeps Frank taking in orders every season.

“Probably the main thing is to hear the stories of the hunt," said Slaughtner. "When they come in, especially if it is a youth hunter. Those that are from 10-15 years old and their first animal. Let's hear it, what happened, how’d you get this? How long it did it take? It’s really interesting, but that’s, that’s a big part of this.”

Sharing stories of the hunt has been a basic part of the human story since day one, and here in deer lodge it lives on… unless you’re in the beetle tank.