Ever since he was 8 years old and tried to stretch the skin of a squirrel on a board, Brad Haddix has been attracted to the ancient art of taxidermy.
One doesn't expect to see a 35-year-old so devoted to a profession associated with yesteryear. When he met his wife-to-be at the Little Bear one day in 2007, she didn't believe it was a real job.
But Haddix has mounted more than 500 animals in his career and has owned his business, A Lasting Memory Taxidermy, on Bryant Drive in Evergreen for six years.
Haddix has mounted a 9-foot brown bear, several grizzlies and 10 adult mountain lions, which are his favorite. Others include a rare mountain nyala from Ethiopia and a black swan from New Zealand.
A perfectionist, Haddix strives for ultra-realistic results.
"You want to make the customer remember what it was like that day, that moment when he bagged the prey. You get to make that memory become a reality," Haddix said. "It's not just about stretching the skin on a form."
Every element must be anatomically correct, down to the eyes, eyelids, eyebrows and tear ducts.
When he is done with the animals, "they are more beautiful than in the field," he said.
He also works part-time for Zonge Geosciences in Lakewood, traveling to foreign countries and gathering geophysical information. Haddix and his wife, Cathlyn, who is pregnant with his first child, live in Evergreen.
The business was getting better every year until the economy took a dive in 2008 and his client base decreased by half. Now Haddix is in rebuilding mode. The bulk of the work is from repeat customers who bring in locally harvested elk, deer and antelope.
Prices range from $195 for waterfowl to $850 for an elk shoulder mount. A moose, buffalo or bison shoulder mount is about $1,100. An entire mountain lion, deer or antelope is about $3,000. European mounts (skull and antlers) are about $175 to $195.
On Dec. 14, Haddix was working on the broken antlers of a large elk head, which had been accidentally knocked off the wall of someone's house.
Haddix operates out of a garage-style studio on Bryant Drive, where one wall is covered with animal heads, most of which are elk with impressive antlers. There are also several pronghorn, deer, a ram's head and the full-size body of a Klipspringer antelope, about the size of a large fox.
A strange smell in the air came from material Haddix was using to create a copy of a springbok horn, which had gone missing in transport.
There are three refrigerators and a large work table, some animal forms on which to stretch the skin, and boxes of preserved animal pelts stacked in a corner.
Before the skin is worked into a life-size realistic replica, it looks like a folded, yellowish mattress pad or the backside of a fur rug.
Haddix grew up in central Michigan under the influence of six uncles and a grandfather who all loved to hunt, and they often went out together in search of rabbits, pheasants and squirrel. He owned his own gun and possessed a hunter-safety certificate by age 12.
When Haddix graduated from Adrian College in Adrian, Mich., with a major in environmental science in 1997, he thought he would become a conservation officer or wildlife ranger, but the job market wasn't that favorable.
Eventually he took a job at the family garage-door company, which he ran for five years.
A college football player, Haddix played semi-pro football for the Southern Michigan Timberwolves in the summer of 2000.
After a catastrophic auto accident in 2001 that he barely survived, Haddix decided he need to find a job where he could spend time outdoors and follow his passion.
"I had already made up my mind I wanted to go out West," he said.
He decided to live in Colorado and found a place in Evergreen, where he could be in the mountains and still be close to the city.
While still jobless and living in a rental cabin near El Rancho, Haddix hunted a mule deer and took the skin to a taxidermy shop at East 70th Avenue and Washington Street, where he intended to have it mounted.
The owner asked if he knew anybody who was looking for work, and Haddix applied for the job. Haddix worked for him for two years and for another company in Hot Sulphur Springs, commuting twice a week. He worked at Jonas Bros. Taxidermy Studio in Louisville in 2009 and 2010.
In 2010, he won a first place in the Colorado Taxidermists Association contest for a mule deer half-body jumping over a log.
Haddix is resigned to the reality that the taxidermy business doesn't add up to a break-even proposition at the moment, but he isn't in it for the money.
"It's not about chasing the dollar bill," he said. It's about making people happy and seeing the happiness on their faces."
For information, visit www.alastingmemorytaxidermy.com, or call 303-944-5003.
Contact Vicky Gits at 303-350-1042 or Vicky@evergreenco.com.