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Central Florida Taxidermy Business Working On Bears And Continuing A Family Tradition

Front office at Master Taxidermy Studio.
Front office at Master Taxidermy Studio.

Hunters killed a recorded 304 bears in Florida’s bear hunt. Some of them are now in the process of being made into rugs and wall mounts.

At least one taxidermist told us he didn’t want anything to do with bears from this hunt. Another was keeping his work quiet because he’s worried about his family’s safety. That taxidermist pointed to threats licensed bear hunters were getting from some of those opposed to the hunt.

But one family-run business in Ocoee is proudly sharing their work.

Even before you walk into Master Taxidermy Studio, a bobcat stares at you from the large front shop window. Walk in and all kinds of mounted wildlife line the walls: deer, fish, antelope, turkey, and a large blanket of zebra skin drapes over a wooden table. One wall is full of family photos ---hunters proudly posing with their kill.

The back room is where all the action happens. There are all sorts of tools, wooden working tables, a couple of gator heads and animal mannequins. Owner Sherri Brady shows me around as her son-in law, Derrick Powell is putting the final touches on a huge male lion laying majestically on the floor.

“The shop’s been here for 44 years. It’s a family business. Derrick learned from his grandparents. They were ready to retire or semi-retire and he and I purchased the shop from them five years ago, but he’d already been doing the mammals and so forth for many years,” said Brady.

The studio has been in the same location since 1972. Powell works on North American game and African and exotic species. Powell explains what it takes to immortalize a bear.

“The majority of mounts for bear is a rug mount, which I will skin the bear, flesh the bear, salt it, then have it commercially tanned and then I’ll get it back tanned, then I’ll mount the head of it, just the head, then I’ll send that tanned hide and the head to a rug maker. And that rug maker will put a backing on it and make it look like a real nice rug,” said Powell.

Master Taxidermy is currently working on three bears; Brady expected more given central Florida had one of the highest bear hunt counts.

She said they’re doing two bear rugs and one bear will be mounted from the shoulders. Brady said the bears were rather small but still over the 100 pound weight minimum.

The hunt was controversial. Opponents say it didn’t do anything to stop bears from going into neighborhoods, the state didn’t manage it well and that cubs whose mothers were killed are left to fend for themselves.

Brady defends hunting culture saying urban sprawl is taking over wildlife habitats, hunting fees go to conservation, populations need to be managed and hunters often eat what they kill.

“I just feel like a lot of the people that don’t understand it, while they’re eating chicken McNuggets or a hamburger they’re just paying someone else to kill their food, whereas they’re not even realizing that they’re doing the same thing,” said Brady.

For this family, hunting and taxidermy have been a way of life. Powell learned everything he knows from his grandparents, especially his grandpa.

“’'Cause I was hunting and fishing with my grandfather my whole life and he showed me how to skin and do all the basics and once I was old enough to work, I think around 12 years old, I came to the shop. I was able to skin and flesh, immediately I was able to catch on,” said Powell.

Company founder John Bartoletti has a passion for perfection and has instilled that in his grandson.

“He still needs a little tune up on his fish …he’s not perfect yet. I’ll tell you the truth, as far as game head, he still needs a little work on fish but they’re great, but on game head, he’s better than me, cats too... big cats, little cats, any kind of cat,” said Bartoletti.

The hunters who are waiting on those three bears Master Taxidermy is working on will have to wait a while to get them back. It will take seven months to a year to see the whole process through from start to finish.