By Conrad Dudderar
This Saturday will be a bittersweet day for Gerald Hillman.
Hillman’s Taxidermy, 343 N 5th, is closing after 48 years in downtown Yukon. And it “all must go” during a July 10th auction sale.
The owner is reflecting fondly on more than 60 years as a professional taxidermist.
“I appreciate all the customers I’ve had,” Hillman said. “I can’t say I’ve had any bad ones. Everybody’s been real understanding.
“It’s been a good business. We have really, really worked at it to keep the shop operating. And there were times we didn’t think we were going to make it. I feel real blessed we made it 48 years.”
The building has been sold and now everything inside will be liquidated.
“I opened my business here in 1973,” Hillman said. “When I started out, I had a shop in the backyard of our home in Yukon.”
This Saturday, starting at 10 a.m., auctioneer Kenneth Hauk will conduct an auction of all the unclaimed taxidermy mounts and fish, business equipment personal items. A preview is offered from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. this Friday.
Photos of auction items may be viewed at mclintockauction.com
“Everything goes, including my trophies,” Hillman noted.
Hillman’s Taxidermy has combined expertise with the best materials to provide superior service to customers for all their taxidermy needs – whether they bring in a deer, elk, antelope, lion, raccoon, coyote, bear, bobcat, fox, turkey, fish, or something else.
“I think we’ve done all the species that anyone would want in their trophy room,” Hillman said.
He was asked why he’s decided to finally shut the business.
“Arthritis isn’t going to let me make it to 50 years,” he said. “I’m 84 years old.
“I don’t know if it’s time to end it or not. But I’ve got to end it sometime. I’ve kind of run over my retirement time.”
TAXIDERMY SCHOOL AT AGE 12
Gerald Hillman grew up on the family farm north of Cheyenne in western Oklahoma; he still owns the 25-acre property. He attended a rural school and worked on the farm growing up.
In the late 1940s, 12-year-old Gerald’s parents enrolled him in courses at the Northwest School of Taxidermy in Omaha, Neb. It cost $10 for a 12-month program.
“The pastor of our church knew how to do a little taxidermy work, so he ‘prodded’ me along a little bit,” Hillman said.
But the young man dropped out before finishing the program.
After Hillman graduated high school, Uncle Sam came calling. He served on a U.S. Navy ship in the Pacific during the 1950s.
It was 1958 when Hillman decided to return to the taxidermy school and passed the test to receive his diploma. He would later earn a second diploma from a taxidermy program in Louisiana.
Hillman and his wife Maurine made their home in Yukon, moving here in 1959 when the town’s population was about 8,000. He got a job at Western Electric (later AT&T).
Hillman began part-time as a taxidermist, even volunteering to lead Oklahoma’s new taxidermy association around 1960.
He did taxidermy work after-hours inside an outbuilding built by Duane Ogle behind his house.
Hillman’s “side” business gradually grew as more customers came to him with their deer heads and other trophies to be mounted.
“We’d have people walk in the back door; not even knock,” he said. “That was one reason I wanted to get out of the back yard.”
It was 1973 when Hillman decided to become a full-time taxidermist, quitting his job at Western Electric after 14-plus years.
He bought property on N 5th (just north of Main Street) to open Hillman’s Taxidermy studio about 1-1/2 miles from his home.
After paying $750 each for three lots, Hillman occupied a new 30-foot-by-50-foot shop on the site.
“Being in a suburb of Oklahoma City really helped,” he explained. “There wasn’t but two taxidermists in Oklahoma City when I started, and both really tried to help out.”
FIRST ‘BIG JOB’ … AND MANY MORE
Hillman recalls that first year when a couple big-game hunters who worked in El Reno brought him some large animals after hunting in Alaska.
“I’d never mounted a moose, or anything like that,” Hillman related. “But I took on the job. A moose, and a bear and caribous. That’s what really started it off.”
Hillman has had many satisfied, repeat customers over his long career. One of the best was a reconstructive dentist from Oklahoma City.
“He brought me my first life-size animal, a black-buck antelope off a game farm down in Texas,” Hillman said. “I did a lot of stuff for him; he hunted all over the world. That really gave me a ‘shot in the arm’.
“The last time I counted, he had 160 animals in his collection. And I did probably two-thirds of them.”
As word spread about the quality work Hillman’s provided, the family-run Yukon taxidermy studio expanded with two building additions.
From 1980-95, Hillman was serving customers across the country when he had a pick-up station in Pagosa Springs, Colo. He also sold permits to antelope hunters in Gladstone, N.M.
“The most enjoyable thing was seeing a young teenager come out for his first time to go hunting,” Hillman shared.
As he gets ready to close the doors of his downtown studio for the last time, Yukon’s longtime taxidermist has no regrets about having a small business here for so long.
But Hillman is ready to walk away from work to take care of his wife and enjoy retirement.
“I’m going to miss having something to do,” he said. “I’m here at 7:30 every morning. I have ever since I started.
“I tell every young kid thinking about getting into this business – get your feet wet. Get in there. Don’t cut corners. And treat your customers right.”