Anderson: Outdoorswoman Meadow Kouffeld has new things to do – taxidermy

She is a mom first, also a wildlife conservationist, college instructor, dog trainer, hunter. . . and now, taxidermist.

Meadow Kouffeld, 38, of Grand Rapids is all that and more. Born and raised in Northern California, where as a child she showed chickens at local fairs, Kouffeld landed in Minnesota about 15 years ago when she entered college, where she studied the ruffed grouse and its habitats.

In the years following her master’s degree, she worked for the Wisconsin and Minnesota Departments of Natural Resources and for the Ruffed Grouse Society. She has also hunted ibexes with her sister in Kyrgyzstan and was one of four finalists in a global women’s competition sponsored by Safari Club International that tested hunting and shooting skills in scorching South Texas in August 2018. .

This brief summary does not mention his lifelong interest in art – a fascination with shapes and colors that helped shape his developing career as a taxidermist.

“But until now, I’ve never been brave enough to take the leap as an artist,” she said. “I always needed to make a living. Art was never an option.”

Kouffeld’s father grew up in the Netherlands and was at one time an arms carrier and loader for the wealthy clients of a large estate. He also rode their game birds, and when he moved to California about 40 years ago, mainly to be able to hunt more freely than was possible in Europe, he brought samples of his birds with him. stuffed.

“As a girl, I was always around his taxidermy,” she said. “I wanted to learn how to do it, and finally one weekend when I was in college at Humboldt State (California), I decided I was going to ride a surf scoter (duck) I had shot it. It was a very smelly bird, because sea ducks have oily feathers. But it turned out pretty well.

Now a natural resources teacher at Itasca Community College in Grand Rapids, where she has an 80% appointment to teach and host the school’s annual 900-person wildfire academy, Kouffeld once again channeled his inner artist – and taxidermist.

“When I started at school, we didn’t have mounts to help with student instruction,” she said. “It’s one thing to talk about a bird, for example, its coloring and feathers, and quite another to hold and feel its shape and see it up close. The school supported my taxidermy and I am very grateful.”

Kouffeld became a licensed taxidermist two years ago and opened a shop in her garage in Grand Rapids (woodsandmeadowlc.com). To expand the species of birds she can ride for classroom instruction, she has obtained state and federal permits to own recovered non-game birds such as songbirds and raptors. The latter often come to her as road kill picked up by Department of Natural Resources conservation officers.

“I have two goals,” she said. “One is to build our educational collection of birds at school. The other is to grow my business while continuing to develop my taxidermy skills.”

Ted Dick, Grand Rapids resident and director of wildlife for the Department of Natural Resources and ruffed grouse expert, has known Kouffeld since graduate school.

“Meadow is an avid outdoorsman with a strong background in hunting and wildlife, and a lifelong interest in art,” Dick said. “It is therefore not surprising that she has a passion for taxidermy.”

Craig Engwall, executive director of the Minnesota Deer Hunters Association, also of Grand Rapids, added, “Meadow has a lot of energy.”

More learning to come

Hunters who bring birds to Kouffeld usually have a general idea of ​​what they want their finished mounts to look like.

“But they’re also looking for suggestions,” she said, “which I’m happy to offer. But ultimately the bird itself determines what can be done. That and its condition. If a bird has a broken wing, for example, it is quite difficult to make a flying mount.”

The ruffed grouse is popular among hunters as a souvenir of their forays, as are ducks and wild turkeys. A couple of Kouffeld’s recent projects are less common: a Wilson’s snipe and a sandhill crane.

“The client who brought me the snipe wanted it to fly and also wanted it as a table stand,” she said. “Simple and clean, that’s how she said she wanted it. I was happy with how it turned out.”

Kouffeld also rode a double-crested cormorant, a protected bird notorious among anglers, especially on Leech Lake in northern Minnesota, as a walleye eater.

“Most fishermen hate cormorants, and pretty much everyone thinks they’re ugly,” she said. “But up close they are actually very beautiful.”

In August, Kouffeld attended a taxidermy school in Idaho which she says taught her “how to streamline the taxidermy process.”

“This next spring I’m going back to the same school to learn how to make big game shoulder mounts,” she said. “I also hope to one day attend sessions on full mounts. I have mostly done birds so far, as well as European big game mounts, because I wanted to start slow.

So far, Kouffeld’s net income from the business has been small, but she hopes her efforts will eventually allow her to cut back on dog training and other side gigs she’s been hosting to supplement her diary work. teacher.

“I’m the biggest critic of my work,” she said. “But luckily my 8-year-old daughter, Heidi, is my biggest cheerleader. She loves everything I do.”

Chris B. Hall