The days of taxidermy being little more than ratty-looking stuffed heads on grandpa’s wall are over.

Or at least it can be.

Taxidermy has evolved into an art form. If you doubt that, visit the annual exhibitions put on by groups like the Pennsylvania Taxidermist Association or their counterparts in other states.

The mounts you’ll encounter are lifelike, yet also capable of invoking thought and emotion.

If done correctly, of course.

Not all taxidermists are created equal, after all.

It’s rough if you learn that only after dropping off that giant fish or monster buck to be mounted.

To avoid that, choose a taxidermist – or at least learn what questions to ask of them – before you leave your trophy and walk out their door.

Here are some things to consider.

Cost versus value

Ask any taxidermist and they’ll tell you the first question most hunters and anglers ask when it comes to getting a mount done is, how much is this going to cost?

Price is important, to be sure.

But you’ve probably spent lots of money already, on licenses, maybe transportation if it was an out-of-state hunting or fishing trip, your equipment and so on.

Don’t skimp at the last minute. You don’t necessarily have to get the most expensive mount, but pay for quality.

Seek examples

Many of the sportsmen and women who walk into a taxidermist’s shop have never been there before. That’s because they gave no thought to choosing a taxidermist until the last minute.

Then, when the taxidermist asks what kind of mount they want, they don’t really know.

Don’t wait. Shop around and do it early. Many taxidermists have display rooms. Browse through them and see what kind of work they’re doing and what the possibilities are in terms of shape, design, position and form.

You’ll have an idea of what they’re capable of and whether it matches your vision for your mount.

The details

If you go to the convenience store on Street A and buy a Pepsi, it’s a Pepsi. If you go to the store on Street B, or the one on Street C, and buy a Pepsi, it’s the same drink.

They’re all manufactured the same way.

That’s not true with taxidermy. Not all mounts are the same.

Examine the quality of the work you see. Look at the ears, eyes and noses of mounts in particular. That’s where a taxidermist’s attention to detail really stands out.

Ask questions, too. Do they tan their hides? Will colors on a fish fade?

Go to a pro

Most states require that taxidermists — growing numbers of whom are women — be licensed. But that doesn’t require much, if any, training in cases, though.

Find out if your taxidermist is a member of a state taxidermy association. Ask if they’re certified by that group.

It’s possible they might do good work even if the answer is no in both cases.

But members of such groups often compete against one another and attend continuing education classes that keep them up to date on the latest techniques and materials.