GLEN ROSE — From a young age, Steve Leech always had an interest in art.
He found himself drawing as a kid, and most of the time, his artwork was of wildlife.
“All I ever wanted to do was animals,” he said. “I would draw animals and do chalk pastels, and my mother and all my family always wanted me to do something for them.”
As he got older, life got in the way with marriage, children and work, and his love for art was pushed to the back burner.
“I got sidetracked, and I didn’t do a whole lot of artwork or craft work,” he said.
Nearly 25 years ago, due to his love for hunting and fishing, he decided to get into taxidermy because it was a combination of everything he enjoys: coloring, painting, sculpting and animals.
“Taxidermy means to move skin,” he said. “You have to be able to know colors, how to sculpture, and know wildlife and observe what they look like (in the wild) and the anatomy of an animal.”
At first, he worked for a veteran taxidermist for nearly six months (part of it for free). He later opened a small part-time business in his garage.
As the business grew, he eventually went all in. He quit his stable job as a bus driver for DART where he had worked for nine years, cashed in his 401K and bought the business from his mentor, and opened A-1 Sportsman Taxidermy in downtown Mesquite.
“When I started doing taxidermy work, my mother told me that I had finally found what I should be doing,” he said. “That was cool.”
After building a client base where he did as many as 600 jobs a year during his two decades in Mesquite, work began to decline to 400 and then 250 jobs a year, he said.
“A lot of people wanted to see us go. People were carrying dead animals in downtown Mesquite,” he quipped. “We were wanting to move anyway. The business in Mesquite wasn’t like it used to be.”
Some five years ago, he and his wife moved south and opened Hoof and Horn Taxidermy and Wild Game Processing just off Highway 67 west of Glen Rose in an old automotive shop.
Despite the move, a lot of his clients stayed with him.
Last year, Leech did around 200 taxidermy jobs (100 whitetail deer) and took in nearly 400 animals on the processing side. While he does all the taxidermy work, he has hired a right-hand man for the processing where customers choose the cut and packaging.
On the taxidermy side, he offers shoulder mounts, European mounts, wildlife scenes and full-body mounts of just about any animal someone wants to bring in. Prices start $250 for fish mounts, and they can go into the thousands, depending on what is wanted.
“Now, I do everything myself, and that’s good because I am learning again. Before, we did so much stuff and we had so many other hands in it,” he said.
In general, he said one normal job takes roughly 10 hours to complete, and due to his skill and demand for his work, he is working roughly 8-10 months out. He is just finishing up his jobs from last year before diving into this year’s orders.
In his career, he’s done all sorts of animals including deer, bobcats, mountain lions, lizards, buffalo, foxes, warthogs, snakes, orroxes and impalas, just to name a few. He caught an alligator on a trip to Florida last year, and he’s waiting for a time when he can do it.
“I stand back and admire my own work,” he said. “There are things I do and when they leave, I’m sorry to see them go. You work on stuff so long and so hard to create stuff, and then you have to give it up.”