Dave Houser began his self-education in taxidermy in his early teens, more or less out of necessity. Says Houser, who was raised on the Susquehanna River in Marysville, PA, “When I was growing up, I was always about hunting and fishing and trapping. And everything that I killed, I wanted to mount. My parents wouldn’t pay to have everything mounted, so I just started doing it myself.” He took mail-order courses, read books and set up shop on his parents’ kitchen table. “They didn’t really mind, as long as I cleaned up.”
His first mount was a crow. “It looked like crap. I still have a picture of it. It’s the funniest-looking thing you’d ever want to see in your life.”
He got better, of course, and in 1996, he passed the Pennsylvania Game Commission’s rigorous test to become a Certified Taxidermist. That same year, he opened the doors to his shop, Truetolife Taxidermy, in his hometown of Marysville. Houser specializes in waterfowl and game birds, and competes in the Masters division (the highest ranking) in both categories. He has won dozens of awards in local, state and national taxidermy competitions, including numerous Best in Show awards, 50 first place awards and The Governor’s Award. In addition to creating mounts as a commercial taxidermist, he judges shows and offers individualized teaching for beginner and advanced taxidermists. As a three-term President of the Pennsylvania Taxidermy Association, his responsibilities include managing the state’s three annual competitions.
Houser considers taxidermy an art, and strives to make his pieces as attractive as they are lifelike. Asked to describe his bottom-line professional philosophy, he says, “An experienced and knowledgeable taxidermist treats each piece that they receive with the utmost respect. Not only because the animal gave its life, but because you’re dealing with somebody’s trophy and emotions. We might not know it at the time, but this could’ve been the last time a guy hunted with his dad. Or it could be a child’s first deer, or a mother-daughter fishing trip. So you’re just thinking about all that as you’re working on the piece.”
A self-described free spirit, Houser skateboards, rides a BMX bike and listens to everything from hip-hop to country while he works. He’s sported a Mohawk for several years, dying it different colors, as the mood takes him. Come Friday night, he and a little posse of friends head to a local country bar, ride the mechanical bull and generally cut loose.