Indiana taxidermist arrested after failing to return mounts to hunters

On January 11, an Indiana district court put a taxidermist behind bars after his license was revoked and he was charged with three counts of theft and one count of corrupt business influence.

Customers at Buck Fever Taxidermy in Eaton, Indiana have accused owner Shawn Huntington of taking their money, antlers and pelts and never returning a finished product, despite their multiple attempts to contact him. According to an affidavit, the court ordered Huntington to return all property to the victims, some of whom are damaged beyond repair.

A History of Troubles

Court filings list a number of visits Indiana Conservation Officers have made to Huntington’s residence and taxidermy business since July 2021. Customers began filing complaints with the Law Enforcement Division of the Indiana Department of Natural Resources around this time. Between July 2021 and August 2022, IDNR visited Huntington no fewer than five times. In January 2022, on one of those visits, Huntington failed a taxidermy inspection and received a warning. He rarely logged or recorded his work, which licensed taxidermists are required to do.

Often blaming a broken phone for his behavior, Huntington struggles with life and money. He said he hasn’t received any angry calls from customers. Conservation officials loaned their cellphones to Huntington to call complainants during their visits.

On August 1, 2022, a customer called IDNR to complain about an antlered whitetail he had brought to Huntington. He tried contacting Huntington several times but never heard a reply. He even stopped by the house to leave a note on the door. Eight days later, IDNR officers revisited Huntington’s home to confront him about the complaint. During that visit, Huntington admitted he was two full seasons behind and had just started on the animals he received in October 2020. Officers observed a homemade storage rack full of skullcaps and antlers. They also noted that he had not updated his records, for which he had previously received a warning.

When officers went to see where Huntington kept cloaks, he led them to three freezers. They opened one and found a huge block of ice had formed around several sacks of skins, ruining them, according to one of the IDNR officials. They also noticed a rot smell coming from the freezer. IDNR issued a subpoena to Huntington for drug violations a few weeks later.

Frustrated customers

According to client and Madison County resident Cody Fisher, Huntington used to do a great job. He brought his white-tailed bucks from 2018 and 2019 to Buck Fever and received quality mounts back within a year of giving them away. But in 2020 things went wrong.

“He was a good taxidermist. It wasn’t particularly expensive,” says Fisher outdoor life. Huntington charged $425 to $450 per mount. “Just over two years ago I brought him the 2020 deer. Everything was normal, I paid and then 2021 came and I brought him the 2021 deer and he hadn’t finished the 2020s yet. I was worried.”

Huntington eventually stopped answering Fisher’s calls. Fisher says it sounded like his phone was off, so he started walking past Huntington’s house.

“Either nobody was there or he didn’t answer the door,” Fisher recalls. “I started worrying, started asking around. My father eventually went over to his house and caught him coming outside. My father said he would file a report with the DNR if he didn’t come back to us and he said, ‘Oh no, don’t do that.’ Then my wife saw online that he had been put on trial for the height of a deer mount, so we knew other people hadn’t gotten theirs either.”

Fisher ended up posting on Facebook and asking if other people were having trouble. He estimates he spoke to more than 10 other frustrated customers. IDNR recently contacted Fisher to say they searched Huntington’s home and confiscated all animal products. Fisher’s two 10-point whitetail skullcaps, dating from 2020 and 2021, and one of his uncle’s piebald deerskin were all found.

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shady behavior

Fisher recalls having long, friendly conversations with Huntington on each visit, but which eventually turned weird after Huntington shared a disturbing story about a friend’s unethical hunting behavior, which made Fisher uncomfortable. He also recalls that Huntington had several “expensive vehicles,” four-wheelers, and other costly possessions around the property, but couldn’t return money to disgruntled customers. Fisher also says Huntington once leased a large tract of land south of Delaware County and operated trail cameras.

Another Facebook user who claims to own land adjacent to the land Huntington leased accused Huntington of shooting a deer over the property line while his family was chasing it.

“I don’t really care about the deer but as they were hunting there when it happened and my son and brother were hunting there earlier that day it could have gotten really bad,” he wrote in a comment the post.

The three theft charges Huntington is facing, all Level 6 felonies, each carry a maximum penalty of $10,000 in fines and two and a half years in prison. Corrupt business influence, which is a level 5 felony, carries a maximum of six years in prison. Huntington’s first hearing is scheduled for February 6, 2023.