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Garrett Sunram has done roughly 1,000 deer heads during his time as a taxidermist in Detroit Lakes. Although deer and fish make up the bulk of his business, Sunram says he has worked on animals from every continent except Australia. African mounts are also a specialty for him. Paula Quam/Tribune

DL taxidermist takes over father’s business

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When Garrett Sunram was only 8 years old, his stuffed animal was a little different than most.

We got a pair of stillborn mountain lions from the zoo…they were just tiny little things,” said Sunram, who, along with his brother, stuffed those mountain lions. Dad helped.

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“My dad worked full time in the taxidermy business here in DL for over 25 years,” said Sunram, whose father, Leonard, had gained a reputation for his skills as he took numerous taxidermy awards throughout the area.

“I started working for him in the summertime when I was 12 years old just to clamp deer capes, and basically all the dirt work,” he said with a smile.

Growing up with the art of taxidermy all around him, he grew to appreciate the details.

“Taxidermy is art,” said Sunram. “Anybody can throw some skin on a form and sew it up, but to get an animal to look life-like, it’s very difficult. I think you have to both be born with some artistic ability and you have to practice it for a long time.”

Having a live-in teacher didn’t hurt either.  Garrett Sunram began working full time for his father when he was 18 years old. Although he had considered other career options, taxidermy always seemed to pull him back in.

“I loved to hunt and fish, and going into this business just seemed natural to me,” said Sunram.

For 11 years, the Sunram men worked together at the home-based business east of Detroit Lakes on Hidden Hills Road.

But now, after 44 years in the business (28 of which were in Detroit Lakes), Leonard is handing over the reins to Garrett as he goes into partial retirement.

“I’ll still keep my taxidermy license in case he needs me to do something, but I’m going to be busy building a house right next door here,” said Leonard, who sold his son the business.

What was once called “Leonard’s Taxidermy” is now “Sunram Taxidermy,” and its young owner is already making quite a name for himself.

Garrett surpassed the professional stage of competition at the Minnesota Taxidermy Guild four years ago and began competing against the best of the best in the Masters category.

A few weeks ago, he was handed one of the top awards in the competition — the state champion game head for his work on a very rare Marco Polo Sheep from the Himalayan Mountains.

“It’s kind of like being the state champion in wrestling or something,” said Leonard proudly. “He really did great.”

It’s a good thing, too, as Garrett says that Marco Polo sheep was so rare, it’s unlikely he’ll ever work on another one again.

“I think he (the hunter) paid $30,000 for the tag alone,” said Sunram, who says he wasn’t nervous working on such an expensive, rare animal.

“I’ve done just about every kind of animal from every continent except Australia,” he said, adding that the bulk of the business come from local deer hunters and fishermen.

He roughly estimates that he’s done close to 1,000 deer heads and probably twice as many fish. He’s done all kinds of bears and birds as well as dozens of African mounts. In all, he has “brought back to life” nearly 3,000 animals that will now be preserved for possibly hundreds of years to come.

“That’s what I love about this job,” said Sunram, “to be able to look at a finished product and really like it. It’s very rare to have a bad day at work.”

The elder Sunram knows exactly what his son means, as he has torn feelings about saying goodbye to the business.

“It’s still pulling at my heart,” said Leonard. “This is my hobby — my job was my hobby my entire lifetime, and so it’s hard to let go.”

But one aspect of his business he is not letting go of is his African Safari trips.

For years, Leonard has been putting together hunting trips in South Africa, and although he says people are holding onto their money a lot tighter now than they used to, he believes that if a person takes one of these trips once, they’ll take once twice.

The $4,000 per hunter trip includes nearly everything except for airline and the cost to ship the animals back to the states. The Sunram men say a lot of wives join their husbands on those hunting trips as well, as their cost is a much reduced $1,500.

“They go along with their husbands in the Range Rover and take pictures of all the animals,” said Leonard. “It’s really spectacular.”

For more information on the Taxidermy Services or the South Africa hunting trip, call Sunram Taxidermy at 847-5247.

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