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October 20, 2020

Faces of Fauquier: Bringing “memories back to life”

Photo/Don Del Rosso
After graduating from Liberty High in 2012, Wyatt Propps completed a 10-month program at the Pennsylvania Institute of Taxidermy.
I just like the way Fauquier is set up. It’s rural, small town — not big city. I don’t like the commotion of the big city.
By .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)
Staff Journalist
More than anything, the Sumerduck taxidermist likes the creative side of his work.

With a few exceptions, Wyatt Propps will mount most animals brought to his backyard shop along Courtneys Corner Road.

But by far, birds allow him to practice his “art” in unique ways, Mr. Propps explained.

Wiring the legs and wings of ducks, for example, he can create the appearance of “movement” and specific “characteristics” that customers request.

“So, there’s a lot more mobility and freedom when you’re mounting them,” said Mr. Propps, 26. “You can actually do something cool with them, instead of the typical pose for mammals.”

Bobcats and foxes also rank as favorites “because the facial expressions you can put on them to look real is just neat,” the taxidermist added.

Established in 2013, Propps Taxidermy mounts about 200 animals per year. Besides bears, ducks, bobcats and foxes, the one-man operation handles deer, coyotes, beavers, squirrels and assorted other creatures.

He avoids fish because, “I don’t consider my work for that to be top-notch,” Mr. Propps said. “So, I don’t like giving someone something I wouldn’t want” or that might disappoint the customer.

For that reason, he also doesn’t take cats and dogs.

Federal and state laws prohibit taxidermists from mounting protected species, except for authorized museum or school use, Mr. Propps said.

“People ask me all the time about mounting an owl or a hawk that was hit by a car or found dead on the side of a road,” he said. “Those I can’t touch — anything that’s not a game species.”

He tans animal hides at the shop or sends them to a Michigan company that turns them into leather, Mr. Propps said.

After placing a tanned hide onto a hard foam mount, he stitches the skin and uses various tools to position it.

Deer head mounts take 10 to 12 hours and ducks about eight hours, Mr. Propps said.

Depending on the scope of work, bear mounts can take 10 to 25 hours, he said.

Out-of-the-ordinary projects have included a red stag, elk, Spanish sheep, Corsican goats and wild boar.

About five years ago, Mr. Propps even mounted a farmer’s beloved longhorn steer.

Other notable projects include a 550-pound black bear that a friend last year killed in Madison County with a crossbow.

In a standing position, the bear reaches 7 feet tall. Mr. Propps charged his friend $2,500 for a 25-hour effort that ordinarily would cost $3,000 or more.

Four years ago, he mounted a 70-pound beaver for Del. Michael Webert (R-18th/Marshall).

“A small beaver is about 40 pounds,” Mr. Propps said. “A decent beaver’s 50. A big beaver’s 60. You get to 70, you got something.”

Mr. Webert paid $700 for the mounted beaver, which he displays on the coffee table of his Richmond legislative office, the taxidermist said.

The oddest request came from a man who asked Mr. Propps to set aside leftover fox and beaver meat.

“I think I was skinning a fox at the time,” Mr. Propps recalled. “He told me to save any fox or beaver, because he wanted the meat to eat. He said it tastes so good. But I never did, because I thought that was just weird.”

• Age

• Home

• Work
Owner, Propps Taxidermy, Sumerduck, 2013 to present; farm hand, Summer Wind Farm, Sumerduck, 2009-18.

• Why do you do the job?
My mom told me I was kind of artistic, and I liked being outdoors. In high school, I started tanning hides and trapping. So she found a taxidermy school in Pennsylvania that was basically a vocational school. It was about 10 months long.

My slogan is: “Bring your memories back to life.” That’s basically what I enjoy about it. Take something that someone harvested and killed that I get to make real again. You can make a scene. It kind of tells a story. I just think it’s neat.

• Family
Wife Samantha, 29; son Wells, 2 months old.

• Education
Pennsylvania Institute of Taxidermy, 2013; Liberty High School, 2012.

• How long have you lived in Fauquier?
About 25 years.

• Why do you live here?
It’s the only place I really know, and I just love living here. I really don’t see a reason to leave.

I just like the way Fauquier is set up. It’s rural, small town — not big city. I don’t like the commotion of the big city.

• How do you describe this county?
Rural, almost a farming-type county. Nice community, nice people everywhere. I’ve lived here my whole life, basically. It’s been a friendly environment to me. Other than the random crime acts, it’s just a safe place, in my opinion. It has a pretty laidback pace of life.

• What would you change about Fauquier?
There’s not something that sticks out that I would change.

There’s not a whole lot of job opportunity, other than the small-town jobs in Warrenton. The town could get a few better restaurants and jobs, because there’s not much here, workwise. But, I think that’s what Fauquier wants. They’d like to keep it that way.

• What do you do for fun?
Hunting and fishing. I pretty much an outdoorsman.

• What’s your favorite place in Fauquier?
Sumerduck, along the Rappahannock River.

• What will Fauquier be like in 10 years?
Bealeton will become a small Warrenton. I remember going to (Cedar Lee) Middle School and all those apartments weren’t there. And now that’s all blown up.

I think Warrenton will expand a little bit. Other than that, I think it’ll still be a pretty rural county.

• Favorite TV show?

• Favorite movie?

• Favorite book?
“Hatchet” by Gary Paulsen.

• Favorite vacation spot?
Torch Lake, Mich.

• Favorite food?
Country fried steak.

• What is the best advice you have ever received? From whom?
It wasn’t really advice. But my mom would always say: “It’s time to get something done.” Almost every weekend, the whole family would get up — I have two sisters and a brother — and we’d go outside and start to split wood, working on this, working on that.

It’s something that’s always stuck with me: “It’s time to get something done.”

And it’s kind of what I do. I’m always working. I never stop moving.

• Who’s your hero and why?
I wouldn’t say I really have a hero. But someone I look up to greatly would be my father — raising four kids, working nonstop. He’s pretty much taught me everything I’ve ever learned — construction, a good work ethic. Because of him, I can damn near fix anything on a car or a truck or a house.

• What would you do if you won $5 million in the lottery?
First, I’d probably buy a chunk of land, something private. Then I’d build a decent house — nothing crazy — and sell the house I have now. I’d keep doing taxidermy. But I would cut it back to friends and family, and then basically retire.

Have a suggestion?
Do you know someone who lives in Fauquier County you would like to see in Faces of Fauquier? Email Don Del Rosso at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) or Lou Emerson at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)
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