Hunter uses stuffed geese to attract live game birds

Posted: Thursday, February 14, 2002

BOISE, Idaho (AP) -- Mitch Sanchotena has a secret weapon for goose hunting. Eighteen of them, to be exact.

Sanchotena, an avid hunter and taxidermist, has 18 stuffed geese he uses to attract live birds.

About five years ago, he saved the pelts from the geese he harvested and went to work in his taxidermy studio.

He devoted more than 100 hours to create a small flock of feathered decoys.

Although modern plastic decoys do a good job of imitating geese, they can't compete with the authenticity of feathered ones.

''Since the elimination of live decoys, hunters have done everything imaginable to create realism in their decoy spreads,'' Sanchotena said. ''I kept feeling that even with the realism of commercial decoys, we still weren't getting birds to settle in and work good.''

He mounted his stuffed geese in several different positions, including sentries, feeding birds and resting birds so they would better mimic the real ones.

He used standard taxidermist goose mannequins and glass eyes in his decoys, just like he does for clients' birds.

The only difference between his geese mounted for display and those for hunting is heavier wire in the bodies to give them more strength and rigidity.

Each is mounted on a small square of plywood so they remain standing in the wind, and he uses them in almost any weather.

''We use them almost any day it isn't raining,'' he said.

Since a mounted goose from Sanchotena's shop, Imperial Taxidermy, costs $250, a retail price for his 18 decoys would run about $4,500.

''They're kind of a specialty,'' he said.

Sanchotena mixes them with a variety of other decoys, including silhouettes, shells and full-body plastic decoys.

He's never tried using only his stuffed decoys on a hunt because he said he belongs to the ''old school'' of waterfowl hunters who believe more is always better. With a trailer full of decoys available, he wants to put out a big spread of decoys to tempt the live birds.

But he puts the stuffed birds in the area where he wants the live ones to land.

''The realism of top-of-the-line commercial decoys pales in comparison to the realism of stuffed decoys,'' he said. ''When you look out across the spread, you can really see the difference.''

After five hunting seasons of heavy use, they've proven themselves surprisingly durable.

''We don't give them a lot of maintenance,'' he said.

Sanchotena, 59, has been hunting geese since he was teen-ager. Feathered decoys aren't the only thing in his bag of tricks. He also is an expert caller and on the pro staff for Knight and Hale game calls.

He has been doing taxidermy since he was a boy.

''I hauled everything I shot home and tried to mount it,'' he said.

He described his early efforts as wads of feathers and fur. Then his mother decided to help out and bought him a mail order taxidermy course, which helped him learn the craft.

The idea of using mounted birds for decoys came to him when he was much younger, but he wasn't trying to lure geese.

As a practical joke, he took one of his stuffed pheasants and propped it in a field to fool road hunters.

One guy shot it six times before figuring out he had been duped.

''I would prop my pheasant back up and wait for the next victim to come by,'' he said.

By the early 1960s, he started selling his work and has been a professional taxidermist ever since.

Now that hunting season is over, Sanchotena's stuffed goose decoys go back into an old travel trailer.

Unless the mice get to them, which has happened in the past, they will be ready for their sixth hunting season next fall.

''They wouldn't win any competitions, but they still look pretty good,'' Sanchotena said.

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