Jake Rouse Taxidermy is very much a family affair.
And the Rouses have more than enough trophies to prove it.
Jake first started serious competitive taxidermy just four years ago, and has become one of the nation’s most accomplished practitioners of the art.
His wife April is also an award-winning amateur taxidermist, as is their daughter Brianna, 16. The Rouses also have a younger daughter Haley, along with son Cody who was born in September.
Jake, 36, who grew up in Lenoir county and graduated from South Lenoir High, said he has hunted ever since he can remember and wanted to learn the art of taxidermy since he was small.
But he said his dad gave him one warning.
“He told me if I wanted to be a taxidermist I wasn’t going to have much time to hunt,” Jake said. “And he was right.
“I decided I wanted to learn the craft over 10 years ago, when I got a deer mount back and I wasn’t really happy about it. And then eight or nine years ago my wife killed her first deer and we sent it to a taxidermist Down East to get the hide tanned.”
And the hide disappeared with no explanation.
“If I’ve seen it you’ve seen it,” he said. “So I learned how to do it myself at Johnston Community College. I wanted to do it right. In North Carolina you can just pay $12 and you’re a licensed taxidermist, so just anybody can do that. But there is a certification through the North Carolina Taxidermy Association. You take classes and get points for how well you can do the job. You learn a craft.”
Now April is secretary of the NCTA and Jake is a member of the board of directors. She says a good number of their best friends now are their fellow taxidermists. Jake said he’s not quite making a living as a taxidermist yet, as he delivers bread four days a week, but he’s working on it.
“I’ve got enough to keep me busy,” he said.
Jake said he had dated several women before he met his wife, but that she was the first one that stuck around through a hunting season.
Apparently the couple – both of whom now have degrees from the University of Mount Olive – that hunts together stays together. And the way they hunt for deer is very 21st Century. They go to separate deer stands and communicate by texting each other.
April said her father hunted once in a while in Johnston county, but she never appreciated the sport until she met her husband. And she used to be squeamish about taxidermy.
“When we first started dating and lived in Kinston, he’d show me a deer and say ‘I’m going to cut the meat out’ – and I would say I had to leave because if I had seen that I would have passed out,” April said with a laugh.
Now she has been practicing taxidermy for three years, and Brianna is into it as well.
At the Big Rock North American Taxidermy Competition at the Raleigh Convention Center in January, Jake Rouse has won professional first places for large game head, hogs, second in the deer category and in “triple threat,” in which a competitor shows three animals and the three scores are combined.
April has participated in amateur competition with a turkey, and Brianna, who is home schooled, won for best youth entry the first time she competed and then won a competition in Virginia.