On Jan. 11, an Indiana circuit court put a taxidermist behind bars after suspending his license and charging him with three counts of felony theft and one count of felony corrupt business influence.
Customers of Buck Fever Taxidermy in Eaton, Indiana have accused owner Shawn Huntington of taking their money and their antlers and hides and never returning a finished product, despite their multiple attempts to contact him. The court ordered Huntington to return all property to the victims, some of which is damaged beyond repair, according to an affidavit.
A History of Issues
Court records detail a series of visits Indiana Conservation Officers paid to Huntington’s residence and taxidermy shop since July 2021. Customers started filing complaints with the Indiana Department of Natural Resources’ Law Enforcement Division around that time. Between July 2021 and August 2022, IDNR visited Huntington no less than five times. In January 2022 during one of those visits, Huntington failed a taxidermy inspection and received a warning. He was barely logging or recording any of his work, which licensed taxidermists are required to do.
Huntington often blamed his behavior on a broken phone and struggles with life and money, saying he hadn’t received any angry calls from customers. Conservation officers loaned Huntington their cell phones to call complainants during their visits.
On Aug. 1, 2022, a customer called IDNR with a complaint about an antlered whitetail that he had brought to Huntington. He tried to contact Huntington multiple times but never heard back. He even stopped by the house to leave a note on the door. Eight days later, IDNR officers visited Huntington’s house again to confront him about the complaint. During this visit, Huntington admitted that he was two full seasons behind and had just begun the animals he received in October 2020. Officers observed a homemade storage rack packed full with skullcaps and antlers. They also discovered he hadn’t updated his record-keeping that he was previously issued a warning for.
When officers asked to see where Huntington kept capes, he led them to three freezers. They opened one to discover a giant brick of ice had formed around multiple bags of hides, rendering them ruined, according to one of the IDNR officers. They also noted a rotting smell coming from the freezer. IDNR issued Huntington a citation for taxidermist violations a few weeks later.
According to customer and Madison County resident Cody Fisher, Huntington used to do great work. He brought his 2018 and 2019 whitetail bucks to Buck Fever and received quality mounts back within a year of dropping them off. But things turned sour in 2020.
“He was a good taxidermist. He wasn’t super expensive,” Fisher tells Outdoor Life. Huntington charged $425 to $450 per mount. “A little over two years ago, I brought him 2020’s deer. Everything was normal, I paid, and then 2021 came around and I brought him 2021’s deer and he still hadn’t had 2020’s done yet. I was concerned.”
Huntington eventually stopped answering Fisher’s calls. Fisher says it sounded like his phone was shut off, so he started going by Huntington’s house.
“Either no one was there or he wasn’t answering the door,” Fisher recalls. “I started getting worried, started asking around. My dad finally went over to his house and caught him coming outside. My dad said he was going to file a report with the DNR if he didn’t get back with us, and he said ‘oh no, don’t do that.’ Then my wife saw online that he had been taken to court for the amount of a deer mount, so we knew that other people hadn’t gotten theirs either.”
Fisher eventually posted on Facebook asking if other people were having issues. He estimates he spoke to more than 10 other frustrated customers. IDNR recently contacted Fisher to inform him that they had raided Huntington’s home and seized all the animal products. Fisher’s two 10-point whitetail skullcaps from 2020 and 2021, as well as a piebald deer hide belonging to his uncle, were all found.
Fisher remembers having long, friendly conversations with Huntington whenever he visited, but that they eventually turned strange after Huntington shared a disconcerting story about a friend’s unethical hunting behavior, which made Fisher uncomfortable. He also recalls that Huntington had multiple “expensive vehicles,” four-wheelers, and other costly possessions around the property, but was unable to return money to angry customers. Fisher also says that at one point, Huntington leased and ran trail cameras on a large chunk of land south of Delaware County.
A different Facebook user, who claims to own land adjacent to land Huntington leases, accused Huntington of shooting a deer across the property line while his family was hunting it.
“I don’t really care about the deer but with them hunting there when it happened and my son and brother hunting there earlier that day it could have been real bad,” he wrote in a comment on the post.
The three theft charges Huntington faces, all level 6 felonies, each carry a maximum penalty of a $10,000 fine 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 initial hearing is set for Feb. 6, 2023.