Former Unity Composite High School graduate, Alana Neil, was thrilled to learn an impressive white-tailed buck she mounted would be featured on the cover of North American’s Big Buck magazine.
The deer scored 192 2/8 gross inches (188.7/8 net). Victor Lucas, who shot this animal, was contacted to be featured for the story and contacted Neil to be his taxidermist.
Neil graduated from UCHS in 2015 with the initial goal of becoming a physical education teacher. She attended two years at the University of Saskatchewan as well as competing as an athlete on the U of S Huskies track and field team. When she started her third year of university, she realized she was attending only to be eligible for the track team. This reinforced what some people said they already knew about her ‑‑ she was not meant to be a desk worker.
Neil’s grandfather, Harvey Neil, learned taxidermy by correspondence from the Northwest School of Taxidermy in Omaha, Neb. in 1953. Along with being a biology teacher and eventual principal, he had a side business in Harris, Neil’s Taxidermy.
Alana said she was always excited to visit her grandparents’ home to see the “alive but dead animals,” as she referred to them as.
Every time they visited, her grandfather would take her around the house and garage so he could tell and re-tell stories of each individual animal that he had worked on. Neil dsyd she found it amazing that he could bring an animal to life after it was dead.
“He had so much pride in each piece he worked on and I always admired his knowledge of animals he could extend to another skill,” she says.
“Taxidermists are a combination of being an artist and a naturalist. He used them together to continue to learn and work for 66 years. I hate to say it, because he is my grandfather, but as I grew older I started to point out, in my head of course, a couple of flaws in his work.”
In the fall of 2018, Neil says she started looking into horticulture courses at various schools and for fun, decided to determine if there were any taxidermy opportunities. St. Charles, Iowa caught her eye. A program there offered a full package that included leaving there being confident in mounting any mammal or fish.
With encouragement from her father, she signed up. Ken Neil, drove her the 22 hours to Iowa and flew back while she began her eight-week taxidermy course.
Neil has now developed her own business, “Bearly Legal Taxidermy,” and works out of Unity. In her two years of taxidermy she has worked with many species and is confident she could mount almost any fish or animal presented to her.
Her teacher told her that after she had done 100 deer heads, she could consider herself a professional.
Neil has a background in sewing and developed an eye for detail in art classes. She says these skills combined with two decades of dance and sports practises give her the drive to keep striving for improvement with each job she takes on. She aims to make every detail on the animal as realistic as possible and give it the justice it deserves and recreate its life.
While a taxidermy documentary called “Stuffed” states that perfection is unobtainable, Neil says it is a good way to strive.
She says this documentary also taught her taxidermy is an art, which is why she has chosen it for a profession and why she loves the anticipation of a finished product. This involves countless hours of planning to ensure nothing goes wrong.
Neil said she is humbled that Lucas chose her for his mount that evolved into this far-reaching opportunity.
She also credits others with her ability to work towards her goals.
“I could not be where I am today without the support of my dad.” says Neil. She also quips she will need another deep freeze after this magazine issue comes out.
Neil will continue with her taxidermy business, primarily in the winter, and will continue her summers at Riverside Golf Course. She is proud to say that at 22 years old, the first buck she mounted for her business became the cover of this popular magazine, and she can’t wait to see what’s next.