Former Unity Composite High School graduate Alana Neil was overjoyed to hear that an impressive white-tailed buck she was riding would be featured on the cover of North American magazine Big Buck.
The stag scored 192 2/8 inches gross (188.7 / 8 net). Victor Lucas, who shot this animal, was contacted to feature in 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 spent two years at the University of Saskatchewan and competed as an athlete on the U of S Huskies track team. college, she realized she was only attending to qualify for the track team. It reinforced what some people said they already knew about her. She wasn’t supposed to be an office worker.
Neil’s grandfather, Harvey Neil, learned taxidermy by correspondence at the Northwest School of Taxidermy in Omaha, Neil in 1953. In addition to being a professor of biology and future principal, he had a parallel business to Harris, Neil’s Taxidermy.
Alana said she was always thrilled to visit her grandparents’ house to see the “living but dead animals” as she called them.
Whenever they visited him, his grandfather would take him to the house and garage so he could re-tell and re-tell the stories of every animal he had worked on. Neil said she found it amazing that he could bring an animal to life after its death.
âHe was so proud of every piece he worked on and I always admired his knowledge of animals that he could extend to another skill,â she says.
âTaxidermists are both an artist and a naturalist. He used them together to keep learning and working for 66 years. I hate to say it, because he’s my grandfather, but as I got older I started to point out, in my head of course, some flaws in his work.
In the fall of 2018, Neil says she started researching horticulture classes at various schools and, for fun, decided to find out if there were any opportunities for taxidermy. St. Charles, Iowa caught his eye. One program there offered a complete package that included going with confidence to ride any mammal or fish.
With encouragement from her father, she signed up. Ken Neil drove her for 22 hours to Iowa and flew in while she began her eight-week taxidermy class.
Neil has now developed his own business, âBearly Legal Taxidermyâ, and works for Unity. During her two years of taxidermy she has worked with many species and is convinced that she could ride almost any fish or animal presented to her.
Her teacher told her that after making 100 deer heads, she could consider herself a professional.
Neil has a background in sewing and has developed an eye for detail in art classes. She says these skills combined with two decades of dancing and playing sports give her the will to keep improving with every job she takes on. She aims to make every detail of the animal as realistic as possible, to give it the justice it deserves and to recreate its life.
While a taxidermy documentary titled âStuffedâ declares that perfection is unobtainable, Neil says it’s a good way to strive.
She says this documentary also taught her that taxidermy is an art, which is why she chose it as a profession and why she enjoys the anticipation of a finished product. It involves countless hours of planning to make sure nothing goes wrong.
Neil said she is humbled that Lucas chose her for his mount which has evolved into this massive opportunity.
She also attributes to others her ability to work to achieve her goals.
“I couldn’t be where I am today without my father’s support.” Neil said. She also jokes that she will need another gel after this issue of the magazine comes out.
Neil will continue his taxidermy business, primarily in the winter, and will continue his summers at Riverside Golf Course. She’s proud to say that at age 22, the first dollar she raised for her business became the cover of this popular magazine, and she can’t wait to see more.