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Cavin takes a ‘different’ approach to mounting hunting game

m gause | The Natchez Democrat Daniel Cavin works on a steer head in his workshop at his home Wednesday. Unlike a traditional taxidermist, Cavin uses a metallic paint to cover skulls of game animals.
Sam Gause | The Natchez Democrat
Daniel Cavin works on a steer head in his workshop at his home Wednesday. Unlike a traditional taxidermist, Cavin uses a metallic paint to cover skulls of game animals.

NATCHEZ — Most who come across Daniel Cavin’s skull framing jobs tend to generalize his product as “different,” and that’s perfectly fine for Cavin who believes he offers something no one else does within 100 miles of Natchez.

Cavin is an outdoorsman at heart that spends his days working as an archery salesman in Sports Center. In his free time, Cavin has his own business — DNR Skulls — where he frame mounts skulls in metal coating. The mounts he has for showcase, both at the store and in the back of his truck, do most of the work when it comes to attracting new customers.

For instance, two weeks ago, Cavin pulled up to the red light across from Natchez Regional, when someone beside him began asking him about his business.

“I heard somebody say something, and I glanced over, and a guy is talking to me,” Cavin said. “I turned my radio down, and this guy is like, ‘I’ve seen your skull mounts on the back of your truck…what do you charge… What’s metal coating?’ So I’m at a red light explaining it.”

Metal coating is a process Cavin learned five years ago from friend Mark Cupit, who inspired Cavin to start his own business after learning Cupit didn’t have enough time to keep his private metal coating business going.

The metal Cavin coats is actually used for countertops and after completely skinning the skull, Cavin tapes up the horns like he’s fixing to paint a car. He uses a machine that sprays out metal shavings mixed with a binder like an air-pump machine. After the paint dries, he cleans it up, polishes it with sandpaper, gets it shiny, puts the aging material on it again and polishes it one last time before putting it on a board.

Cavin holds up the jaw of an alligator that is covered in Dermestid Beetles outside his workshop at his home Wednesday. Cavin uses a colony of beetles to clean the skulls of the animals before covering them with metallic paint.
Cavin holds up the jaw of an alligator that is covered in Dermestid Beetles outside his workshop at his home Wednesday. Cavin uses a colony of beetles to clean the skulls of the animals before covering them with metallic paint.

It’s a process that can take Cavin from a week to two to three months depending on how much time he has devoted to it. He’s metal coated hogs, rams, antelopes, turkeys, ducks, alligators and deer.

Starting out, though, it was more of a hobby than anything else.

“When I was in the hobby stages, I wasn’t doing enough to even claim taxes or anything,” Cavin said. “It’s tough when you pay $1,000 for a gallon of metal paint. It’s just kind of snowballed after that because I’m the only one in this area, probably within 100 miles, that does it.”

As the years passed, Cavin learned new tricks of the trade and gained repeat customers.

One of the new tricks was learning how to skin the animal without cracking the skull. He started out rotting the skull, then boiling it, but both resulted in cracked skulls. Finally, he discovered a way to skin the animal without cracking the skull — invest in beetles.

“Normally, I’ll skin a deer, take the eyeballs, brain and all the meat out that I can before setting it in front of a fan at night and letting it dry out,” Cavin said. “Then, I put it in the beetles, and within 24 hours, it’s clean meat bone.”

Typically, Cavin charges $250 for a regular mounted metal coat. That price can vary depending on what type of board the customer wants the skull mounting on. He believes he’s right in the middle of those wanting something more special than a $125 white mount but doesn’t want to spend $500 on a shoulder mount.

Somewhat surprisingly, it’s the women who enjoy his work the most.

“The women is the big thing,” Cavin said. “A lot of men, they get a skull mounted and their wife doesn’t want it. A lot of women don’t like it, but with the metal coat, the women love it. I’ve gotten tons of people calling me saying, ‘man, my wife loves it.’”

But as Cavin continues to sell his unique skull mounts, he knows the modern-take isn’t for everybody, but he also believes those willing to check it out are going to want one for themselves.

“People don’t comprehend it, but then when you show it to them a lightbulb goes off and they say, ‘I’ve got to have that,’” Cavin said.