Janesville taxidermist makes it big with beer company

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Wednesday, November 2, 2011
— Janesville taxidermist Don Rich Jr. thought it was a joke when a consultant for MillerCoors called with a plea for help with a hunting-themed advertising campaign.

Now, Rich’s picture is plastered across billboards and tavern posters from one end of the state to the other.

He's not just a technical hunting adviser for Miller, he's the face of Midwest deer hunting for a series of national Miler High Life beer advertisements running this fall.

Motorists can find billboards with Rich's giant likeness near Madison and farther north, outside of Green Bay and Wisconsin's whitetail deer mecca, Spooner.

The advertisement, which also will run this fall in magazines nationwide, shows Rich clad in dirt-streaked camouflage next to a huge trophy deer. Below him is the Miller High Life slogan: “The official beer of you.”

“I've been telling people I’m a redneck rock star,” Rich, 43, said in an interview.

It all started with a phone call last spring from a photography props technician from Arc Worldwide, an advertising firm in Chicago that was working with Miller on photo shoots for a hunting-themed advertising campaign.

The props technician needed some deer and pheasant mounts that looked lifelike enough to double as the real, live thing. Or a hunter’s fresh kill, at least.

A colleague of Rich’s, Edgerton taxidermist Dan Rinehart, told the technician that Rich was up to the task. Rich, who owns and operates runs Nature's Touch Taxidermy in Janesville, was happy to oblige.

He packed his truck full of his own mounted deer heads, hunting gear and frozen pheasants and met the technician at Bass Pro Shop in Gurnee, Ill. It was a short audition.

“I pulled up with my trailer with all these deer mounts and gear and guns and stuff. She was in awe,” Rich said. “You could tell she was happy as hell.”

The technician called Rich as he was driving home. She told him the advertising campaign wanted to hire him as a “technical hunting advisor.”

Over the next several weeks, executives on the photo shoot pulled Rich into roundtable discussions on everything from the types of hunting attire blue-collar beer-drinkers wear to how to arrange a mounted deer head to make it look like a fresh kill.

For one of the campaign’s photo shoots, executives decided to use one of Rich’s mounts—a large trophy buck with unique, downward-pointing “drop tine” antlers. Rich found the deer road-killed a few years ago.

During discussions over casting “hunting” models for the photo shoots, Rich made a joke.

“I told them I didn’t want no non-hunters holding up my mounts,” he said.

The next thing he knew, Rich was cast as the campaign’s deer hunting model. He’d get to be pictured next to his own mounted deer head—on a national stage.

When he returned to downtown Chicago for the shoot, the photo crews instructed him not to shave. They dressed him in working-class hunting clothes: a sweatshirt and a blaze orange vest.

“They wanted the blue-collar, north woods hunter type, and they got it,” he said.

Afterward, Rich said everyone at the shoot hung around drinking Miller High Life beer. People took turns trying on one of Rich’s custom taxidermy creations—a full-body deerskin costume with a real deer head “helmet.”

Rich said he enjoyed the chance to show Chicago businesspeople how Wisconsin outdoorsmen do things. Of the more than 20 models cast in the advertising campaign, he was the only one with hunting experience.

“It’s a concrete jungle in that city. They don’t have any sense of hunting,” said Rich. “It felt good to be respected for what I do as a taxidermist and as hunter,” Rich said.

Rich said Miller High Life will use Rich’s advertisement in regional and local promotions, so people in the area might even see Rich pictured on beer cases.

The taxidermist of 30 years doesn’t have time to gloat over his gig with Miller. It’s fall hunting season; crush time for taxidermists. Rich says he’ll get over 50 percent of his business this year shipped to him in the next month or two.

Plus, Rich is expecting a whole giraffe to be shipped to him in pieces. It’ll be a three-week taxidermy project, but just another feat for a taxidermist who races stuffed, motorized field mice and makes wall-mounted bottle openers from the tail ends of deer.

Add beer model to the list.

Rich says he’s honored to be the everyman face of a national beer advertisement, but he’s humble about it too.

“Anybody I know could have done what I did,” he said.

Last updated: 7:00 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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