She's a mom first, also a wildlife ecologist, college instructor, dog trainer, hunter . . . and now, taxidermist.

Meadow Kouffeld, 38, of Grand Rapids is all of these and more. Born and raised in northern California, where as a girl she showed chickens at local fairs, Kouffeld landed in Minnesota about 15 years ago when she entered graduate school at the U, where she studied ruffed grouse and their habitats.

In the years since earning her master's degree, she's worked for the Wisconsin and Minnesota departments of natural resources and the Ruffed Grouse Society. She's also hunted ibex with her sister inKyrgyzstan and was one of four finalists in a worldwide women's competition sponsored by Safari Club International that tested hunting and shooting skills in blistering hot south Texas in August 2018.

Not mentioned in this brief resume is her lifelong interest in art — a fascination with shapes and colors that is helping to sculpt her developing career as a taxidermist.

"But until now I've never been brave enough to make the leap as an artist,'' she said. "I've always needed to make a living. Art was never an option.''

Kouffeld's father grew up in the Netherlands and at one time was a gunbearer and loader for wealthy clients of a large estate.He also mounted their game birds, and when he moved to California about 40 years ago, primarily so he could hunt more freely than was possible in Europe, he brought samples of his taxidermied birds with him.

"As a girl I was always around his taxidermy,'' she said. "I had an interest in learning how to do it, and finally one weekend when I was in college at Humboldt State (Calif.), I decided I was going to mount a surf scoter (duck) I had shot. It was a very smelly bird to work with, because sea ducks have oily feathers. But it turned out pretty good.''

Now a natural resources instructor at Itasca Community College in Grand Rapids, where she has an 80% appointment to teach and organize the school's annual 900-attendee wildfire academy, Kouffeld has again channeled her inner artist — and taxidermist.

"When I started at the school, we didn't have any mounts to help with instruction to students,'' she said. "It's one thing to talk about a bird, for instance, and its coloring and feathers, and another to hold it and feel its shape and see it up close. The school has been supportive of my taxidermy and I'm very grateful for that.''

Kouffeld became a licensed taxidermist two years ago and opened a shop in her Grand Rapids garage (woodsandmeadowllc.com). To broaden the species of birds she can mount for classroom instruction, she was awarded state and federal permits to possess salvaged non-game birds such as songbirds and raptors. The latter often come to her as road kills picked up by Department of Natural Resources conservation officers.

"I have two goals,'' she said. "One is to build up our teaching collection of birds at the school. The other is to grow my business while I continue to develop my taxidermy skills.''

Fellow Grand Rapids resident and Department of Natural Resources wildlife manager and ruffed grouse expert Ted Dick has known Kouffeld since her days in graduate school.

"Meadow is a passionate outdoors person with a strong background in hunting and wildlife, and a longtime interest in art,'' Dick said. "So it's no surprise she's into taxidermy.''

Added Minnesota Deer Hunters Association Executive Director Craig Engwall, also of Grand Rapids: "Meadow has a lot of energy.''

More learning ahead

Hunters who bring birds to Kouffeld usually have general ideas what they want their finished mounts to look like.

"But they're also looking for suggestions,'' she said, "which I am happy to offer. But in the end, the bird itself drives what can be done. That and its condition. If a bird has one wing shattered, for example, it's pretty hard to do a flying mount.''

Ruffed grouse are popular among hunters as mementos of their forays afield, as are ducks and wild turkeys. Less common are a couple of Kouffeld's recent projects: a Wilson's snipe and a sandhill crane.

"The client who brought the snipe to me wanted it flying and also wanted it as a tabletop mount,'' she said. "Simple and clean, that's how she said she wanted it. I was pleased how it turned out.''

Kouffeld also has mounted a double-crested cormorant, a protected bird notorious among anglers, particularly on Leech Lake in northern Minnesota, as a walleye eater.

"Most fishermen hate cormorants, and just about everyone thinks they're ugly,'' she said. "But up close in the hand, they are actually very beautiful.''

In August, Kouffeld attended a taxidermy school in Idaho that she says taught her "how to streamline the taxidermy process.''

"This coming spring, I'm going back to the same school to learn how to do big game shoulder mounts,'' she said. "I hope also someday to attend sessions on full-body mounts. I've done mostly birds to this point, along with big-game European mounts, because I wanted to start slowly.''

Net income has been scant so far from Kouffeld's business, but she's hoping that eventually her efforts allow her to cut back on dog training and other side gigs she's held to complement her teaching job.

"I'm the biggest critic of my work,'' she said. "But fortunately, my 8-year-old daughter, Heidi, is my biggest cheerleader. She loves everything I do.''