Northlandia: From fur to fins, common to bizarre, Tony's Trading Post wants your taxidermy

The Wrenshall business seeks all types of mounts and sells them.

Man holds head of musk ox: brown fur and large, curled horns
Tony Sheda holds a musk ox mount inside his workshop, Little Tony’s Trading Post, in Wrenshall on April 3.
Jed Carlson / Superior Telegram

WRENSHALL — Deer and fish and bears! Oh my!

You don't have to follow a yellow brick road to visit the taxidermy paradise known as Tony's Trading Post — just take a short drive down Minnesota Highway 23, followed by a stretch of dirt road.

Tony Sheda — the fourth generation with that name — took over his father Tony's business in 2002 after working alongside him since the 1980s. Back in the day, the shop mostly traded in furs. In fact, at one point, Sheda said his uncle was "the biggest fur buyer in the United States and Iowa." But with the new century, the fur markets crashed and the Sheda family needed to find a new market. Enter taxidermy.

"We started doing some taxidermy selling, peddling a little here and there," Sheda said. "And that just grew and grew and grew to where we don't even dabble in the fur industry anymore. Now we're buying and selling taxidermy. We still sell furs, but we don't get them from trappers anymore."

Sheda gets his inventory from private collectors, estate sales, online and in-person auctions and people reaching out via his website.


"A lot of the time, we're buying the entire estate out because they have to downsize or the hunter has passed away and the kids don't want it," Sheda said. "We'll go in and buy everything taxidermy. We'll take everything from raccoons, to moose, to a lot of African animals."

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They'll buy almost any taxidermy piece — provided it's legal to do so. Sheda said there are many regulations on what can and cannot be sold. For example, he can no longer buy or sell lions, he can only sell mule deer in Georgia (no whitetail deer) and he's found that turtles often have their own set of regulations depending on the state.

Lion taxidermy pokes out from a bin.
Animals from all over the world can be found in every nook and cranny at Tony’s Trading Post.
Jed Carlson / Superior Telegram

"A big part of it is what's considered native to the state. That's why you can't sell whitetail deer in Georgia — because it's considered a native species," Sheda said.

Taxidermy heads rest on floor.
Mounts lay around Tony’s Trading Post.
Jed Carlson / Superior Telegram

Quite a bit of Sheda's extensive collection includes deer mounts of various points, sizes and styles. Sheda said that it's now often "less expensive to buy a deer head than to have your own created." Which is why he sold around 300 deer heads in the last year.

Shipping a deer head isn't too complicated, according to Sheda. They tend to not be very heavy because there's mostly foam inside the mount.

(All) of this could be construed as odd. But it all sells. People buy everything.
Tony Sheda, owner of Tony's Trading Post

"But they are big, so we use big boxes and a lot of packing paper," Sheda said. "Fish get tricky because they're very fragile. But I've learned how to do it over the years. You screw them to the box so they don't move. We've only had one or two get broken in the past year, so that's not too bad."

Taxidermy fish hang on the wall.
A wide variety of fish hang on the wall at Tony’s Trading Post. Most of the fish are tagged with labels for identification for online sales.
Jed Carlson / Superior Telegram

Sheda said taxidermy demands tend to vary by the season. Right now, as spring is coming, people are thinking about fishing, so they order fish. In the fall, when it's just about deer season, he'll see a lot more orders for deer heads.

Deer and fish are his most common orders, but what are some of the less common items in his collection? He has a couple of giraffe skulls, some ibex, pheasant, grouse, tropical fish and a set of raccoons positioned in a cedar boat to look as though they're fishing.


Taxidermy raccoons fish from a birch bark canoe.
Raccoons take a canoe fishing trip in a taxidermy piece at Little Tony’s Trading Post.
Jed Carlson / Superior Telegram
Man holds giraffe skull.
Tony Sheda laughs as he holds a giraffe skull in his workshop.
Jed Carlson / Superior Telegram

Further in the back of the shop, Sheda has his own collection of deer mounts. These are mostly vintage mounts that used the deer's original skull in the process, a practice that's less common today. He also has an extensive skull collection that features the more "freaky and unique" skulls he comes across in his work.

"It's hard to get into my collection anymore," Sheda said. "It's got to be bigger or better than one I've already got to get me to swap them out. I'd like to have one skull from every animal in the world that I can legally own."

Taxidermy heads hang on a wall.
A skull-in mount hangs in Tony Sheda's workshop. Years ago, taxidermists would cover the skulls of animals they were mounting. Sheda likes the odd look of the hide-less mount and hung it in his personal collection.
Jed Carlson / Superior Telegram

Skulls move well in Sheda's newest markets. For years, he's traveled around the country to sell pieces at trade shows for sportsmen. Only in the past few years has he found the curiosity and oddity marketplace. These markets showcase everything unusual or bizarre — from haunted dolls and antique medical devices, to creepy clothing and odd jewelry. Taxidermy and skulls are also huge parts of the large events.

"I have everything down from $1-$2 trinkets like rabbits feet and arrowheads to moose heads for thousands of dollars," Sheda said. "But we don't even bring stuff like our deerskin gloves to the oddity shows. That's more skulls and bones and anything odd. And that's funny, me saying 'odd' stuff, when all of this could be construed as odd. But it all sells. People buy everything."

Man looks up at taxidermy animal heads.
Tony Sheda, owner of Tony’s Trading Post, looks up at mounts that are well over 100 years old in his workshop.
Jed Carlson / Superior Telegram
Skulls rest on shelf.
Skulls sit on a shelf at Tony’s Trading Post.
Jed Carlson / Superior Telegram

Whether he's buying and selling oddities or common deer heads, Sheda said he keeps going for the love of the work as much as the money.

"I grew up doing it and I enjoy it. It's not just a job for me," Sheda said. "I couldn't imagine working in an office or working for someone else. I couldn't fathom that. I'm my own boss here and I work as hard as I want to some days and some days I work harder than I want. But I enjoy the whole spectrum of it."

Man stands in with taxidermy.
Tony Sheda and his living dog, Waffle, walk through Tony’s Trading Post on April 3.
Jed Carlson / Superior Telegram

And what about the next generation of Shedas? This Tony Sheda is the father of four children: three daughters and a son, Anton — the fifth Tony Sheda. He said they all help at the shows and show an interest, but as Anton is 12, he's unsure if he'll eventually go into the family business.

"He enjoys hunting and fishing and working with me and stuff, so we'll see what happens," Sheda said.


Huge bear taxidermy piece in trailer.
Tony Sheda’s trailer begins to fill up while he gets ready for another trip.
Jed Carlson / Superior Telegram
Taxidermy moose heads hang in shop.
A pair of moose mounts hang at Tony’s Trading Post.
Jed Carlson / Superior Telegram
Man stands surrounded by taxidermy.
Tony Sheda, owner of Tony’s Trading Post, talks about his business April 3.
Jed Carlson / Superior Telegram
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This is Northlandia: a place to bring your curiosity, because you will find curiosities. In this series, the News Tribune celebrates the region's distinctive people, places and history. Discover the extraordinary stories that you just might miss if you're not in the right place, at the right time, ready to step off the beaten path with no rush to return.
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Teri Cadeau is a general assignment and neighborhood reporter for the Duluth News Tribune. Originally from the Iron Range, Cadeau has worked for several community newspapers in the Duluth area for eight years including: The Duluth Budgeteer News, Western Weekly, Weekly Observer, Lake County News-Chronicle and occasionally, the Cloquet Pine Journal. When not working, she's an avid reader and crafter.
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