Estancia High School is the home of the Bears, and like most high schools, its mascot can be seen in various forms around campus. There are pictures of bears on signs. A red, white, and blue bear head is printed on the 50-yard line of the football field; a bear statue stands under the football field scoreboard, and there’s usually a costumed version on the sidelines or courtside at games.
Now, a new Estancia bear unlike any other on campus has made its debut: a large, lifelike black bear professionally preserved by local taxidermist Sam Chavez is on display in the lobby of the high school’s main gym.
“It’s awesome,” Estancia athletic director and head football coach Stewart Burnett said. “We’ve talked about the idea for years and to actually see it come to fruition is simply awesome.”
The full-body mount bear, standing on a rock behind tall sheets of glass, baring its sharp claws and fangs, looks like something that could be in a museum of natural history.
Burnett said Chavez, whose family has been involved with the Estancia Municipal School District and Estancia athletics for decades, came up with the idea to create a full-body mount bear and put it on display at the school.
“He spearheaded the whole thing,” Burnett said. “I’d be like, ‘Tell me what you need,’ and he basically just said, ‘I just need a space in the gym.’”
A few years ago, Peter Romero, an assistant coach at Moriarty High School and an avid hunter, shot a bear and took it to Chavez for preservation and the two got to talking about a full-body mount model.
“He said he always wanted to get one to put at the high school, and I said if I ever get another big one, I’ll give you a call, and I’ll donate it and you can do the taxidermy work,” Romero said about his initial conversation with Chavez. “Sure enough, a couple years later I ended up getting another bear, so I called him up and he came and got it.”
Romero said he legally obtained the animal during bear-hunting season.
“I had the license, it was roaming around near my house, and I ended up going out there and harvesting it, and got it pelt tagged and all the stuff you need to do, and Sam took over from there,” Romero said.
“Peter called me up one day and said, ‘Hey, I killed a big ol’ bruiser, you want it?’ and I said, ‘Sure!’” Chavez said. “So I went and got it.”
Chavez said he has been doing taxidermy for 30 years. He said he uses a tannery in Michigan for processing the hides, and it closed during the coronavirus pandemic, which put the brakes on his bear project for the high school.
“They shut down ‘cuz of the corona, and eight or nine months later I finally got [the bear] back,” Chavez said. “I figured out what style I wanted to do, and I talked to Stewart about it, and he said to do it in a way that would be the best representation of the bear, so I did that, and it came out pretty decent, I’m really happy with it.”
Chavez said he spent about four or five months working on the details, changing it, and reworking it to get it just the way he wanted it.
“I even made the rock myself,” he said.
“I was wondering for a while if it was ever gonna happen,” Romero said. “And I went over to his shop one day and I’m like, ‘Whoa!’ and he’s like, ‘There it is,’ and I’m like, ‘That sucker’s awesome!’”
Burnett gives credit to Chavez for having the vision to bring the project from concept to completion.
“Taxidermy is an art form and he’s an artist, and it’s awesome,” Burnett said of Chavez and Estancia’s new bear mascot. “It’s a heck of a thing to have, and the amount of time and the materials that he donated, I can’t even imagine the price tag.”