Characters in Montana Ranching-From $25 Candle holder to $25,000 Chandeliers
The people you meet while selling Montana ranches are one of the big reasons I love this business. They are salt of the earth, great people. Many are self made and the others came from self made stock. The unique way these people have learned to make livings and the stories they can tell are entertaining, enlightening and motivating. Most are humble, God fearing individuals that I find myself lucky to know. Let me tell you about one of these individuals that has been one of my favorites for a long time. I listed Fish Fisher’s property in the Missouri Breaks. He calls it the Missouri Breaks Retreat. I knew Fish through his Fish Fisher’s Antler Art for a long time before that. He does work for my wife(Kathy Tatom) in her Interior Design business. He uses antler sheds to make some of the most incredible art, furniture and fixtures. The sheds are from Montana ranches and public land in Montana, as well as, other states. Elk, Muleys, Whitetail, Moose antlers that Fish and the industry calls bone or horns are picked up legally and turned into focus points for homes all over the world. Montana ranching is filled with great people and this article is about one of my favorites.
From his humble beginning of collecting sheds, Fish has become a TV personality and an artist that puts some of his intricate chandeliers costing up to $25,000 in some of the finest homes built in the country. It all started when Fish moved to Montana with his wife(Amy) in 1986. He started with odd construction jobs and spent every minute he could out in the wilds of Montana. The Missouri Breaks soon became he and his buddies favorite place. His first year hunting in the Breaks, he and his friends picked up 27 elk and 12 mule deer sheds. This was the start of Fish’s shed empire. This continued and through the next few years, Fish compiled a pretty impressive antler collection. Fish and Amy were living in a mobile home at the time. Fish was storing his shed horns in the extra bath in the home. Amy asked, “what are you going to do with these?” Fish’s response is classic positive Fish. He said, “you just wait, someday I’m going to build something out of these piles and piles of antlers.”
Fish started dabbling in making art out of the sheds in 1991. He carved a bald eagle’s head out of moose sheds. Fish started making $25 candleholders and progressed into sconces and chandeliers. His first full year, he produced approximately ten elk antler floor lamps and ten mule deer chandeliers. As his talent grew, his business grew. He was able to purchase the Missouri Breaks Retreat in 1993 with some friends from Wisconsin. The Retreat was bought as a base to bow hunt the Missouri Breaks famous elk, deer, fishing and most importantly, shed hunting. In this wide open territory with its resident herd of huge elk it was ideal for glassing and finding a great deal of bone. These bulls don’t migrate, so they are able to put all their nutrition towards growing big antlers. Many in the 350 up to 400 class. Fish and his friends continued to supply his ever growing need for racks. He did this while always being legal where he was harvesting sheds.
Fish’s first sizeable elk chandelier order was from a wealthy man. It was to be large and complicated and as Fish took the deposit, his hands shook a bit not knowing what he had gotten himself into. This is the piece that he proved he could produce antler art pieces for anyone. It took a week and a half to produce the chandelier vs three days now. Fish proved he could handle the intricate drilling, internal wiring, no detection patches from one antler to the next.
This led to bigger jobs and higher need for more sheds. His first big project was the Monarch Elk Ranch. It had a sizeable lodge and three large cabins. It involved a huge Elk/Moose/Deer chandelier for the lodge, chandeliers for each cabin, over a dozen sconces, mirrors, table lamps and floor lamps. It took two months of production and four days installation with a sizeable crew.
Fish had always been able to find and buy enough sheds from people that lived in and around the Breaks. He outgrew his local sources and had to start buying from ranchers and other antler brokers. Shed or horn hunting was increasing in popularity and competition. He has good, long established relationships with Montana ranchers and farmers over a couple of decades. Fish’s reputation allows him to trade out chandeliers for sheds and he helps property owners in keeping trespassers off their property. Illegal shed hunting has become very common, unfortunately, and Fish’s trustworthiness and care of Montana ranchers and farmers land gives him a long list of people that call him a friend. His annual needs in elk sheds alone are now in excess of 1500 antlers which equates to approximately 10,000 lbs.
With some of the wild adventures of Grizzly and Mountain Lion encounters and the hustle and bustle of the shed business, Fish told a friend that he thought it would make a good TV show. The friend mentioned it to a Producer in Colorado. Fish wanted to call it “Running Bone.” The Producer made the trip and filmed one episode and “Shed Wars” was created. It has run for one season and three different networks are negotiating to purchase the rights.
Fish Fisher’s antler art is well known. His antler art is shipped to China, Europe, New Zealand and Australia. It is shipped nationally in the US weekly. His bone network allows him to have great access to high quality antlers. His easy going demeanor attracts customers from all over. I know, my wife is one of them. That is how Fish and I met. He immediately wanted to know how I got the name Buzz so he could tell me how he got the name Fish. There are people that immediately put you at ease. Fish with his strong faith, ready smile and laugh is one of those people.
It all started at the Missouri Breaks Retreat and because that was his start, recently he has named a mix of elk, mule deer and whitetail chandelier the “Missouri Break Chandelier.” He has never named another chandelier but since his inspiration came from the Breaks it led him to name this one, “cuz it was his start.”
The Missouri Breaks is a unique area of Montana. More rolling hills with great wildlife diversity and with Fort Peck Reservoir and its over 50+ species of game fish it is a place steeped in Montana ranching
history and western lore. If you have not ever been there it is still wild and remote. One of many hidden treasures is Slippery Ann Wildlife Area in the fall. The elk rut is something to see due to no hunting pressure. You get to see multiple bulls fighting over the other’s harem. You can watch a video here.
The characters and personalities you meet here in Montana are second to none. Fish Fisher is one of my favorites. He has led me to a greater faith, has helped my wife in so many ways and we are honored to call him a friend! The best part is if you’re with him for very long he has you laughing and just makes you feel that the world is a pretty good place! From the humble beginning of a $25 candleholder to master piece antler art costing $25,000, Fish Fisher is one of hundreds of great stories you hear in Montana ranching of good people doing what they love!
Buzz Tatom is a Partner at Venture West Ranches. He moved to Montana 5 years ago and still owns the 5T ranch in Texas. He has a BBA from Texas Tech and an MBA from SMU. He built his Printing/Marketing firm 10 fold over 24 years before selling in 2011 and is involved in a number of business ventures. He enjoys teaching part time at MSU in business and mentoring students.