Don't buy birds.
Credit: Matt Kaminski / Getty Images

"It's a tangled and intricate thing to negotiate," Rhymer says of the legal issues surrounding mounted animals. "In every state in the union, it's legal to go out and shoot a mallard, but it's a felony [in every state] to sell that mallard. There are so many different laws in so many different states." Still, he offered some sage, if somewhat surprising, advice: "Call the guy that will arrest you."

We did. Officials from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's law enforcement and management office helped us hack our way through the legal thicket. Migratory birds are completely illegal to sell and buy (unless they're farm-raised ducks, but then they're not considered migratory). Endangered or threatened species are illegal to sell across state lines (unless they're antique pieces that have been grandfathered in, but you need to prove that). Even deer heads, which are legal to sell on a federal level, are illegal to sell in some states.

You'll be fine if you follow some basic rules. Don't buy birds – unless it's a nonmigratory species like a pheasant or a turkey – and always ask questions about the animal's provenance. You risk a greater legal penalty if it can be proven you didn't take due caution when making the purchase. When in doubt, call your local game warden or the state office of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

But don't let all of this scare you away from a purchase. No less an authority than Tim Van Norman, chief the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Branch of Permits, assured us of the following: "When you go online or go to a taxidermist, you'll find all sorts of things for sale, and the vast majority of them are legal."