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HELENA, Mont. – Jestin Streib still gets a chuckle when a potential customer first views his work.
“Honestly I get, ‘Oh wow, cribbage,’ and then it’s, ‘Oh wow, it’s really shiny.’ I get a lot of surprised (customers). They tell me, ‘Wow, that’s really Montana,’” he laughed.
Streib’s craft certainly represents Big Sky Country. His business, 406 Antlery, displays exquisite, custom antler work, which began as a hobby and has turned into a family-owned business in Jefferson County.
“I learned from a mentor of mine; he had been doing this for 56 years. He had cancer and he knew he was going to pass, so he wanted to make sure the business lived on and the tradition lived on,” said Streib. “So, I kind of bought everything after he passed with his blessing and his wife’s blessing. I’ve just kind of been keeping on what he taught me and kind of adding new stuff as I figure it out and learn it.”
“His name was Bill Kramer,” he continued. “They used to be called Northwest Antler and it was right on the main street in Boulder, Montana.”
Kramer’s creations with Northwest Antler built a reputation for the craft, and Streib is proud to honor that legacy while also paving his own path.
“It’s great because I run into a lot of people here who (say), ‘You know (Bill Kramer)?’ and I say, ‘Actually I learned from him,’” Streib said during the 2022 Made in Montana Tradeshow. “That kind of helps because it’s the history there. They know the work they’re going to get and the quality that’s with that name and that brand.”
Streib’s handiwork is on display in many forms, from jewelry to keychains to cribbage boards. He also provides more unique offerings such as belt buckles, letter openers, and pipes. And then there are the custom orders inspired by the clientele.
“I get a lot of ideas from people who ask, ‘Can you make this out of antler?’ ‘Yeah, I could make that out of antler.’ I just did a bunch of little funeral urns for holding ashes out of antler because the lady said, ‘I love your work. Could you do something with that?’” Streib recalled. “I get a lot of suggestions from people asking, ‘Can you make this?’ ‘Yeah, I can make that.’ And then it just starts; the whole thing snowballs from there.”
So, what does Streib consider his most unique piece?
“I don’t have them out here, but I make bracelets that are actually a curved piece of antler; it’s a cuff bracelet,” he explained.
What about the most popular item?
“Oh, probably the slingshots, the slingshots with the whistles in them. They are a great one,” Streib said.
Fulfilling 406 Antlery’s mission to “hand create artistic pieces from shed antler” requires creativity and focus, but quality product is also a necessity. Streib enjoys the time outdoors searching for the sheds to be used in his art.
“(I find) a lot in the Elkhorn (Mountains), yeah,” he said. “The family has a homestead that butts right into (Bureau of Land Management land), so I like to go up there, camp on the homestead, and walk around in the Forest Service area.”
“I do end up having to purchase because of the amount that I go through,” he continued, “but I try and purchase from locals and friends of mine who say, ‘You know, this is my hobby and I’d like to make money off my hobby,’ so it helps everyone straight away.”
Streib has only been full time with 406 Antlery for the better part of a year, but he’s finding new ways to design one-of-a-kind pieces that will keep customers returning. He’s also quick to credit his wife, Shelby, for seeking numerous marketing strategies that will bring their handmade pieces to a wider audience.
“Luckily I have my wife who does all of my online (projects) and all that. That’s made it so much easier to reach a larger audience with everything she does. She’s great with Etsy and making our website and all that.,” Streib said. “That’s been great during the pandemic because I can kind of reach out and get a more online presence.”
Even those viewing online can see the beauty and know it’s a perfect fit for Montana.