ABERDEEN, S.D. — Though the animals they work on are still and lifeless, members of the taxidermy community are very much the opposite.
Aberdeen-native Sam Cahoy recently won “Best in World” in the game bird category with a mount of a sandhill crane at the annual Taxidermy World Championships in Peoria, Ill., the Aberdeen News reported.
Cahoy owns Showpiece Taxidermy in Aberdeen and said his love for hunting and fishing growing up pushed him to start his business in 2007.
In 2009, two years after opening, Cahoy began competing in state taxidermy competitions.
“I’ve been competing every year ever since,” he said. “It’s one of the best ways to improve your skills.”
At competitions, Cahoy said taxidermists enter their mounts to be judged, given a score and critiqued by experienced peers who tell competitors how to improve their submissions.
“I’ve competed with pretty much everything,” he said of his submissions, which he feels have greatly improved since he began.
Cahoy said he’s done a life-size African lion, a buffalo, countless white-tailed deer and various types of game birds for clients.
“I’ve always been interested in the taxidermy aspect,” he said. “I just kept doing it.”
Cahoy taught himself the process of taxidermy – a complex procedure involving painting, gluing, cleaning fur or feathers and an artistic eye.
He said an average duck mount – his most popular request – takes eight to 10 hours to complete. White-tailed deer and pheasants are also popular mounts, he said. His busiest time of the year is in late October.
Larry Blomquist, owner and publisher of Breakthrough Magazine, a taxidermy publication, has run the Taxidermy World Championships for more than 20 years with his wife, Kathy. This year’s world championship featured 156 competitors from 13 countries, including Finland, China, Austria and New Zealand, he said.
In past years, Larry Blomquist said not all 16 first-place world titles were given out to submissions because they sometimes weren’t good enough.
“Your piece has to be exceptional to win a first-place ribbon,” he said, adding that this year was the first year that all 16 world titles were awarded.
Many of the submissions included exotic reptiles and birds from different parts of the world, as well as recreations of animals that cannot legally be hunted, Blomquist said.
Roger Heintzman, also a full-time local taxidermist in Aberdeen, has been in the business since 1987 after attending a taxidermy school in Minneapolis.
“I’ve competed in a lot of state competitions,” he said. “It’s a very good learning tool.”
Heintzman, who owns Roger’s Taxidermy, said he mostly does mounts of international animals, like lions, leopards or bears.
“It’s nice to win the awards,” Cahoy said. “But the main objective is to improve.”