Town of Wayne, Wis. — Hannah Stolz, 20, of the town of Wayne in Washington County was judged to have the best mount at the National Taxidermists Association Convention held July 20-23 in Sioux falls, S.D.
The convention had 103 competitors from 25 states who entered a total of 245 mounts in the competition. Those numbers were better than the 2022 convention that had 85 competitors and 189 mounts.
Stolz’s mount of a grey crowned crane, a species native to Africa, received awards for Breakthrough Best of Show, Best Bird in the Masters and North American Champion.
Stolz has practiced taxidermy for seven years. She is basically self-taught.
When she was 13, Stolz shot a gobbler with her bow. She got it mounted, but she was not happy with the result.
“You think you can do better?” her dad had asked her.
“Yeah, let me try that,” was her reply.
Her mom started picking up road-killed pheasants for Stolz to practice on. As her skills improved, she worked with a few other taxidermists and eventually got paid to do work for customers. She entered her first competition in 2019 and has been competing regularly since then.
Stolz procured the grey crowned crane for the competition from a friend in Massachusetts who raises many species of birds. The crane was old and died of natural causes. The body of the crane was frozen, wrapped in insulation and express shipped overnight to Stolz’s shop.
“It was the most perfect bird,” Stolz said. “This bird was spectacular, perfect. So that’s why I chose that one. It’s just the uniqueness of it.”
Stolz estimates she spent 60 to 70 hours mounting the crane. The most tedious part was replicating the head.
“A lot of time was spent on the face,” she said. “I hand sculpted all that.”
Stolz said the tissue of the face shrinks severely and the nature of the flesh makes it almost impossible to preserve.
Transporting the crane to Sioux Falls was a challenge. Stolz placed it in the back of her car and carefully used plastic wrap to secure the bird to the seat.
“When you stop and go it didn’t wiggle too much,” she said. “That was probably the most nerve-wracking part.”
The Breakthrough Best of Show Award was particularly gratifying for Stolz. For that award, the judges looked at every mount entered in every category and pick the most outstanding of all entries.
Stolz plans to enter the Word Taxidermy Competition next year, but she is not sure where the competition will be held.
“They are saying it will be in the end of August,” Stolz said. “Usually it is in Missouri.”
She will enter the grey crowned crane and at least one other mount in that contest.
“I haven’t decided yet what else I want to mount for that,” she said. “I’m thinking possibly a baby duckling, and I have some Senegal thick-knee, which is a little wading type of bird. Kind of like a mini crane.”
Stolz is a full-time taxidermist, operating Windy Hills Taxidermy. She also raises more than 100 species of birds that she sells to zoos and conservancies.
The National Taxidermist Association headquarters is in Missoula, Mont. It was founded in 1972 by Charlie Haynes of Popular Bluff, Mo. According to the website, the group’s mission is to promote the art of taxidermy, protect the freedom to hunt and to promote wildlife conservation.