Competition in the taxidermy world can be intimidating to a new beginner, exciting to the moderate taxidermist, challenging to the experienced taxidermist or nothing but bad memories to sore losers who did not get their ribbons in the past.

Competing is very important to everybody that enjoys taxidermy whether you are self taught, schooled, or just grew up in the industry.  It is for all ages and levels of experience to validate or legitimize the quality of your work.  If you have never gone to a competition, and are self-taught, you need a professional opinion of the quality that you are doing.  An undedicated glance from a couple of family members and friends, or a one minute critique from a passing friendly taxidermist in the neighborhood, does not validate that you do good work, they are just being nice.

If you have been schooled in taxidermy and never been to competition, you may be under a false pretense that you know everything because you were taught by the best.  Remember, you paid him or her to tell and show you how to get started, and you still need to fine-tune the work that you do.  Support over the phone from the teacher after school is not quite the same as to a one on one critique from a pro.

Subjecting your best work to different judges every year is one way to have someone with more knowledge than you, expose things that you were blind to and give you suggestions for improvement.  You need your skills assessed by a critique from a proven award winning taxidermist.  In addition, if you have competed only once, and won a blue ribbon in the novice division, this means you are beyond the basics only, and need to compete in the Professional division.

One ribbon is one opinion.  There is safety in numbers, many ribbons means you are getting better.  Continuous improvement in skills and knowledge will give you and the customers the quality they deserve to get out of their mounts.  If you never push yourself to improve your craftsmanship, it is like staying in the eighth grade all of your life.

So you have competed for years, and have all the ribbons all the way through the master’s and have no interest any more, you are still needed to help put the competitions on and make them go smoothly.  Judging or assisting judges is an area where you can give of your knowledge, talking techniques with lower skilled taxidermists in a seminar is another.  Running a competition is no easy task and all the help the association could muster is invaluable.

I have never competed before, what should I expect, and what division should I enter?

Every State’s association has different classes of skill levels to compete in.  The basic competition has a Youth, Novice, Professional, and Master’s divisions.  As you can see with the graduations of levels, so is the difficulty of expectations. However, this can be fun so do not be afraid to enter.  You will meet people and make new friends in your class level just like you.  The youth and novice judges will be lenient but fair as compared to the pro and masters.  This is more of a teaching than a beating.

If you are not a youth, and are rather new to taxidermy, enter in the novice.  If you are taking money and do work for the public, part time or full time, you need to be in the professional division to validate and prove the quality of your work.  You should not be in business if you cannot ribbon in this category.  The masters are for the best of professionals to validate their skills and craftsmanship before they compete in the national and world divisions. Bring more than one mount, remember, one ribbon is one opinion.

What kind of species should I use to compete?

You should enter a species that you are comfortable with, one you know about, one that you have mounted a few times, and one that you do best.  Although you can take a first time mount of a new animal that you have tried, and can ribbon with it, this would be rare unless you have done the homework and presented it well.  Just be brave and show up.

What would be helpful in picking out a species to bring?

To catch the judges eye, it should have a beautiful coat with no bald spots or missing hair, the fish should have all of it’s scales, birds should have all of their feathers, scars on the animal should be few, ears without damage, you want that species to represent what it is.  A medium fish is better than a huge fish.  Average size animals are what you would normally see outdoors, so you do not need the biggest for a specimen.  Use a specimen with out or with very little damage. However, if what you have is all you have, bring it anyway.

Do I need to have a habitat with my mount?

No, you do not.  It is optional.  The mount is what is being judged.  If you would like to add a habitat to your mount, it should compliment it and not over power it. Keep it small and simple, the less bling bling, the better.  However, in the master’s category, habitat will be expected as part of the artist's mount and creativity.

What categories are there?

Basically, fish, birds, game heads, and life sizes.  Every Association will have different or more categories to enter in.  Rugs, sculpting, casting, fish body carving, etc.

Just what do the judges look for in my mount or mounts?

This list is long, so I will only hit on some of them.  Judges have a check list or score sheet that is used on every mount so the criteria is the same for everybody. Your mount will be assigned a number when you enter, so the judge sees no names.

The judges check for craftsmanship and mechanical soundness, anatomical accuracy, and a little of artistic merit.

In mammals, all feet should match up to the base in a natural way and not have gaps under the toes.  This goes for every creature attached to a base.

Anatomy should be symmetrical on ALL mounts with eyes, ears, eyelids, lips, inner and outer nose and ear detail, eye pupils, eyelashes, guard hairs, whiskers, hair patterns, and ear butts.  Proper placement of lips, the correct use of paints and colors, ear butt anatomy, blending of fillers, proper use of artificial parts and noses, appearance of seams, odor and cleanliness.

For Fish, much of the same above plus, proper skin alignment on body, appearance of seams, fin placement, shrinkage, scale details, correct use of epoxy and fillers and blending, head to body junction, eyes and interior of mouth. One of the main things to watch is the accuracy of paint colors and lines, spots, bar, and blending.

Birds will also have to pass the same things mentioned above plus tail and wing placement, feather alignments, body contours, bill connection, proper use and painting of artificial heads and painting of feet.

Artistic merit will be accessed to difficult factors, outstanding craftsmanship, original cast parts, and originality of pose.

There is so much more on the judge's score sheet that breaks the mount down to the nitty- gritty roots that I will not post.  If you want to see what they are, enter a mount or two and you will be given the score sheet after the judging and critique of your work. 

Other common things to avoid are excess glue and hide paste in the fur, feathers or skin around seams and junctures, staples or pins showing.  The appearance of seams, pin holes not filled in, dirty or oily fur, improper repairs, excess thread and knots showing.

Drumming of anywhere is bad news, attachments to bases need to be secure, gaps around glass eyes, mounts cannot be wet or assembled out in the parking lot before the show, and yes, this has been done before in the past.  Pay attention to symmetry, cleanliness, use reference from live mammals, and not other taxidermists' work, position of body parts, brisket alignment, attitude of eyes and pose, try to give it that life like appearance that will catch the judge's eye, and show up and have fun.

Remember, anatomy symmetry, anatomical accuracy, reference, proper seaming, cleanliness, hair alignment, correct use of paint and colors, softness of the mount, and highlighting with a simple habitat. And one ribbon, is one opinion, the more mounts you bring to competition, the more you are judged, the more you will learn, the more you will improve, the more customers you will keep, the more successful you will be. On the other hand, you can stay in the eighth grade forever.
Preparing for Taxidermy Competition
             by Paul Thompson
  Thompson's Whitetail Taxidermy
           Fort Gratiot, Michigan
Whitetail deer taxidermy by Michigan taxidermist Paul Thompson
Let the photo to the left  be a lesson to the rest of you.

When you send a photo to someone it might show up again when you least expect it.  Paul had sent me this photo of his first competition mount the day after his first taxidermy competition.  He no doubt was not expecting me to keep it on file.

I have told him since that I will expect to see more blues from him in future competitions.
Glen Conley
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