Blackjack or taxidermy?
For Mark Zimmerman of Craig, winning at a blackjack table at last weekend's New Mexico Taxidermy Association's State Show in Albuquerque was almost as exciting as taking two first-place prizes in mounts.
"I won $300 in blackjack that paid for the trip," Zimmerman said. "It was a good weekend all in all."
Zimmerman, owner of Bullseye Taxidermy, took first at the New Mexico state show for his antelope and bighorn sheep mounts.
Although a relative newcomer on the scene with two years as a full-time taxidermist, the New Mexico show was Zimmerman's fourth.
"One of the best things about these shows is the people you meet," he said. "One guy there is a 78-year-old who has been doing this since the age of 16 and is a walking encyclopedia. There are world-class taxidermists present. Some of the stuff they tell you about is so simple, you think, 'Oh gosh, I knew that.'"
Zimmerman studied taxidermy in Canon City before becoming a full-time heavy equipment operator for the city of Craig.
"I would go home at night and work on taxidermy stuff after a full day for the city, and there just comes to the point I would eventually have to do one or the other," he said.
His advice for those interested in entering the field is to find a good and reputable taxidermist and get hands-on experience.
"Just talking to people --uys that have won world titles," he said. "It's all in the anatomy. If the muscles are not in correct order, the mount is no good."
There are three levels of taxidermy shows --tate, such as the one in Albuquerque; national, being held in August in Kentucky; and the World Championships, this year in Reno from April 17 to 21.
A taxidermist's ultimate goal is to make the final product as real as possible.
"When you can take a mounted elk, put it next to the real one and can't tell the difference -- it'll never happen -- but that's what you are trying for."
The award-winning taxidermist is undecided about either attending next month's world championships in Reno, Nev., or possibly entering a mount of his work.
"Contests are just so much fun," he said. "Plus it's nice to see how your stuff stacks up."
According to a Bullseye Taxidermy pricing pamphlet, the price for Zimmerman's award-winning mounted antelope (shoulder size for $500) and sheep (panel minimum $200) may total less than a thousand dollars; however, he joked that now that the mount has won an award it would be worth "upward of a million dollars."
Gayle Zimmerman, Mark's wife, said the bighorn sheep was pretty special because it was shot by his brother-in-law with a long bow.
"It took him 26 years to draw the license," Gayle said of her brother John Robson. "It was the first bighorn sheep that Mark has mounted and took a first place with it, so that was quite an accomplishment."
Drew Turner can be contacted at 970-824-7031, ext 211, or firstname.lastname@example.org