Years of practice mount man in top taxidermy ranks

April 16, 1998|By RICHARD F. BELISLE, Waynesboro

by Joe Crocetta / staff photographer

see the enlargement

Gary Smith

WAYNESBORO, Pa. - It beat out more than 60 competitors to win Pennsylvania's top three awards.

The head of a doe eating an apple ended a 15-year-long quest by Gary L. Smith of Tomstown Road, who mounted the specimen for entrance in the Pennsylvania Taxidermists Association competition.

A blue ribbon hanging off the base of the mount declares Smith as winner of the coveted Master of Masters award. A plaque names him Pennsylvania's Taxidermist of the Year. Both awards came from the association.


The mount also was named the Deer Head of the Year by the Pennsylvania Game Commission.

Smith, 43, has been mounting animals and birds large and small as a part-time business since 1980. In 1983, he started competing, a route that garnered him more than 40 red and blue ribbons on his way to the top.

Smith started stuffing birds and animals as a kid. When he was 13, he saw a magazine ad for a correspondence course from the Northwest School of Taxidermy.

"It wasn't much of a course, but it got me started. I guess most people start out that way. Today they have videos and seminars," he said.

Smith's day job is running the public water system for the Washington Township Municipal Authority.

He does taxidermy work in his basement. One can tell there's something different about Smith's basement from the four big freezers that line the walls.

Most of his customers want deer heads mounted. He said he works on 50 to 60 a year.

"I work every night and every weekend. This used to be a hobby, but it's really a business now," he said.

Hunters drop off the head and skin of their quarry, which Smith quickly peels from the skull for tanning. Smith uses commercial plastic foam forms for most of his mounts. For special ones, like his show specimens, he sculpts the forms from modeling clay.

He works on small animals like squirrels and foxes and big ones like deer, bear, moose, antelope, caribou and mountain lions. He stuffs their heads or their whole bodies, depending on what his customer wants.

Turkeys and other game birds plus trophy bass, trout and other fish also come into his shop.

Deer heads and turkeys cost about $265, Smith said. Whole animal mounts begin at $1,200, he said.

His showroom is ringed with dozens of deer that he has shot with guns and bows over the years.

His wife, Darlene, and two of the couple's four children have won amateur taxidermy awards in Pennsylvania competition.

Darlene Smith said her husband's most exotic work to date was restoration of the mounted body of Misty of Chincoteague, the pony made famous in Marguerite Henry's novel. 

Gary Smith then stuffed Misty's colt, Stormy. Both now stand in a museum on Chincoteague Island, Darlene Smith said.

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