■ Big Cat Taxidermy — 51 Country Lane, Craig, CO — life-size large cats
■ Bullseye Taxidermy — 1445 Yampa Ave., Craig, CO — game heads, shoulder mounts
■ Gunsmoke Taxidermy — 37399 N. Highway 13, Craig, CO — big-game mounts
■ Mountain Man — 1176 Yampa Ave., Craig, CO — life-size, predators
In taxidermy, making the animal look real and putting it in a pose usually is enough to satisfy a customer.
But area taxidermists go above and beyond the basic design, and they’re winning awards for their effort.
Bullseye Taxidermy owner Mark Zimmerman has won Best in Category (best work of its type) awards in New Mexico, Wyoming and Colorado. His work on mule deer has been especially strong, with more wins than anyone else at the Colorado show.
Leland Reinier and Steve Rolan, of Big Cat Taxidermy, have won Best in Category or Best in Show (the top animal of any type) in Utah, Colorado, Virginia and Florida since 2010.
At Mountain Man Taxidermy, owner Scott Moore had a first-place and multiple seconds in the professional division at the Colorado competition in 2012.
These awards come with a great deal of prestige. “When you win a Best of category or more, you can really say you’ve done something,” Zimmerman said. “Category is a bit more prestigious because that’s all the game heads at the show.”
The success is proving Craig to be one of the best cities in the state for high-quality taxidermy.
“There are probably more winning taxidermists in this immediate area than anywhere else in the state,” Rolan said. “It’s kind of unique.”
Rolan, who has worked in taxidermy for more than 20 years, attributes much of his success to having local competition.
“We push each other. (Leland is) trying to beat me, and I’m trying to beat him,” he said. “Our success probably proves that we’ve benefited each other. We bounce ideas off each other all the time. In the old days, taxidermists didn’t share information.”
Dean Malizia, owner of Gunsmoke Taxidermy, has chosen not to enter his work in competitions, but churns out a couple hundred mounts per year. Malizia also uses his expertise to teach taxidermy courses, and he believes that taxidermists in Craig are second to none.
“The good hunting brings out good taxidermists,” he said. “What’s unique is that we’re all able to stay busy but also turn out great work. I don’t know of any other place in the United States that offers taxidermy at this level.”
Rolan said one reason for the top quality work is that taxidermists in town stop in each other’s shops and exchange tips and tricks to improve their work. “We’ll head over to Mark (Zimmerman’s) or Scott (Moore’s) shop, or they might come here and pick our brains,” Rolan said. “It’s pretty much an open door.”
Moore also said the learning to be gained from taxidermists across the country is a major benefit to entering competitions.
“The game head judge this year is one of the country’s top mule deer taxidermists,” Moore said. “So the information he can give you when he’s critiquing your mount is invaluable. Sometimes the smallest tips make the biggest difference in the end result.”
Zimmerman feels he has improved as a taxidermist because of all the local talent and his competition experience.
“There are a lot of good taxidermists around here. The competition is stiff,” he said. “But that’s good because it makes every one of us jump our work up a little. It’s like anything else. If you don’t have competition, why get better?”
Reinier and Rolan are taking pieces to the World Taxidermy Championships in May 2013 to test their work against international competition. They hope to come home with hardware, but also learn from “the best of the best,” Reinier said.
In the meantime, they’ll be able to improve their work just from the competition in Craig.
“There’s no place as dense with talent as we are,” Reineir said. “You can learn a lot from the level of education here. If we all get better, the industry will get better. That’s the goal.”