Once more the convention season is off and running and the excitement is slowing building. While the how-to classes presented at conventions are a valuable part of the show, the competition part is still THE big draw. As the sole instigator of taxidermy competitions, (in 1976) it was my purpose to provide an opportunity for all practitioners of the art to exhibit their skills and achieve public recognition. Traditionally, if you couldn’t claim you had trained at a large firm like Jonas Bros. or in a museum, it was harder for smaller operators to advertise their experience and competence to customers. With the advent of competitions, ribbons and trophies in one’s studio show room cured that overnight. As the sole innovator of these contests, I had to devise a fair and credible way to measure the technical accuracy as well as the visual artistry of entries. I decided the best way to do this was to devise a list of criteria with numerical point values which a judge would record on a scoresheet rather than using the excellent, very good, good, fair, yardstick. It seemed that this was the best way to asses an entrant’s skills without disappointment or controversy. I felt like I was going where no man had gone before. That I succeeded on a grand scale is a matter of record. All competitions today still use the same basic categories and scoring system but not the rigorous standard that a competitor has to do it all himself. Back then bird and fish men were still mostly wrapping excelsior bodies and carving their own fish blanks but commercial paper forms were still widely used for game heads and lifesize mammals and it took lots of skill (and work) to reshape existing paper forms and perfectly model eyes, noses and feet up to museum standards. Too few could execute the Akeley method (model, mold and cast) or were well practiced with wrapping or carving techniques. The hard challenges of those early competitions as demonstrations of practiced skill still exist, but no competition today requires that all competitors must make their own forms or wrap, carve or cast their forms in all categories. It isn’t necessary either, as most associations are comprised of mostly non-professionals and hobbyists. Taxidermy Review competition judges were instructed to grade the degree of the competitor’s skill as evidenced in the mount, rather than grade the mount per se as something distinct from the skills that produced it. In other words, the competitor had to do it all himself with the concession that glass eyes and plastic mouth parts, which required industrial machines to produce, were a fair and logical substitute for the natural parts. As state associations organized and put on competitions, the emphasis was solely on the mounts themselves with little particular regard to the skills it takes to create them. Now if an entry is made up entirely of a supplier provided form, ready-made earliners, noses and mouth parts, or a fish blank with fake fins, or a waterfowl with a fake head and feet, it doesn’t matter. To this generation of practitioners and judges the mount itself is the only arbiter of excellence, no matter who engineered everything but the cape and antlers. This may sound like an unnecessary distinction between skill and results, but master taxidermists like Jean Roll and our late friend Jan Van Hoesen, and others too numerous to name here, are still celebrated for their skills which showed trend setting virtuosity in results. (With an equal nod to Carolyn Brak-Dolny.) Today’s competitions now seem to be a test of the average competitor’s ability to select a popular form and how skillfully he/she integrates a fake nose (read artificial if you prefer) or other prefab parts into his entry. Realistically, the clean application of a skin over a form is easily and quickly learned and not that difficult to master. Hundreds upon thousands of blue ribbons since 1976 have testified to the fact. Don’t misunderstand, my facts or opinion in no way denigrates anyone who has won his ribbons under existing rules. But when rules in sporting events become too easy to win, they raise the bar to increase the challenges. Today’s taxidermy competition managers keep lowering the bar by adding superfluous categories and personality awards, (often without membership’s knowledge or approval) just to create more winners. Nevertheless if you want to put real spin on your chances of winning a blue ribbon, why not rely on supply companies to give you a legitimate edge? And when you’re up front at the awards banquet collecting your award and a generous check which covers the expenses in your winning mount, remember to thank the people behind the scenes who made your win possible. Suppliers would appreciate the courtesy. And suppliers can thank me for invigorating their industry by providing perfect incentives through competitions to produce new and better products at a time when the supply industry was as lethargic as fish in a pond covered in duckweed. Lastly, read my book, A Conversation With Carl Akeley. It’s full of information and reference to sources that will boost your confidence toward a winning edge. Small differences in ability can translate into enormous differences in results. Go for it and good luck.