2022 NWTF Grand National Taxidermy Champions 

Master of Masters Division Turkey 
Michael Mizelle’s strutting Osceola walking down a gracefully curved piece of wood and showing off an impressive, dagger-like spur and 12-inch beard was judged the top bird in the 2022 Grand National Taxidermy Contest. 

Mizelle, a St. Cloud, Florida resident, specializes in Osceolas, mounting a couple hundred each year as a full-time taxidermist (www.blackwingturkeys.com). He said he mapped out on paper the full composition of his piece prior to touching a feather. The sweeping curve of the wood the turkey is designed to bring the point of focus back to the gobbler’s head, he said. Positioning the bird on one foot, the lifted foot accentuating the gobbler’s mean 1 1/2-inch spur, ratcheted up the degree of difficulty.

Mizelle shot the turkey in Osceola County, calling it an “exceptional representative of the species.”

He said he invests considerable time in his competition mounts – some 40-60 hours in this effort.

“You want to create something that is eye-catching, on top of mounting a really nice bird,” Mizelle said. “At this level you have got to cross all your t’s and dot all your i’s.”

Getting the tracking of the feathers perfect, with the separation just right, on a mount such as this, is something some people say is impossible, Mizelle noted, adding, “I agree with them sometimes. But when you look at a real bird and the way they strut, they do so with some separation, some ventilation between the rows (of feathers). That look is something we’re all trying to achieve. I’m not sure any taxidermist, including myself, has totally nailed it. My main competition is a real bird – I haven’t beat him yet.”

Mizelle called the Grand Nationals an “awesome show.” 

He said the taxidermy industry, especially the people who mount turkeys and do it well, are a close-knit family.

“We all know each other and help each other out,” Mizelle said. 
        
White-tailed Deer Master of Masters Division
Kentuckian Butch Irwin is a repeat winner in the Grand National White-tailed Deer Master of Masters Division with his mount of a high-racked buck in an upright, left-turn, open-mouth pose. 

The Albany, Kentucky, native said the deer was one he took in 2020 during a hunt on Coal Bank Mountain. While many pedestal mounts feature some sort of habitat theme, often with some vegetation, Irwin honored his hunt by topping the pedestal with lumps of coal from the mountain. 

He wanted the mount to have a different look than many of traditional mounts. He built onto the back of a basic shoulder mount form and added the beginning of legs. He also made his own ear liners and cast the tongue. “It was all handmade, pretty much,” he said. 

The deer has a relaxed open mouth pose, something Irwin call “a natural look” for the animal. “He’s not chewing or anything,” Irwin said. “I like leaving the mouth open with nothing in other than the tongue. Putting something in it, as if chewing, might look like you’re trying to cover something up. 

“You need an open mouth in this master of masters division,” he added. “It just takes so much more work and gives the judge a lot more to look at. If you do it well, though, it can accelerate you to the top of the competition.”

Irwin’s winning mount has racked up other accolades, taking top honors in, among others, the Missouri and Kentucky Taxidermy Association’s annual competitions late last year. 
Irwin began his taxidermy career in 2011 after graduating from The Pennsylvania Institute of Taxidermy. 

He first entered the NWTF competition in 2011, working his way up the competition ladder. [https://www.facebook.com/Irwins-Taxidermy-100902925657476]

Of his back-to-back championship finishes, Irwin said, “You never know if you’ll ever get to win it once, let alone twice. It kind of makes you speechless.”  

Hodge on a Masters Division Roll
Cody Hodge of Louisville, Kentucky began mounting deer in 2015 and has quickly risen to the top of his game. This year he won the White-tailed Deer Masters Division Best of Show, Best Open Mouth Deer and Best Closed Mouth Deer honors. He only began competing at the professional level in 2020 and won the Open Mouth competition that year. He also won top honors this year for Best Group in the Wild Turkey Professional Division.

His Best of Show deer mount was his closed mouth entry, unique in that it featured a buck still in velvet with a summertime cape, still sleek and glossy with the deer not yet decked out with its winter coat. The deer was taken on Hodge’s farm on opening day of Kentucky’s archery season by one of his best friends.

“Everybody always tells me, ‘Boy, don’t compete with a short-haired deer,’” Hodge said, “but to me, with a short-haired deer, you’re showing some of your skills. 

The deer had not begun to shed the velvet on its antlers. Hodge freeze-dried them to preserve the natural look. 

The pose is an upright, left turn, using a mannikin provided by Ohio Taxidermy Supply. The base of the pedestal mount is adorned with items collected along the creek bottom where the deer was taken.    

Hodge said he mounts all kinds of animals in his taxidermy business, but white-tailed deer are his specialty.  

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