VALDOSTA -- Turning a trophy kill into a lifelike mount for display is an art form, and Stevie Young has taken it to award-winning heights.

In July, Young won a second place in the National Taxidermy Association's open division for his mounted Drake wood duck. He also placed second the year before in the Georgia Taxidermy Association's competition. In 2005, he intends to go for the gold at the World Show in Springfield, Mo.

"The judges look at the position, the character of the bird, and even take a light and shine it underneath and all over looking for imperfections and bad stitches," he said. "I have about 75 hours in that bird. I put as much time into it as I can afford to spend."

Although he has done mounts on a variety of animals, Young is concentrating on birds. "I won't quit and go on to something else until I've got a world title on a bird," he said.

Billing himself as a wildlife artist, Young specializes in ducks, quail, turkey and pheasant, but he will try anything. "I once stuffed an albino Bobwhite quail for Ted Turner," he said.

Young does his mounts out of a workshop at his home and also freelances his work to other shops around the state. He is planning to open his own taxidermy shop in Valdosta in the next few months.

An avid hunter, Young said he has always been fascinated with taxidermy, and learned the skill through an intensive training course and through trial and error.

He said one of the biggest issues, particularly with birds, is that hunters don't know how to handle them so that they are well preserved by the time he receives them to mount. "With birds, it's very important to touch them by the feet. That way, you don't mess up the wings, head or tail. I suggest putting them in pantyhose, which keeps the feathers down, and tuck the head under the wing before you freeze it."

Once he gets the bird, he thaws it out and skins it, carefully slicing down the breast bone and loosening the skin. He cleans the birds several times with various agents, including Dawn dishwashing liquid, to ensure the fat and grease are out before starting the mounting process.

Young uses various commercial forms for the body and head and uses special wires in the wings. He painstakingly paints the heads, stitches the body, and back combs the feathers just right to cover the stitches.

A small mount runs about $175 and larger mounts, like the large strutting turkeys, can run $500 and higher.

"In a 12- to 14-hour day, I can do three small birds. For a turkey, it takes about 12 to 15 hours," he said, adding that the birds he takes to a competition require much more time and work.

To contact Business Editor Kay Harris, please call 244-3400, ext. 280.

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