Thursday, December 17, 2009

Beardzilla Lives!

I mentioned in a previous blog that my niece and I video taped, on the opening day of the 2009 Indiana deer firearm season,  a tom turkey with an unusually wide beard.  I won't describe him any further - the video can do all the talking.  Let's just say, in Bill Winke fashion, that this one will be on the "hit list" come April, 2010.

And the follow-up good news is that Ricky (brother) and Brandon (nephew) saw this bird and his running buddy on December 12 while checking muskrat traps.  They let me know about their sighting in a very simple text message - Beardzilla Lives!

I will note, if you listen to the audio, that this bird initially fooled me.  I thought he had multiple beards, but that his overall beard length wasn't exceptionally long.  By the time he left the field I'd come to my senses.  I think he has just one really wide beard, and that it's easily longer than average.  Doesn't really matter - he's a hoss!

Head Case!

As mentioned in a previous post, I think there are lots of reasons that a well-constructed full-mount decoy out-performs all other types of deeks.  But it all boils down to realism, and one of the principal components in making a decoy look life-like is the head. 

Thrill Kill Decoys are built using cast heads, as opposed to freeze-dried heads.  We do this simply because we feel the cast heads are more durable and thus last longer.  They're also fairly easy to repair (when your niece puts holes in them while gunning down her spring longbeard).

A finished hen head and an unpainted tom head

Taxidermists that use cast heads can purchase pre-painted heads, or choose to paint their own.  For me, it takes about 90 minutes to complete a paint job, start to finish.  (Full-time taxidermists can probably cut that in half.)  Comparing the value of my time and materials to the added cost of a pre-painted head (about $25 more than an unpainted head), I feel I benefit financially from doing my own painting.  But more than that, using an airbrush to recreate a head color scheme that fools live birds is professionally rewarding, and that's hard to put a price on.

An unpainted head comes to the shop as an essentially white casting, with ultra-realistic glass eyes pre-set.  We prep the head to insure our laquer-based paint will readily stick, and then begin the painting process.  When we've finished, we clean the eyes of overspray and let the head dry before spraying a sealer on it (normally about 24 hours post-painting).  It's amazing how a decoy head "comes to life" once the overspray has been removed from the eyes - another reason why full-mount decoys are so much more realistic than cheap plastic birds.

A wide range of paint colors are needed to paint a turkey head - tom or hen

A small "hobby" compressor will easily drive an airbrush

If you have any artistic ability, you might want to give head painting a try.  If nothing else, you can use an airbrush to repaint the heads on your plastic deeks.  After all, plastic decoys are mass-produced, which means they are "fast-produced", and in the overseas shops that most deeks are made in, quantity, not quality, is the objective.

After all, if you were a wary old gobbler (or hen), which one would most likely fool you?

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

A Turkey Hunter Is Born!

My best turkey hunting buddy (next to my niece, Baleigh), is one Andy Edwards of Pulaski, Tennessee. 

A couple of years back he had the great good fortune of finding a beautiful girl (Audra) with limited vision and even more limited judgement, and eventually convinced her to marry him.  He outkicked his coverage, married up, fell in it.  You get the point.

Well, his life got even better today.  He and Audra welcomed their first child into the world at approximately 7:00 a.m. today.  And Andrew Henry Edwards, at 8 lb 11.8 oz and 22.25 inches long, is a BIG addition to the Edwards' family. 

Congratulations to Andy and Audra, and welcome to Andrew, who I know will grow up lucky to have a daddy that loves the outdoors, and sharing outdoor experiences with those around him.  In that respect, baby Andrew and I are both blessed to have Andy in our lives.

Friday, December 4, 2009


Now that it's starting to get cold out (finally), I'll be stoking the basement wood stove more often and spending nights and weekends putting decoys together. I ordered supplies from Van Dyke's Taxidermy Supply today, and stopped by the local WalMart and Lowe's Home Improvement store for other odds and ends.

Andy Edwards holding a tom I killed in Tennessee in spring, 2009.  His spurs will stay at home, but the rest of the bird will be a decoy available for purchase in the coming weeks!

There are still a few client-killed birds to turn into deeks, but I have several donated birds that will be mounted for sale to whoever wants them. The 2010 pricing will remain $300 for a tom or hen decoy, and $500 for a tom/hen pair. Anyone that's interested is welcome to email me at

And as always, if you'd like to know more about full-mount decoys than this blog tells you, just drop me a line!  Just don't ask for trade secrets!

2008 Hen Decoy covered with our custom carrying bag

Propper skinning is the first step to any good turkey mount.  Email for tips!


I've never been able to decide which I'd pick if I had to choose between spring turkey hunting and fall bowhunting for whitetails. But I'm leaning toward spring turkeys (at least now that the rut is over).

Friends know that I have an itchy trigger finger, so despite hunting some of the best whitetail habitat in northern Indiana, I tend to shoot 120 inch bucks with a bow rather than waiting it out, risking an unnotched tag come season's end. This year was no different!  On November 8 I shot a decent 3.5 year old 6 x 4 buck that will gross around 130 and net around 120.  No great shakes.

But luckily, just like in 2008, my brother upheld family honor in the deer woods.  His 2009 deer, a 6 x 6 with a brow tine sticker, will run in the mid-140's.  But he used a shotgun, so there has to be some "shotgun shrinkage" thrown in!  How 'bout a standard 20 inches?  Or maybe 1 inch for every yard outside of bow range the deer was standing when he got shot (about 50 yards/inches, in this case).  Either way, it was a beautiful animal (and I'm probably just jealous!).

Best of all though is the giant 4 x 4, with between 9 and 11 scoreable stickers, that happened to get himself run over on State Road 14 on the east side of Winamac, Indiana.  This buck died in the yard of my brother's inlaws.  His mom-in-law called him to see if he wanted it, and I was lucky enough to get a text to see if I'd help recover and skin this deer (Ricky and his daughter were on their way out for an afternoon deer hunt).  One road-kill tag from the local police later, we had a goregous European mount prepping in my brother's pole building.  He'll tape out around 170 gross non-typical inches.  It's too bad a brute like this had to meet his fate on the business end of a bumper, but at least he ended up in the hands of a family that will truly appreciate him.

And thanks to deer season, my niece and I were able to get video of a tom turkey on November 14 that we hope sticks around until spring.  In the days to come I'll post video that shows a tom with the widest beard I've ever seen - probably 2.5 inches across at the base.  And since I preach that beards don't really matter, I'll mention he had big-ole spurs, too!