Tag Archives: Redhead

Taking Wildlife Art to New Levels

Have you ever been turned down by a taxidermist? I have. And three duck mounts and several hours of trading hunting stories later, I know why.

Mark Benfield is the best waterfowl taxidermist I’ve ever come across. It’s that simple.

A hunting buddy who felt the same way about his work recommended Benfield, who owns and operates Mark’s Waterfowl Creations in Lincolnton, NC, to me several years ago. So imagine how excited I was to take my first bull canvasback to him after it made the delicate journey from North Dakota. Imagine my surprise when Benfield spent less than a minute looking at the duck before telling me he wouldn’t be able to mount it.

The most recent additions to my game wall - widgeon and redhead mounted by Mark.

“I’m sorry?” I said.

“I could mount that bird and you’re never going to like it,” Benfield said that day. “The head color is not in full plume and I’m not going to mount something that you have to spend the rest of your life wishing you wouldn’t have gotten it mounted.”

Benfield has a scoring system for birds he takes in and if it doesn’t fall on the right end of his spectrum for mounting, he will tell his customers not to mount the bird. It’s not that Benfield is arrogant or overworked that he has to turn it away. He doesn’t want his customers to be unhappy.

Imagine how hard I worked to shoot a duck that would meet his expectations for mounting. The following season, Sage’s first as my hunting buddy, saw us shoot two beautiful drake woodies that I knew had to meet his threshold. And both did so I chose to mount the first duck Sage ever retrieved. Lucky for me, it turned out to be one of the most beautiful mounts, of any species, I’ve ever seen.

The most beautiful mount I've ever seen. I am biased!

And on a coastal trip in North Carolina last year, I was fortunate to shoot a drake redhead and drake widgeon that made their way to Mark’s taxidermy shop. And instead of missing the scale, the widgeon actually topped Mark’s scoring system – a feat that seemed to impress even the best bird taxidermist this blogger has ever seen. I opted to get the ducks mounted in a dead mount against an old barn-board frame I built using wood my buddy Kenneth and I took off an old barn a few years back. I couldn’t be happier with his work on those birds as well.

I’m not the only one who has noted Mark’s work, evidenced by his 2007 National Championship in waterfowl and Blue Ribbon Awards in both the World and State taxidermy competitions.

For you out-of-state hunters, I promise the shipping prices to get Mark a bird for consideration would pay off when any mount is completed. He is truly that good.

Tales … I need to send congratulations to my fellow outdoors blogger, Nick Pinizzotto, who connected on a sharp looking 10-point on Pennsylvania’s archery opener earlier this month. Nick, who blogs at www.whitetailwriter.com/rublines/, is done bowhunting until we meet up with him at Riverview Outfitters in Hancock County, Ill., in four weeks. He reports that he’s got plenty of videographer duties remaining for his fellow PA buddies.

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The eyes can tell a story …

As my buddy John tells it, my eyes got real big!

We were hunting Pamlico Sound and were probably getting much closer to picking up our decoys than we were to the start of our hunt.

As hunters do, we started to relax from the ever-ready stance and glance of searching the sky for birds headed our direction. The fog was starting to roll into the Sound and the morning’s rain seemed to provide its last spitter upon these early risers.

Sage and I were on the bow of John’s boat – making no added effort to conceal ourselves into the covered blind area. Our hunting spot that morning was some 20 yards to our left, but a lull in activity led to a chat with the fellas. My Benelli was leaning against the frame of the blind and the only thing being shot at the moment was bull.

Sage waits on ducks at the front of John's boat. I was standing next to her when the Redhead dropped from the sky.

I first caught movement when the bird was fully cupped and dropping like a 10 lb. weight over our decoys – a familiar site for anyone that regularly hunts divers. That’s when my eyes got real big! John, who had just cracked a cola and was as relaxed as the rest of us, knew there was a bird over the spread. My eyes said that loud and clear.

I yelled “Holy (somethingorother)” and threw up the Benelli as fast as my arms could. I snapped a shot off – not sure I was aiming in the right direction. The bird fell.

“That’s a beautiful redhead,” John shouted.

Sage had the bird in her mouth and was returning to the boat shortly thereafter.

Sage, retrieving the Redhead

The duck was one of two birds that will make its way on my game room wall from this trip. Also shot was the prettiest American Widgeon ever taken by your faithful blogger.

For some odd reason, I did not take a lot of photos of either bird, which is quite a bit out of my norm.

The said Redhead

I’m hoping to get at least one more duck hunt in this year to call it the 2009-2010 season. Because we did not get drawn for our Georgia hog hunt, it looks like the next time afield to chase wild game will be with the Spring Turkey season.