Union grad helps with school's big buck contest

With the first day of deer hunting season treated like a major holiday in this area, and with school’s closed for a day or two each year due to buck season, it’s no secret that hunting remains a popular pastime for many local youngsters and their families.

To tap into that hunting fever, a Union High School teacher, with the help of a former student who is now licensed in taxidermy, held a big buck contest at the school last month.

This contest has a twist, however, compared with other contests that crown winners by the weight of the deer.

“Everyone around here does the big buck contest, but instead of doing it on the weight, I wanted everyone to have a chance,” Union teacher Ken Gibbs said last week, noting that he wanted to encourage all young hunters to take part.

All they had to do was submit a photo of their deer, which were posted in the school through the Christmas break.

More than 25 students were successful with their hunts this year, with many girls as well as boys.

“It’s not a boys’ sport in this school,” Gibbs said. “We had a lot of girls too.”

From all the entries, three prize winners were randomly selected.

Seventh-grader Roger Blystone was the first place winner, with Emma Pritchard receiving a second place prize and Doug Lawrence finishing in third.

Blystone, who said he bagged both a buck and a doe this year, was the lucky winner of a free European-style taxidermy mount of his deer’s skull and antlers.

The gift was donated by 2016 Union graduate Jonathan Best of Rimersburg.

Best, a hunter himself, said he got into taxidermy because his hunting successes were getting too costly for him to pay to have them mounted. He learned how to do the European-style taxidermy work, obtaining his state license a couple of years ago.

Best explained that his style of taxidermy differs from the traditional mounts which preserve the animal, fur and all, from the antlers down to the shoulders. While those mounts can cost upwards of $600 each, Best said the European-style mounts run closer to $50 and preserve the skull and antlers.

Another advantage, he said, is that his style of taxidermy doesn’t take up as much space.

After perfecting the art, Best said his friends started coming to him to have their deer turned into trophies, and he is using the extra income to help pay for books and gas during his semesters studying petroleum engineering at Clarion University. Now in his sophomore year, Best said he did more than 100 mounts this year as part of his business, Best European Taxidermy.

Gibbs said he spoke with Best in October about the school’s contest, and Best volunteered to donate a free mount to the winner.

Gibbs said that outdoor sports like hunting are very big in the Union area, and that the school works a lot with the Rimersburg Rod & Gun Club to promote the sports to the young generation.

“It’s nice to celebrate it and get that support,” Gibbs said, noting that he hopes to continue the buck contest next year.

Source: By JOSH WALZAK L-V Editor