Cody Wray is quickly becoming a master of his craft.
“Granddaddy did a good bit on this one,” said Wray, 32, as he stretched fur over the plastic mold of a deer’s head. “I’m setting the ear, so I’ve rebuilt the muscles with clay, and that takes creating the creases in the muscle tissue with your hands,” said Wray, carefully reconstructing, with strikingly life-like verisimilitude, the animal’s serene countenance.
The family’s workshop, Artistic Taxidermy, is on Peartree Road, just northeast of Pontotoc, and it’s a cross between Noah’s Ark and a Bass Pro Shop. Deer, alligators, foxes, a bear, a stringer of bluegill, a skunk, a beaver, a squirrel carrying a nut like a football and striking the Heisman pose, and waterfowl galore are just a handful of the wonderments peering out from every corner, as if they’d been summoned by Snow White. Wray’s grandfather, Jackie Russell, started the family’s taxidermy business in 1967. His son, Gene, also works alongside Wray.
On this particular day, Wray’s prize piece was a wood duck drake. The bird was encased in glass and royally resplendent, with a regal, pine-green head, a proud, chestnut breast, and a white throat that gave the four-year-old bird the appearance of wearing a cravat. It was quite a site and impressive enough to earn multiple awards, including first place in the Waterfowl Masters Division, as well as Best in Show and the Carlos Adams Award at the prestigious Texas Taxidermy Association Convention on June 25. That means that Pontotoc’s Cody Wray is the Texas State Champion of waterfowl taxidermy.
“A belt-buckle serves as the trophy, and they’re supposed to send it to me,” said Wray, with a wry smile and a wink. “I’ll have to wear it to next year’s event.”
Wray’s duck took top honors amid a field of stiff competition (pun intended) from throughout the country. Each summer the Texas Convention draws top talent in the taxidermy world, and winners are considered among the elite in their craft. Wray’s wood duck earned the top score of 90 out of a possible 100 points, with 135 judging criteria considered, including head and body alignment, overall balance, and the correct use of color.
Wray’s previous awards include a blue wing teal mount that garnered the 2015 Mississippi Taxidermy Association “Woody” Award, and McKenzie’s Taxidermy Supply Taxidermists’ Choice 2015 Best Bird Award for Mississippi.
In an adjoining room, Wray pointed out his 2019 prize winning pintail drake, which he set in flight, its gray and white body sleek and frozen in a simulacrum of soaring. The bird earned a People’s Choice Award for Best in State in Missouri in 2019.