More than a year ago, Tim Thorn of Columbus killed an alligator and tore it to bits. Now he”s putting it back together.
An avid hunter all his life and a self-made taxidermist since 1983, Thorn is tackling the biggest critter of his career: a 10-foot, 276-pound alligator.
“I”ve wanted to catch one my whole life. Hunting and fishing is all I do,” said Thorn.
The chance to claim his prize was an accomplishment in itself. Since Mississippi recently began allowing alligator hunting at the Ross Barnett Reservoir near Jackson, between Madison and Rankin counties, the state holds a lottery each year to give a select number of hunters a chance to bag a gator.
Thorn says he enters such game lotteries all the time, but last summer was the first time his number was selected.
So he traveled to Ross Barnett with his wife Amy, son Ryan and brother-in-law Tim Clouse all in tow for a three-day hunting expedition.
“We made it a camping weekend,” said Amy Thorn.
She was amazed by the number of alligators living at the reservoir.
“You turned the spotlight on and it was like ”Deliverance.” You see those red eyes. They”re like little demons,” she said.
After an eight-hour course on gator hunting and a rainy day with no luck, Thorn and his crew spotted a big one on the second night as they trolled around in the middle of the night.
Thorn managed to hook the alligator, which pulled his boat around the lake for more than an hour before the crew was able to reel it close to the boat.
Snaring the 10-footer was an ordeal in itself, costing Thorn several hooks and one snapped fishing pole before they finally got the alligator close enough to the boat for Thorn”s son to shoot it in the back of the head with a shotgun.
After skinning his prize, Thorn treated the hide to preserve it. Just Saturday he began the process of clearing the soft tissue from the gator”s head.
Thorn”s plan is to put all 10 feet of his alligator in a display case in his game room with his countless other mounted prizes.
“Every redneck”s got a duck or a deer mounted. I”m the only redneck with a gator,” said Thorn.
How did you get involved in taxidermy?
I got into it back in ”83. I looked in the back of a Field and Stream magazine and got a Northwestern Taxidermy booklet you could order and do a little correspondence course.
After than, I went all over the country asking everyone I could find about it. In ”84, I started competing in (taxidermy competitions) and won a few ribbons. In ”86, I started doing it full time.
Did chopping animals to pieces every make you queasy?
No. I never had any problem.
Did you have to learn about anatomy or biology?
Basically, I learned by practice, by cutting and skinning. I read a little bit, saw some diagrams. But as far as the way you skin them and flesh them, I”ve been doing that since I was a little kid.
What”s the strangest thing you”ve been asked to stuff?
I had a guy dig up his dog and bring it to me after it had been buried. I never did attempt to look at it. He told me it was in a garbage bag. I wouldn”t touch it.
What”s been your most difficult project?
It”s this alligator. It”s so big and time-consuming. I”ve been trying to find someone to help me for over a year.
What materials are used to stuff animals?
The mold is usually polyurethane. But you can make molds out of anything structural. Back when I started, people made them with paper maché and wire. The eyes are just glass eyes.
What are prices like?
I set my price at $375 for a deer head. I try to charge the same as my friends that do it. I don”t think my work is better than theirs, but my work is as good as theirs.
The molds have doubled in price, close to $50 each. The eyes cost around $8 each.
Do you get more business in the South?
There is a lot of business because we”re in the South. Hunting is a tradition. But taxidermists in the South don”t make as much as they do up North or out West where the big game is. A deer head out there might cost $500-700.
How long do you plan to do this?
This is something I”m going to do when I retire. I stay in it because I really enjoy it, but it”s a lot of hard work.
It”s like you”re making a model or painting a picture. You see this hide, see a big ball of fur, but when you get to the finished product and put their eyes in and make them look natural, I really like that. It”s like you”re bringing them to life.
Jason Browne was previously a reporter for The Dispatch.