Cottontail mount WINS SCOPE Award at SCAT

Pat Robertson, left, presents the 2021 SCOPE Outstanding Taxidermy Award to Martin Bess, center, with SCAT President Chuck Mulkey, right.

A multimedia piece featuring a mounted cottontail rabbit in a running pose was selected as the winner of the 2021 SCOPE Award for Outstanding Taxidermy at the annual Show and Competition of the South Carolina Association of Taxidermy in Columbia.

Behind the mount created by Martin Bess of near Cherryville, N.C., was a painting of a beagle chasing the rabbit across a field.

“I selected the piece based on my own life experiences of rabbit hunting and participating in beagle field trials,” said SCOPE member Pat Robertson, who has represented SCOPE at the annual SCAT Show and Competition for more than 25 years.

Robertson told the group that he grew up with beagles and began rabbit hunting at an early age with his Dad and uncles. As an adult he began participating in beagle field trials and currently competes in field trials in the Carolinas and Georgia with his wife Jan.

He related a personal outdoor story that helps describe why he chose the taxidermy piece for the SCOPE Award that year. At this year’s awards luncheon he opened by saying”

“I’d like to tell you a story about my Uncle Earl. There were two things you could count on with Uncle Earl. If it was spring, summer and early fall he would be fishing on Clarks Hill Lake every Saturday. But from Thanksgiving tuntil after Valentine’s Day he would be in the woods with his beagles, rabbit hunting.”

Robertson said his Dad and Uncle Earl fostered that love of fishing and especially of rabbit hunting in him from an early age. As Uncle Earl neared the end of life he gave his old hunting gun to him – a Stevens 12 gauge his wife, Martha, had given him as a wedding present in the late 1940s.

“The next rabbit season after we laid Uncle Earl to rest, I went along with a group of friends on a rabbit hunt in the Lowcountry. As soon as the beagles bailed out of the back of the trucks they jumped a rabbit and carried it almost out of hearing. Most of the hunters went with them, but I sat on the tailgate and waited.”

He did not have to wait long.

“Sure enough, soon I could hear the clamor of the beagles in chase as the rabbit made a circle and came back towards where he was jumped. I loaded the old Stevens and waited. The cottontail bolted across the dirt road ahead of the hounds and I swing the old Stevens and squeezed the trigger.

“I picked up the rabbit to take home for dinner in honor of Uncle Earl, unloaded the old Stevens and put it back in the case. It has not been fired since.,” he said.

“By now, you all know I have selected the mount of the running rabbit with the painting of the beagle in chase behind it. It is interesting and certainly innovative to combine the two art forms – taxidermy and painting – to tell a story.”

Storytelling, he said, is a trait shared by taxidermy and the outdoors media.

“We both tell the stories of great outdoor experiences. We in the media tell it through the written word, pictures, videos and other means. Taxidermists actually recreate the experience through the beauty of their taxidermy.”

The story of his winning piece, Bess said, is a tribute to the best beagle he ever had, a dog named Frank.

“I’ve had beagles for as long as I can remember, at least 65 years. And Frank was the finest beagle I ever had,” he said.

“Frank lived to be 15 years old and there was no dog like him. He could jump a rabbit, circle it, work a check. He did not outrun his nose. If there was a loss, eight times out of ten he would pick up that check,” he said.

“I just wanted to pay respect to Frank for what he was.”\

When he was a youngster Bess saw a painting of a beagle chasing a rabbit on the cover of North Carolina Wildlife Magazine and he used that as inspiration for his multimedia display. A retired mechanic/engine builder, now a farmer by trade, he downplayed his artistic abilities.

“I just do one or two pieces a year for the taxidermy shows and I do it just to hang out with the taxidermists,” he said. “They are some of the finest people I have ever met.

Admittedly not a painter, he had a difficult time recreating Frank with acrylic paints, he said. While he does not consider his taxidermy talent to be on par with the taxidermists he enjoys talking the trade with and learning from, his pieces have received solid recognition at the shows.

The beagle and rabbit piece that won the SCOPE Award had been a winner at a previous show and Bess actually had won the SCOPE Award once before for an otter mount about 10 years ago.

Until this year SCAT had provided a plaque for the outdoor media award which had been termed the “Outdoor Writers Award” and even the “Pat Robertson Award” in the past. This year the SCOPE Board voted to provide a plaque for the annual award and to officially call it the “SCOPE Award.”

~ Pat Robertson