Step into Craig Wyricks domain off a quiet road in Gibsonville and you will encounter all manner of beasts. This large and cavernous building is home to Wyricks Taxidermy.
You might also find Wyricks two sons Mason, 11, and Chandler, 8, learning how to preserve animals and fish.
This is an award winning family in the North Carolina taxidermy community. The boys garnered the most promising youth awards in 2012 and 2013. Dad holds top honors for his original art and fish mounts.
Wyrick, 33, says his success is the result of hard work, an appetite for learning, good mentors and seldom refusing work others will not do.
Elk, moose, deer, rodeo bulls, African animals, pets, fish, reptiles, waterfowl, paintings and habitats inhabit Wyricks portfolio.
Ive always been big in fish, he said. A lot of other taxidermists arent. They end up shipping fish to me from 20 different states. I know (a) world champion taxidermist with deer who cant do a fish.
Wyricks love of fishing and hunting started in his youth. He learned trapping at age 16 from an uncle.
He taught me how to trap coons, Wyrick said. He explained but didnt go to the woods with me. I wanted a bobcat but didnt have the skills. I got a video when I was in high school, but I couldnt learn from a video. The results were pretty much a train wreck.
So Wyrick went to taxidermy school at Piedmont Community College in Person County. After a couple of unrelated jobs, Wyrick turned to taxidermy as a career and has never been sorry.
There was a lot of trial and error business wise, he said. I ended up working with other taxidermists in their shops or they would send work they didnt want. I didnt turn anything down.
Albert Madden, a veteran taxidermist from Alamance County, has been Wyricks mentor for many years.
He treats me like a son, refers business and gets me to do prep work and skin work on many of his mammals.
It was with Madden that Wyrick worked on mounting the heads of famous rodeo bulls Little Yellow Jacket and Candy Man.
Now Wyrick does 200-300 projects per year on his own and another 200-300 with other taxidermists.
In 1998 Wyrick answered the call for another of his loves. He became a volunteer firefighter for the Town of Gibsonville. In 2007 he was hired as a paid firefighter. Now Wyrick had two careers and a growing family to manage with the help of his wife, a veterinary assistant.
Between the kids, firefighting and taxidermy there is always something, he said. But Im lucky to have two jobs that I really like doing.
A typical day may find Wyrick arising at 4 a.m. and working in his shop until 6 a.m. when he leaves to pull a 24-hour shift at the fire department.
The next day Ill put in a full day in taxidermy, he said. I stay at it because I dont want to get behind.
Wyrick also promotes fire safety in local schools. He carries a rank of engineer, EMT, town safety officer and chairman of the towns safety committee.
Depending on size, detail and mount work, mammal taxidermy takes six to eight months to finish. Fish are completed in six to eight weeks. Costs run between $75 to $2,000.
Wyrick says his most unusual work is preserving family pets such as dogs and cats. He also has mounted pet fish, snakes and parrots.
The strangest has been a monkey hanging from a tree limb, he said. Most dogs and cats are laying down and sleeping. Except I had one, a chow mix, mounted standing in a ferocious pose.
Wyrick says his desire to harvest fish and game has decreased. He remains a deer hunter, and he and his boys hunt squirrel and waterfowl. Come spring, they will be turkey hunting and fishing.
I like to watch animals in nature and dont shoot, he said. Im interested in habitat and the detail. I like to take up-close pictures of fish from different angles. This helps me produce the best product I can. Im preserving something to last a lifetime.