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Vale taxidermist expanding, to begin offering processing

Jessica (left) and Jamie Harkey of Harkey’s Taxidermy at their new taxidermy shop and deer processing facility in Vale.

Staff Writer

When she was a young child, Jamie Harkey, 23, learned the craft of taxidermy from her father, Doug Harkey, who in turn learned it from his grandfather, Grady Lofton. Both father and daughter own and operate Harkey’s Taxidermy in Vale. They recently moved into a newly constructed building on Matthew Miller Road, which not only offers more room for the family’s taxidermy business but also additional space to conduct custom deer processing that Jamie Harkey’s younger sister, Jessica, will oversee.

“Business took off and we didn’t have enough room so we built this building,” Jamie Harkey said. “We decided to add the processing because our customers were asking for it and we’ve always had to say no.”

The processing will be done by the entire family, and they plan to do one deer at a time so that there’s no risk of mix-up between deer and to minimize waste.

In addition to the building, which is still being finished, there will be a walk-in cooler and skinning shed installed on the property.

Both girls actively hunt and fish and have done so since they were young and they are both adept at skinning, cleaning and cooking what they catch or kill. They have been brought up to be completely self-sufficient. In addition to hunting and fishing, the family grows and maintains a large garden.

“They can do anything a boy can do,” Doug Harkey said. “They’ve got me into a lot of good places to hunt that I normally wouldn’t be able to go to. Most people will say, ‘bring that girl over here and let her hunt.’”

Jamie Harkey recently entered her first taxidermy competition, which will be held July 27 in Winston-Salem. She’s taking three pieces that she mounted and expects to be one of the few women who will be there. Traditionally, the art of taxidermy has been a masculine profession.

A good taxidermist has to be both a scientist and an artist. In order to properly turn a dead animal into a lifelike piece of art, the taxidermist must understand the anatomy of the specimen they are working on before work begins to make sure it looks anatomically accurate.

“People think that they can bring something and leave it and it will be done in a couple of weeks and it don’t work like that,” Jamie Harkey said. “We try to get things done as quick as we can but we have other jobs and do this on the side and that’s what we tell people.”

Harkey hopes that eventually she’ll be able to be a full-time taxidermist with the side income of the deer processing adding to the bottom line of the business.

The interior of the new shop is decorated in a rustic manner utilizing old barn board from a Harkey family barn that fell down as paneling. At the entryway of the building is a coonhound that Doug Harkey mounted over 20 years ago. The dog was owned by Roger Leonhardt, who owned Smokey Dan Kennels in Vale. Leonhardt passed away and for a gift last Christmas, Jamie Harkey found out the dog was for sale and bought it. It was only the dog and the treed raccoon, there was no base, so she reproduced it from a photograph taken when it was made.

Visit Harkey’s Taxidermy on Facebook. Visits to the shop, located at 7713 Matthew Miller Road in Vale, are by appointment only. Call (704) 472-4695.

Image courtesy of Michelle T. Bernard

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