MAN BEHIND THE COUNTER — Ken Kassel is a crack shot and veteran taxidermist – that is, when he’s not busy landscaping or plowing snow. Photos by Joshua Gordon.
SPRINGVILLE — When he’s not putting together deer mounts, sewing up a big cat, bear or the occasional life-size buffalo, Kenneth Kassel is packing up his shop and traveling to a local gun show. That is, if he isn’t plowing winter snow or tilling gardens in the spring.
His secret to success?
“Never sleep. Work 24 hours a day,” he said.
As the owner of Ken’s Taxidermy and Competition Shooting and Ken’s Property Repair and Maintenance, both based in Springville, Kassel’s business leaves little time for pleasure.
The 56-year-old Hamburg native said he doesn’t hunt as much as he once did. “I used to be out there every day, but now it’s a couple days a year.”
Business also leaves little time for another of Kassel’s passions – sporting clays.
CONVERSATION PIECE — “I love talking to people,” said Ken Kassel, who gives shooting lessons, in addition to running a taxidermy and outdoor shop in Springville.
Kassel explained that sporting clays, like trap shooting, involves firing a shotgun at moving clay pigeons. But instead of predictable targets, sporting clays may come from all angles – even below the shooter, on some courses.
“Every course is different,” said Kassel. “It’s like golf.”
“I like the strategy,” he said. “You might get two targets at the same time and you’ve got to decide; am I going to shoot this one first, or this one?” Take too long, he said, and a shooter is liable to miss both.
Strategy and challenge kept him playing, but Kassel recalled that it was his competitive nature that got him started.
Kassel remembered attending a competitive shoot with a friend, many years ago. After shooting a decent round – for a beginner – Kassel said he was disappointed at not coming out on top. “I don’t do nothing if I’m not going to win,” he said, and told his friend as much. “You’ll never beat those guys,” he recalled his friend saying, of the top finishers that day. Kassel took that as a challenge.
After signing up for lessons with professional shooters and studying up on technique – even going so far as to become a referee, in order to watch more pros shoot – Kassel would become a fierce competitor on any course.
“I’ve shot from California to Maine,” he said, and has won “hundreds” of awards for sporting clays, becoming a five-time New York state champ, taking top honors in a northeast regional championship, and, in 2004, becoming the top sporting clays shooter in the nation.
SOMETHING TO HANG YOUR HAT ON — Ken Kassel has been mounting and stuffing for more than 25 years.
These days, Kassel gives lessons of his own as part of his larger business. He also runs a taxidermy and sportsman’s shop on his property at 12260 Sharp Street in Springville, where he lives with Ronalyn, his wife of 31 years. Owning a shop gives him a chance to chat with customers – another of Kassel’s favorite pastimes.
“I love talking to people,” he said, whether it’s helping someone find the right bow or talking shop with hunters.
Kassel said he also brings his trade to gun shows, where he is able to meet and talk to all sorts of people. When he’s not talking camouflage and whitetail, Kassel said his property repair and maintenance takes him “from Pennsylvania to Lake Ontario,” where he tills gardens, plants food plots, to attract local wildlife, pulls stumps and does all manner of landscape and property repair.
The change in seasons might mean less tilling, but that won’t affect business much, said Kassel: He plows snow, too.
As hunting season ramps up – shotgun season opens on Nov. 16 – the taxidermist said he is seeing plenty of demand for mounting and stuffing. He attributes his success to experience and attention to customers.
“I’ve been doing this for a long time,” he said, and word of mouth has brought customers “from all over” to his shop.
“If you’re nice to people, talk to people, it pays off,” he said.
Kassel said that, at some point, he might like to expand his business to include a shooting range and full-time help behind the counter. But with two daughters in college, “it might be awhile before I make any drastic financial decisions.”
For more information on Ken’s Taxidermy and Competition Shooting or Ken’s Property Repair and Maintenance, visit www.kenstaxidermycompetitionshooting.com, email firstname.lastname@example.org, or call 592-9138.