Taxidermy is a great way to remember a special hunt or to honor a special animal that you are particularly proud of. Done well, it can be a beautiful addition to your home. If it’s done wrong, and we’ve all seen it done wrong, it can be a disastrous waste of money and effort. If you plan to mount an animal, keep these tips in mind to end up with a quality product.
No matter what species we are talking about, some general rules apply. How you care for the animal in the field will have a huge impact on the quality of mount you get. Understand that humidity and heat breed bacteria, causing hair to slip and become damaged. Do what you can to keep the animal dry and cool it down as quickly as you can. The quicker you can get it to a taxidermist, the better: the day of the hunt is ideal.
If you can help it, don’t try to hide anything you’re not sure about; the taxidermist will do a much better job than you, so leave it. It is advisable to choose a taxidermist in advance so you can make sure he is good (check his work) and ask if he has any particular way he wants you to handle an animal before taking it away. Some taxidermists prefer things to be done a little differently than others.
When covering, do not cut into the chest, do not attempt to remove the face if you are inexperienced, and be careful to make as few holes in the skin as possible.
Deer and big game
If you shoot a deer, elk, bear, or other large game animal, handle it carefully in the field. You’ll have to dress him in the field to cool him down and try to avoid blood on the skin as much as you can (it’s a tall order, I know). When gutting, don’t cut the coat down to the front legs or chest; stop a few inches or your taxidermist will have some serious sewing done. The fewer seams you have to do, the better your frame will look.
Try to avoid dragging a large game animal out of the field if possible. If you must drag him, don’t pull against the fiber of his hair and don’t tie the rope around his neck.
When the time comes to take the animal out of the forest, do not drag it along the ground, especially against the hair fiber. Use an ATV, a tarp, a sled, or anything else you can to get it out of the field without scraping up a bunch of hair. Do not tie a rope around the neck to drag or hang it; hang it by its hind legs to cut and cover it.
Back at camp, keep the skin dry, which means you don’t want to put it in a cooler with ice. It’s okay to hang a deer hide for a few days to age if the conditions are right: temperatures stay below 40 degrees and no sun on the carcass. I personally don’t age deer; I skin and butcher them the same day I shoot them if possible.
Do not put on your face unless you are very confident in your abilities. This is a really difficult area to get right. It is better to cut the spine at the neck and send the whole head attached to the rest of the skin. Send in as much skin as you can so the taxidermist has plenty to work with; don’t cut the skin at the neck and think you’re going to get a great mount back. Do not add salt or borax to the skin unless you are in a remote area without refrigeration for a few days. It’s best to leave the skin untreated, fold it meat-on-meat (so the skin and hair don’t touch), and take it to a taxidermist as soon as possible. You can refrigerate it for a couple of days, but if it’s going to last longer, store it in the freezer.
Hanging any animal by the neck is a big mistake if you plan to ride it.
Small and medium size game
If you shoot a coyote, fox, squirrel, rabbit, or other small mammal that you’d like to mount, it’s best to turn it over to the taxidermist in its entirety, preferably the same day you shoot it. You don’t need to dress it in the field, but you do need to chill it quickly, and not in a cooler full of ice: moisture is the enemy, remember. If you can’t get it to a taxidermist right away, put the animal in a plastic bag, squeeze out the air, and freeze it. It will keep well in the freezer for months if needed.
Waterfowl, turkeys and mountain birds
The same rules apply to birds: handle them carefully, keep them dry, cool them quickly, and get them to the taxidermist as soon as you can. Don’t gut a duck, turkey, or other fowl; your taxidermist will prefer to get them whole.
Handle waterfowl gently to prevent feather breakage. Don’t grab them by the neck for photos!
For ducks and geese, do not hang or handle them by the neck or hold them by the neck to take photos, as this can damage the fragile feathers beyond repair. You may have been told to wrap the bird in newspaper or put it in pantyhose, but most taxidermists say that’s a bad idea. The bird is likely to be wet, and there’s not much you can do about it, but cool it down quickly, smooth the feathers in their natural direction, gently tuck the head under the wing, and put the bird in a zip. -top bag If you go directly to the taxidermist, I would leave the bag slightly open to allow any moisture to escape. If not, squeeze the air out of the bag and immediately freeze the bird until you can take it to the taxidermist.
For turkeys, make sure the tail is intact. If you’ve shot it all, this bird might not be a good fit for a mount. If there are feathers on the ground nearby, pick them up and give them to the taxidermist when you deliver the bird. Smooth out the feathers in their natural direction, handling everything gently, including the head. McKenzie Taxidermy Supply recommends stuffing a paper towel in the mouth to prevent blood from dripping onto the feathers, and then wrapping the head in paper towels secured with tape or an elastic band. Then tuck the head under the wing and fold the wings against the body. Again, it’s ideal to go straight to the taxidermist at this point, but if you can’t, pack the whole turkey in a garbage bag. I recommend that you make a protective “wrap” for the tail out of two pieces of cardboard, so the feathers don’t get damaged in transit. Freeze immediately. Don’t bag the bird until it’s time to put it in the freezer, because the moisture in the carcass will cause the feathers to slip or perish if it can’t escape.
If you are very confident in your abilities and want to weather the bird, ask your taxidermist if he wants you to use salt, borax, or nothing. Of course, the ideal time to have this conversation is before you go hunting, so you have a plan in place.
When done correctly, taxidermy is a great way to remember a special hunt or a special animal. But a beautiful mount doesn’t start in the taxidermist’s shop, it starts in the field with how you care for and groom the animal.