Preparing for Taxidermy

A look at some of the memories on Russ' walls

From a young age I think most of us hunters couldn’t wait to have a trophy hanging on our wall symbolizing our pride as hunters, our accomplishment, and our God-given right to harvest wild game. Mounts are something we can glance at and quickly go back to that day and instance when everything came together. Taxidermy is a wonderful thing, and a great way to preserve the memory of a successful hunt.

Taxidermy has been around for many years and like most things, it’s come a long way. All of us have walked into that old sporting goods shop or pizza parlor and looked up at a funny looking bug-eyed, goat-like thing that had mule deer antlers on its head. The quality and detail has definitely improved. Great taxidermists these days can put a mount together that can have us anticipating a blink.

The contemplation of mounting an animal you’ve just harvested is always a nice predicament to have. This can happen before the hunt ever begins. There’ve been times while glassing a nice animal through a spotting scope a half mile away, where I was thinking of how I was going to break the news to my wife about another mount…I know, a little pre-mature, but exciting.

If you are one of many hunters looking forward to proudly displaying a trophy, preparation needs to begin long before the hunt. You never know when the opportunity will present itself and a hunt of a lifetime becomes a reality. There are many factors to consider before hitting the hills with the hopes of bringing home a “mounter” and you need to be prepared.

A nice display at Russ' taxidermy shop of choice.

The winter months of waiting for hunting season is a great time to find a taxidermist. Start calling friends, checking out sporting good stores, and try to attend some of the many sports shows and events this time of year. Once you narrow it down to a few, go to their shops and get to know them. One of the benefits of visiting their shop is they always have antlers, hides, and mounts to check out to get you excited for the following season.

I’ve spent several years looking and my taxidermist of choice is Dan Morrow of High Country Taxidermy. Not only does he do fantastic work, he’s an accomplished hunter with both firearms and archery. He is very knowledgeable in all aspects of hunting. I would highly recommend him for much more than just your taxidermist.

I asked Dan to give me a few key points to ensure a successful mount. He gladly took the time and gave me some great information. The first thing he pointed out was every hunting situation is different. The animals you are pursuing, weather conditions, and expected time in the field, are just a few things to consider as well.

In general, here are some important tips:

  • Do not drag any part of the cape.
  • Starting between the ears, cut down the center of the back, stopping 10 inches behind the shoulders. From that point, make a circular cut around the body. Cut up the back of the front legs (rear facing part of the leg) to the elbow, then 90 degrees back to the circular cut. Cut the front legs off at the knee and continue skinning the hide as close to the skull as possible before removing the skull.
  • Let the cape air out and cool down…treat the cape the same as the meat – keep it cool and out of the sun. No plastic bags. Blood, dirt, and rain are ok, but don’t submerge in water. Use game bags for the head and cape to keep the blow flies away. If your meat doesn’t spoil then your cape should be fine. For best results get your animal to a taxidermist or a freezer ASAP.
  • Yes, you can freeze the cape, hide, and head. To avoid freezer burn fold skin to skin, leaving hair to the outside. If cape is going to be frozen for an extended amount of time it is highly recommended to go ahead and have the cape tanned before storage. Salting really isn’t necessary unless you have the ability to properly cape the head (turning the ears, lips, etc).

Dan Morrow working on a big buck mount.

We could supply you with more detailed info if you’d like. The important thing is to take the time now and find a taxidermist that is willing to help you obtain the knowledge and confidence it takes to ensure a successful mount. I know Dan would be happy to help.

I often find myself looking up at a mount, drifting back to that special time and place when my preparation came face-to-face with opportunity. I’m glad I had the know-how to properly take care of my animals for a mount and I know you’ll be as well. Be ready…you never know when that wall hanger is going to be in your sights. Hunting season is just around the corner. Good luck in 2011 and God Bless!