Seven Mistakes Your Taxidermist Can’t Fix
by Steve Sorensen
(Originally published in the Warren Times Observer, November 19, 2011.)
Have you heard the one about the boy who shot a nice gobbler? His dad was proud and decided to get the big bird mounted. So, he plucked it, collected the feathers in a big pillowcase, and took the pillowcase to the local taxidermist. You can guess the rest of the story.
Your part is to provide
lifelike raw materials for
your taxidermist to work with.
That’s a mistake none of us would make. Right?
Right. But we might make other mistakes the taxidermist can’t fix. A first-rate mount begins with you. Here’s what to avoid:
1. Going cheap. Some guys shop around for the cheapest taxidermist, unaware that inferior materials might be the reason for the lower price. Other hunters have a buddy who’s a budding taxidermist and will do it for just the cost of materials. Nothing against your buddy, but if he someday turns pro he’ll probably hope you don’t tell people he did it. A veteran taxidermist will get the right size form and put eyes, ears, and antlers into proper relationship.
2. Slitting the throat. That’s just one way your knife can ruin a trophy. Many years ago I saw a newspaper photo of a proud hunter with a high, wide 8-point. You could see, just below the buck’s white throat patch, where the hunter slit the throat to “bleed it out.” Never do that. You’ll cut through hair and the taxidermist can’t fix it without replacing that section of hide. Besides, putting a knife to the throat of a live deer is a good way to get badly injured. Antlers and hooves hurt. If he isn’t dead, shoot him again. Field dressing will let the blood out.
3. Handling carelessly in the field. Treat the animal with respect. If you must drag a deer, drag it on both sides. Otherwise, the animal may look worn on one side. Better yet, drag it on a plastic sled or a tarp. And for goodness sake, drag it with the grain of the hair, not against it. Yes, I’ve seen a hunter drag deer by the back legs, and it ain’t pretty. Remember, deer hair is hollow – it kinks when it bends and it’s easy to break.
4. Being a show-off. Be proud, but don’t get carried away. Get good photos and make a few phone calls, but don’t drive all over town with your buck. If you must haul a deer very far in the back of a pickup, stop somewhere and roll it over to make sure heat isn’t trapped on the bottom. Protect it from the wind – you don’t want to drive airborne road grime into the hair.
5. Leaving the skin on. A deer hide traps heat, and heat stimulates the growth of bacteria. Once bacteria get into the hair follicles the hair will begin to slip and your trophy will be ruined. Warm weather accelerates the process. So, skin him as soon as possible. The meat and the hide will cool more quickly – better for eating and better for mounting.
6. Getting knife crazy. Improper skinning can damage your trophy. At best, it gives the taxidermist extra work. So, don’t make any cuts in the head and neck. Don’t cut up the front of the deer’s neck. Never cut from the outside in; always cut from the inside out. When you separate the head from the carcass leave plenty of skin. Let your taxidermist skin the head. He knows how to do the eyelids, nose and lips.
7. Being ignorant about taxidermy. Actually, this is something your taxidermist can fix – if you stop by his shop before going hunting and ask him how to handle your buck from the field to his shop. He can do a better job if you take his advice.
Taxidermy is an art form that recreates a lifelike appearance. Your part is to provide the taxidermist with lifelike raw material.
Ideally, the relationship between the hunter and the taxidermist is a two-way mutual admiration society. If he admires the raw materials you bring him, you’re more likely to admire the mount he returns to you. And so will others when they see it on your wall.