If you want a beautiful trophy, avoid these common mistakes
A memorable mount begins even before the shot—long before your animal arrives at the taxidermist’s shop.
You’ve finally shot the hunting trophy of a lifetime, that dream wall-hanger you’ve been waiting an eternity for. Now it’s all up to the taxidermist, right? Wrong. After you’ve squeezed the trigger, what happens next will determine whether you end up with a prized family heirloom or something best hidden away in a closet. Here are nine ways you can totally botch the job of preparing your trophy for the taxidermist—and how to avoid them instead so the memory of your special hunt is preserved forever...
BAD IDEA: AIM FOR THE NECK
GOOD IDEA: Although there might be times when a neck shot is the only option, try your best to avoid it if you’re planning on a shoulder mount. Stick to the vitals, or even the front shoulder if you have to—anything forward of that will have to be mended. Taxidermists are talented artists, and they can make repairs with a thread and needle that would blow your mind. But such fixes can be extremely tedious and time-consuming, adding more to the price of your mount in a real hurry.
BAD IDEA: FOLLOW UP WITH A HEAD SHOT
GOOD IDEA: Some old-school hunters love following up with a head shot for a quick kill and to avoid ruining any meat. I understand that strategy, but such shots risk ruining the cape or, worse, breaking off an antler. Stick to the vitals if you need a finishing shot, and both you and your taxidermist will be happier. Antlers can be repaired, but again, it will cost you extra.
BAD IDEA: CUT THE THROAT
GOOD IDEA: Many old-timers claim cutting the throat to let an animal bleed out is better for the meat, but slicing your trophy from ear to ear will completely ruin the cape. If a taxidermist says he can salvage things, don’t fall for it or you’ll have a disaster on your hands. Cut the cape anywhere on the neck or throat area and you’ll be on the hunt again—for a replacement cape. Alternatively, most taxidermists have extra capes on hand to replace a damaged one, but using your own makes your trophy that much more special.
BAD IDEA: SLICE STRAIGHT UP THE NECK
GOOD IDEA: Many hunters lay their buck on its back and cut all the way up the neck to the chin. Sure, it’s easier this way to remove entrails without getting bloody, but in doing so, you can kiss your cape goodbye. Instead, once you’ve reached the start of the hard cartilage of the brisket area, you’ve cut far enough. Of course, when you stop at this point it’s more challenging to remove the guts, so be prepared to get your arms a little bloody. This is a very important step, as the front of the animal from the brisket up is the front and centre of the shoulder mount. Repairs to this area, if needed, never turn out great.
BAD IDEA: DON’T CLEAN UP BLOOD
GOOD IDEA: Watch for blood and try your best to immediately clean it up, especially on light-coloured animals such as sheep or goats. Once blood soaks into the hide, it can be tough to remove. It can also leave behind stains. The hollow hair of the pronghorn antelope, for example, will soak up blood in a split-second and stain the cape. Bring along paper towel for dabbing up blood. You can also push paper towel into the animal’s throat to help stop blood from dripping out of the mouth and nose.
BAD IDEA: CUT LOTS OF HOLES
GOOD IDEA: Take your time when skinning your animal to avoid cutting holes in the hide. The fewer the holes, the better the mount will look. Taxidermists usually prefer to skin and cape the animals themselves to ensure it’s done flawlessly. This is especially the case if you want a full-bodied mount, but there are times when you have to do the job yourself. Pay close attention when skinning the brisket area and the face; these areas have short hair, making it difficult to hide cuts. Also, leave twice as much hide as you think you’ll need. This is especially important with pedestal mounts, which are becoming more and more popular. These use a fair amount more hide than traditional shoulder mounts, so take that into consideration when skinning your animal. It’s easy for the taxidermist to trim off any excess, but impossible for him to add it back on.
BAD IDEA: DRAG THE ANIMAL BACKWARDS
GOOD IDEA: The hair is delicate on all game animals, so it must be treated with the utmost care and attention. Avoid dragging your kill, but if you do have to, keep the head and front shoulders off the ground. And never drag the animal backwards—doing that will break off or pull out hair, leaving you with a ruined cape or, worse, a bald buck on your wall. If you’re hauling out the animal with an ATV, again, keep the head and front shoulders as high as possible. It’s okay if the back end drags on the ground if you only want to do a shoulder mount, but avoid any obstacles that might rub against the head and shoulders.
BAD IDEA: LEAVE THE ANIMAL IN YOUR TRUCK
GOOD IDEA: Sure, you want to show off your monster buck, but keeping it in the back of your truck is not the way. Leaving an animal unattended for any amount of time runs the risk of predators gnawing on the head and cape. Birds, too, will pick at the cape around the eyes and nose—you can’t believe how fast the likes of a raven can destroy a trophy. There’s also a chance the animal could be stolen, never to be seen again. And if you’re driving around, the animal can slide on the truck bed, resulting in big chunks of hair falling off the cape.
BAD IDEA: LEAVE THE ANIMAL IN YOUR GARAGE
Dave WhammondGOOD IDEA: When hunting in the late fall, it’s generally cold enough for your trophy to sit in a shed or garage until you bring it to the taxidermist. But don’t leave it too long—the longer you wait, the more likely mice will come out of the woodwork and munch on the nose, ears and antlers. Chew marks can be tough to fix, and will without doubt lower the quality of the end result. As well, the dry conditions definitely won’t do your cape any good, especially if it dries out around the eyes, nose and ears.
Before heading out on your trophy hunt, talk to your taxidermist about the type of mount you want. That way, he’ll know what you expect, and vice versa when it comes to how you prepare the animal. If you plan to skin your trophy yourself, for example, and you want a shoulder or pedestal-style mount, you’ll need to make a Y-shaped cut straight up the back of the neck and out to the back of the base of each antler. If you want a full-bodied mount, on the other hand, you’ll need to skin the animal using a dorsal incision. As for a rug mount, make sure you use a belly incision. These are three totally different techniques, and by getting instructions from your taxidermist before the hunt, you’ll be able to deliver your trophy in the best condition possible.
Some hunters prefer to cape out their own trophies and cut the antlers off the skull, or leave a small portion of the skull cap attached. It’s better, though, to leave the antlers attached and bring the entire skull to the taxidermist. That way, he can take measurements before cutting off the skull cap and antlers so that the finished product looks as realistic as possible. This also gives you the option of going with a European mount, which may better fit into your budget. You can buy reproduction skulls if the skull cap is already cut, but nothing looks as good as the real thing.
Finally, if the antlers are still in velvet, don’t touch them, and get your trophy to a taxidermist or into a freezer as quickly as possible. The velvet is extremely delicate, and extra care must be taken to preserve it immediately after the animal is down.