5 things to know after a successful hunt
5 THINGS TO KNOW AFTER A SUCCESSFUL HUNT
If you’re thinking about getting your next trophy mounted, there are a few things you must know beforehand. The tips that follow will make your taxidermist’s life easier, and leave you with a better-looking trophy.
01 It All Starts in the Field
Every deer you kill (except out west where deer and elk must be packed out), whether a wall-hanger or not, must be fielddressed promptly. Doing this correctly is important if you intend to mount the animal.
Place the animal on its back to begin fielddressing. The first cut is made just above the reproductive organs (males) or udder (females). After I’ve cut through the skin, I like to use a knife with a gut hook. The Grip-hook from Outdoor Edge works well. It provides a clean, smooth cut. The initial cut is made from the aforementioned starting point up to the sternum.
Don’t cut past the sternum and into the breast area; it will create extra work for your taxidermist, and it’s possible that stitching could be noticeable on the finished mount.
Because you didn’t cut past the sternum, you’ll have to reach into the deer’s throat and chest cavity to remove the windpipe and other organs. Since you’ll be working blindly and cutting connective tissues, always be aware of your knife blade’s location and work cautiously to avoid cutting yourself. Latex gloves and shoulder-length plastic gloves will keep your arms and hands clean during the process.
02 Retrieving the Deer
Don’t tie a rope around the animal’s neck as you drag it out of the woods. This will damage the cape, and often, it will leave a bald spot where the rope was. If you must use a rope, secure it around the animal’s antlers. This will keep the head and upper body off the ground. Dragging a deer will quickly damage the cape beyond repair. To prevent rubbing the hide on the ground when you absolutely must drag the deer, wrap the upper body in a tarp or jacket.
The best method for retrieving a deer from the woods is to carry it. Unfortunately, this isn’t always possible or practical. The next best method is hauling it out. If you can,
drive next to the downed deer and simply load it into the back of your truck. An ATV is another good way to haul out an animal. You could also invest in a two-wheeled game cart to haul your prize out of areas where vehicular access is limited or restricted.
“Don’t cut past the sternum … This will create extra work for your taxidermist, and … could be noticeable on the finished mount.”
03 Cool it Down
As hunters, we’ve all been told the importance of cooling an animal down as quickly as possible to protect the meat. The first step in accomplishing this task is field-dressing the animal. However, this not only protects the meat from spoilage, it also protects the cape.
After your deer is field-dressed, hang it. Never hang a deer by its head if you want to mount it. I always hang deer by their back legs for two reasons. First, it prevents rope burn around the neck. Second, the cape could stretch if the deer is hung by its head/ antlers. After you’ve hung the deer, place some ice bags into its chest cavity. The ice will cool the deer fast. The water won’t pool inside the deer as it runs out of the muzzle along with the blood.
Pooled water is a breeding ground for bacteria. Use as little water as possible when rinsing blood stains from the cape. Using excessive amounts of water might not show any immediate damage to the cape, but after a while, you could notice hair slippage.
04 Make the Cut
Once you have your buck out of the woods and cooled, cape it. Don’t go to the extreme with this task. All that’s necessary is to remove the head and plenty of cape for a shoulder mount. It’s important to leave more than enough cape with the head. A taxidermist can always cut away excess hide, but he can’t add more.
Unless you’ve learned the ins and outs, don’t attempt to skin around the mouth, nose and eyes of the deer. When you’ve caped the deer like I will describe next, the head and skull stays attached to the cape, which allows the taxidermist to make the delicate cuts near the mouth, nose and eyes properly.
To cape the deer, make a horizontal cut in the hide 6-8 inches behind the front legs. This cut must encircle the deer. Next, slit the skin at the knees or slightly above. Make a cut from the knees to the cut that goes around the body. This cut should be done on the backside of the legs where white meets tan (whitetails).
Now the hide is ready to be peeled away from the deer’s body; it should pull away fairly easily, but when you encounter stubborn spots, use a knife. Be very careful not to cut through the hide.
Continue to pull the hide down until you reach the deer’s ears and jaws. The point where the head meets the neck should be exposed. Using your knife, make a cut completely around the neck about 3 inches below where the head and neck join. Make the cut deep enough that you get to the spinal column. At this point, sever the head and cape from the carcass.
05 Preventative Measures
Take care of the hide until you’re able to deliver it to the taxidermist. Keep it clean, cool and dry, both inside and out. Tossing the hide on the ground will cause tiny pebbles to stick to it, and taxidermists hate picking out rocks.
Get the head and hide to the taxidermist as soon as possible. At 40°F, the hide should be fine for a few days. If you cannot deliver it within that timeframe, roll up the hide and freeze it. Wrap the head and hide in a plastic bag. It’s unnecessary to cover the antlers.
Within 90 days or so, it’s possible for freezer-burn to set in, so try to get your trophy out of the freezer and into your taxidermist’s hands before then.
A taxidermist is an artist. They can turn a head and cape into a beautiful memory that will last a lifetime. They run across anything and everything wrong with an animal that you could possibly imagine, but the good news is that they can fix nearly all of them. I have an 8-pointer in my office that took a pass-through shot to the neck. There’s no sign of this wound. If you have a deer that you think is beyond saving, take it to your taxidermist for evaluation. More often than not, they can save it.
Good Post-hunt Care = Quality Taxidermy
Understand that taxidermists aren’t magicians, though. Sometimes the work they do makes one think they are; however, we must do everything we can to simplify their job. Do your part after a successful hunt. Heed these five tips, and you’ll ensure tasteful taxidermy for your walls.
You might have to cape larger animals in the field. You have one shot at doing it right, so make it count. PHOTO COURTESY OF HOWARD COMMUNICATIONS
PHOTO BY JASON HOUSER
(above) Take care that the head and upper body of an animal don’t drag on the ground when hauling it out of the woods. This can damage the hide and hair. PHOTO COURTESY OF HOWARD COMMUNICATIONS (below) Never hang a deer by the head that you intend to...
The author took this nice Kentucky 9-pointer and, heeding the tips presented in this article, the buck arrived at the taxidermist in top-notch condition. PHOTO BY JASON HOUSER