Taste­ful Taxidermy

Modern Pioneer - - Contents - By Ja­son Houser

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

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