By Gordon Brown
The Taxidermy Company
Most hunters dream of having a mounted trophy on the wall or a rug to put a face behind a story. Every hunter has a story; some may even be true! Some hunters wait till they get a monster and many wait a lifetime frequently taking what is available or legal instead of waiting for exceptional. A trophy is invaluable only to the hunter, friends and family for generations to come. The story never ends.
As a taxidermist with over 50 years of experience, I have mounted animals and birds from all over the world. Every year I receive poorly handled hides, capes and birds. This is mostly due to a lack of knowledge, not only in Canada but many other countries.
Much help is available today on YouTube and other medias, but I would like to share with you, the hunter, just some of the “do and don’ts” of trophy care so your trophy will be a pleasant memory to share for years to come.
When preparing a bear, wolf or other animals for a rug turn the animal flat on its back. Stretch the front legs out at right angles to the body. MAKE ALL CUTS BEFORE you begin the skinning – this is very important to get a symmetrical rug. FIELD CARE IS EVERYTHING – no taxidermist can make up for poor field care.
First Cut: Center of the front paw or foot straight across the chest at a right angle to the body. Now holding the other front leg again cut straight down the center of the leg meeting the other cut on the chest. Keep these cuts straight – do not go to the elbow. The back legs, from the heel of the foot down the back of the leg to the anal hole and repeat on the other back leg.
Now the centre cut, keep this cut straight down the center line to just below the head. It is always best if these cuts are made by one person. Begin skinning procedure. Two things to remember, some animals have very thin skin; also, fall bears are very fat, try to keep the skin clean of fat and meat, leaves, moss and other debris.
Remove the skull from the carcass where the neck and the head meet. Then cut through the joint below the foot or paw to separate the foot from the leg and cut through the tail bone near the body. Always be careful not to cut through the skin when making these cuts.
Once the hide is removed from the carcass, lay hide hair side down and place the head, legs and tail into the center of the skin, fold the sides in, then fold or roll up – hair side out. Do not expose skin to direct sun; always keep the skin in a cool place. If possible avoid using plastic bags or tarps; use cloth or burlap bags to hold the skin. Do not salt the hide at this time. Do not salt any hide until it is completely skinned out; feet to the last knuckle, face properly skinned out. That is: ears turned and lips split. Never salt a hide that you are planning to freeze. The hide will just dry out. Hide can now be frozen or taken to a taxidermist.
Preparing an antlered or horn head for a shoulder mount:
Today there are many choices available for a head mounts including wall pedestal and floor pedestal with a cabinet type base complete with habitat. The most important part of skinning for a head mount is the caping. Remember: No taxidermist can make up for poor field care.
Start the cape removal half way down the body by making a cut completely around the circumference of the animal before you start skinning. A hunter cannot leave too much cape. Cut down the center of the back and the neck to the head. Do not cut the throat on any animal you might want to get mounted.
Proceed by skinning forward from the top down – always skin clean leaving meat, fat on the carcass avoiding moss, leaves and debris. Skin down to the front legs. Cut around the circumference of the front leg just above the knee then pull the skin over the leg or pull the leg through, whichever is easier at the time. Again, remember, that quality starts here!
Continue to skin down the back to the head, separating the head from the carcass at the last joint by cutting straight down behind the skull. This can easily be done with a knife and a twist or two with the head. If the cape or skin is bloody, soak the whole thing in cold water moving the hide gently to remove all blood from the hair. A stream or lake is ideal for this. Now drain the cape or hide, squeezing out as much water as possible, letting it drain from an elevated place is great, hung from a tree, hang over deadfall or large rock. Do not expose the cape to direct sunlight keeping it in the shade or in a cool place.
Never leave a hide or a cape unattended. Many predators will not only take the skin but will also destroy it. When gutting or cleaning a trophy, do not split the hide past the beginning of the rib cage. This is better done after the cape is removed. Do not salt the cape – not until the head is completely skinned out, ears done and lips turned. If possible contact a taxidermist for further instruction or take it into a shop. Most taxidermists are professionals and are more than willing to help you or talk you through the next steps.
Skinning out the head of any animal is similar for all species. After the head is removed from the carcass, continue center cut between the ears to a point about two inches back of the antler bases. Make a `V` cut to the centre of each antler base more to the center of the burr than the side. Carefully skin down to the ear butts, cutting the ear at the point to where the ear meets the head – about half way down the head. Pick up the `V` and skin towards the antlers or horn base. Pry the hide away from the antler burr. Do not use a knife for this procedure if possible. A knife frequently slips and slashes this very important area. By pulling and prying the hide will remove easily from around the antlers. On horned animals such as sheep and goats, push the hair down away from the horn and then cut around the horn at a right angle, being very careful not to cut the hair and proceed skinning as above.
Continue to skin to the eye, setting a finger in the corner of the eye, pull the eyelid from the eye, and keep your finger in the eye as you carefully separate the eyelid from the head. Skin both sides of the head evenly. The tear ducts (orbital glands) is the next concern. This is one of the most difficult parts of skinning out the head. Skin right tight to the bone; elk, mule deer and caribou really have deep tear ducts. Cutting close to the bone and pulling with the other hand, do more pulling than cutting. Keep in mind that the hair on the face area is a lot shorter than anywhere else on the animal. Be careful not to cut through the skin.
When cutting the lips from the head, I prefer to do this from the outside where I can see the jaw line and teeth. Make the cut tight to the bone top and bottom leaving lots of lip. Separate the lip from the head, this way. You cannot leave to much lip or nose cartilage. Back to skinning the head, place a finger in the corner of the mouth and then cut the lip free leaving lots of lip and not cutting your finger. Skin down to the nose cartilage and cut this down to the bone below. Skin should now be free of the head. Antlers or horns can be removed at any time. Always remember inspection requirements.
Turning the ears, I use a rounded stick forcing the cartilage up, I begin skinning with the knife then just use my fingers to separate the cartilage and turn the ears. Once ears are turned, split the lips, holding them in your hand, cut through the meaty part of the lips and they will split like a filet. Nose cartilage can be dealt with later but should be skinned down to the nose pad so it can be properly salted.
Salting any cape or hide – lay it out in a flat area hair side down and proceed to widen the hide or cape stretching for width only as length can be accomplished at any time. Use only fine salt as table salt. Use generously and cover the hide and face well. I always put extra salt on the nose pad and eyes on the outside as well as the inside. Salt is cheap. Do not use coarse-pickling salt or rock salt. Hides should not be frozen after it is salted but rather dried out.
Contact Fish & Wildlife for inspection where applicable and contact a taxidermist sooner is better than later.
Contact your taxidermist or call a taxidermist for instructions. One thing to note: many taxidermists do not charge extra to finish skinning the head, feet and clean up the hide. Check around for pricing and what is included. Ask about any extra costs.
Choose your taxidermist carefully: remember you will have to look at your trophy for many years. You do not want to be disappointed. There are some great artists out there and also many that just do the “mechanics” and just put it together.
Take time to check out quality and consistency of the mounts. Look for life-like detail and accuracy in symmetry and proportion.
Turn around time – when do I get my trophy back? Many taxidermists require more than one year to complete your trophy, however there are some that work on a lot shorter time frame. Prices will vary – be aware that reasonable pricing does not necessarily reflect the quality or does high prices say that the quality is better. There is no set price for art work. Most taxidermist require a 50 per cent deposit and you will also need to produce your hunting license, tag and inspection tag where required when you take your trophy to any taxidermist. For any information feel free to contact me at The Taxidermy Company (250) 296-4739 or mobile (250) 305-4807, or email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
You can find more about Gordon Brown and his work by going to: http://www.wildlife-art-works.com