This article was submitted by a local taxidermist who asked not to be identified, saying he has all the business he can handle.

Many sportsmen work hard and spend time and money in pursuit of that lifetime trophy, be it the bruiser 10-point buck, the boss gobbler or the lunker bass.

This article attempts to address respecting the trophy and giving the taxidermist a chance to restore what you have pursued and accomplished.

So you may ask, “How hard can this be?”

Well, as a taxidermist myself, I find it very hard to tell the hunter, “Due to improper care, your hide has spoiled or your bass has broken fins or your duck wasn’t properly cooled.”

Taxidermists see hair slippage way too much, freezer burning while deciding to mount, and feathers that were just abused and not properly handled.

So here is an attempt to give sportsmen the important facts that are needed to give your taxidermist a chance.

START WITH THAT TROPHY BUCK

When transporting, whether by ATV or truck, handle with care. Once the buck is on the skinning rack, use a tape measure and measure 40 inches from the nose along the back and make a cut, then 40 inches from the nose along the underside and make a cut.

Now with your knife circle the body aligning the previous cuts. No other cutting below this circle. Listening to your buddy who claims to know is the most heard excuse for a messed up cape.

Next mistake is a fear of messing up the cape with accidental cuts. Think of it this way: Can you skin from the tail to your circle cut without cutting the hide? Well, if you can skin that section, then you can skin the cape down to the base of the skull.

After the circle cut, remove legs at the knee (second joint from the hoof). Proceed slowly with the caping process by observing what we call the “whiteline.” This is where the skin connects to the meat.  

Also know leaving excess meat on hide is another cause for spoilage. Have confidence and practice on a deer that will not see a taxidermist.

Now, at the skull base use either a saw or knife and twist the head, separate the trophy cape and skull.

Next is the chilling time. Bacteria begins to break down the hide and the edible meat within four hours of harvest. It’s crucial to chill cape and meat to less than 40 ASAP.

Here are some suggestions. Place cape in a plastic bag. Do not roll hide around head.  It is better to spread the cape out for faster cooling.

Then, whatever your situation dictates, be it a refrigerator or ice chest. If using the latter, completely surround with ice, tilt ice chest and remove the plug. (Do not hold in ice any longer than necessary). Freeze asap.  Make your best effort to keep hide dry.

Also, there are very few reasons to wash hide before chilling. Your taxidermist will handle the fur cleaning. Now the decision is yours to either freeze or bring to your taxidermist.

In conclusion, the two worst things for not having that perfect mount are needless cuts and improper chilling. Once again, if your buddy is not a taxidermist, follow these simple steps.

The previously discussed steps are simply for caping out your trophy but do not meet CWD guidelines if they pertain, i.e. crossing state lines or CWD-restricted areas.

The guidelines of skinning out the skull are another whole article. There are some good youtube videos on how to do that.

Lastly, if you want that perfect shoulder mount, don’t take that neck shot.

FEATHERS

The big greenhead or the old gobbler deserve the same respect. Taxidermists cannot replace feathers so the hunter has to have a plan upon harvest.

Dragging the old gobbler, throwing him in the truck bed for a 60 mph ride is not respecting the trophy. Always handle with care and remember the 40-degree rule.

Lay the bird on several sheets of newspaper. Fold wings to natural position, place head under breast, roll up loosely in newspaper, place in plastic bag. The previous rule of ice chest or refrigeration applies. Freeze or bring to taxidermist.

FISH

While hooked on the article at hand, let’s talk about the lunker bass. Fish are very easy to handle, so how do fish show up for the plaque in bad shape?

First, try to keep your trophy separated from other fish, be it in the live well, ice chest or even a bucket. Taxidermists may differ on suggestions, but here it is, more newspaper but this time thoroughly soak newspaper, lay fish flat, lay fins down in natural position, wrap up paper and place in plastic bag. Lay out flat on freezer shelf and contact your taxidermist.

Fish are most apt to freezer-burn, which takes away from the trophy. Remember respect.

OTHER TROPHIES

To cover the rest of the trophies (squirrel, bobcat, fox and whatever else), remember to handle with care, keep below 40, lay out in natural position, place in plastic bag, freeze and bring your taxidermist some work.

SKULL MOUNTS

Taxidermists are not magicians. When we receive a boar head for a skull mount only to find the hunter used their sharpshooter skill and placed the bullet right between the eyes, think about that.

Respect the trophy. Handle with care what may become supper and give the taxidermist a chance.

Not trying to be blunt but you should expect in return what you delivered. Any skull mount needs chilling or freezing, as all other trophies.

In closing, please share this article with all hunters and ask your taxidermist if this meets their needs. There may be personal preferences that will help all.

Good luck this season. Be safe, respect the trophy and give God the glory for the freedom to enjoy the outdoors.

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