By Steve Sorensen
Taxidermy is an art form. The word comes from the Latin taxi, which means “movement,” and derma, which means “skin.” So the taxidermist moves skin from what was once a live specimen to a form that can be preserved and displayed in a lifelike way. Your part is to provide lifelike raw materials for him to work with. Here’s what to avoid if you expect your taxidermist to give you first rate work:
- Handling carelessly in the field. Treat the animal with respect. If you must drag a deer, drag it on both sides. Otherwise, the animal may look worn on one side. Better yet, drag it on a plastic sled or a tarp. And for goodness sake, drag it with the grain of the hair, not against it. Yes, I’ve seen hunters drag deer by the back legs, and it ain’t pretty.
- Being a show-off. Yes, you should be proud of that trophy, but don’t get carried away with showing it off. Get some good photos and make a few phone calls, but don’t drive all over town with your buck. If you must haul a deer very far in the back of a pickup truck, stop somewhere and roll it over to make sure heat isn’t trapped on the bottom. Protect it from the wind – you don’t want to drive airborne road grime into the hair. Also, deer hair is hollow – it kinks when it bends and it’s easy to break. Same goes for turkeys – feathers are especially easy to ruin. Get it to the taxidermist as soon as possible.
- Leaving the skin on. A deer hide traps heat, and heat stimulates the growth of bacteria. Once bacteria get into the hair follicles the hair will begin to slip and your trophy will be ruined. Warm weather accelerates the process. So, skin him as soon as possible. The meat and the hide will cool more quickly – better for eating and better for mounting.
- Slitting the throat. That’s just one way your knife can ruin a trophy. I saved a newspaper clipping from the local paper of a proud hunter with a high, wide 8-point. You could see, just below the buck’s white throat patch, where the hunter slit the throat to “bleed it out.” Never do that. You’ll cut through hair and it will be impossible for the taxidermist to fix without replacing that section of hide. Besides, putting a knife to the throat of a live deer is a good way to get badly injured. Antlers and hooves hurt. And if he’s dead, you can’t get more blood out of him any other way than normal field dressing. If he isn’t dead, shoot him again.
- Going cheap. Some guys shop around for the cheapest taxidermist, unaware that inferior materials might be the reason for the lower price. Other hunters have a buddy do it for just the cost of materials. No criticism of your buddy, but you need a taxidermist experienced in measuring so he can get the right size form and put eyes, ears, and antlers into proper relationship. A fledgling taxidermist might be doing you a favor, but down the road he’ll probably hope you don’t tell anyone he did it.
- Getting knife crazy. Improper skinning can damage your trophy. At best, it gives the taxidermist extra work. At worst, your mount will show seams that make it look unrealistic. So, don’t make any cuts in the head and neck. Definitely don’t cut up the front of the deer’s neck. Never cut from the outside in; always cut from the inside out. When you separate the head from the carcass leave plenty of skin. Then let your taxidermist skin the head. He knows how to do the eyelids, nose and lips.
- Being ignorant about taxidermy. Actually, this is something your taxidermist can fix – if you stop by his shop before going hunting and ask him for advice on how to handle your animal from the field to his shop. Take his advice, and he’ll give you a better job.
Ideally, the relationship between the hunter and the taxidermist is a two-way mutual admiration society. If he admires the raw materials you bring him, you’re more likely to admire the mount he returns to you. And so will others when they see it on your wall.
About Steve Sorensen…
Outdoor writer and speaker Steve Sorensen has been a fan of knives since he was six, when he began begging his dad to take him hunting. His articles have been published in Deer and Deer Hunting, North American Whitetail, Sports Afield, and many other top magazines across the USA. Invite Steve to speak at your next sportsman’s event, or follow his writing on his website, EverydayHunter.com.
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