8 Things Your Taxidermist Will Love You For

Bowhunter dragging whitetail deer through cornfield

Trophy quality begins with the care you take in the field. By Josh Lantz Anyone who plops their money down at the taxidermy shop wants and expects a great looking mount. Hunters expect a lot from their taxidermist and that’s reasonable. But remember: the taxidermist can only work with what they’re brought. Your actions in the field impact the quality (or lack thereof) of the finished mount, so following these eight tips will thrill your taxidermist, maximize your own gratification when the time to pick up your completed trophy arrives, and save you some money in the process.

8 point whitetail buck dead on the forest floor
Proper care of any animal to be mounted begins as soon as it hits the ground. The way the author’s 8-pointer will be field dressed, skinned, handled, transported and cared for will affect the final quality of the mount his taxidermist can create.

Talk to Your Taxidermist

Select a quality taxidermist and talk with them before your hunt. Explain where and how you’ll be hunting, what animal(s) you’ll pursue, and what resources you’ll have access to. Your taxidermist will be pleased to provide you with specific instructions for field dressing, caping or skinning (if necessary) and overall care of your animal to ensure the best possible mount. If you will be hunting in a location with no immediate access to a taxidermist or freezer, ask your taxidermist for detailed instructions on skinning and salting the hide. This is the only way to preserve your hide for mounting when hunting in remote or wilderness situations. Be aware that salting is only effective when the entire hide is skinned (including head and feet) and properly fleshed out.

Be Prepared

Make sure you leave enough room in your hunting pack for the gear that will allow you to take care of your trophy. Other than knowledge, the most important tool for proper trophy care in the field is a knife with a sharp blade. Multiple knives or individual knives with different specialized blades are helpful. Be sure to pack one or more sharpening tools to keep all blades in top shape. If you don’t already pack toilet paper, throw a roll in your pack to help clean blood off the hide. A bright light or headlamp will ensure you can clearly see what you are doing while field dressing or skinning after dark.

Dos and Don’ts of Dragging

Once your animal is down, try to avoid dragging it – especially with a rope. A rope around the neck almost always removes and damages hair, while rocks, sticks and the ground itself can also easily damage or puncture the hide. Instead, get it back to the truck or camp by placing it on a sled, rickshaw, or ATV. If you absolutely need to drag it, grab the animal by the antlers and lift as much of the front of its body as possible off of the ground. Never drag an animal by the hind legs.

Pack, knife, toilet paper and flashlight
Using input from your taxidermist, make a checklist of trophy care items you’ll need for your specific hunt, then make sure your pack is provisioned accordingly.

Field Dressing

Again, obtain specific field dressing instructions from your taxidermist before the hunt. Don’t cut open the chest cavity if you plan to have a shoulder mount made, and never slit the throat. Don’t make any cuts above the brisket or breastplate. Make your cuts with a sharp knife or gut hook. Always cut with the blade up. Once opened, cut the diaphragm away from the ribs all the way to the backbone area. Reach into the forward chest cavity, find the esophagus (wind pipe), and cut it off as far up in the neck as possible. Grasp the esophagus firmly and pull downward in a continuous motion to remove all the entrails.

Bottoms Up

Never hang any animal by the neck; it stretches the neck and may damage the hide. For deer-sized game, use a gambrel and hang it by the hind legs.

Caping / Skinning

Caping or skinning your big game trophy is best left to your taxidermist. Damage to a hide can be costly to repair, and some types of damage simply can’t be fixed. If you must skin your trophy yourself, consider leaving the head attached to the cape, and let your taxidermist turn out the delicate eyes, nose, lips and ears.

8 point whitetail buck dead on the forest floor
Proper care of any animal to be mounted begins as soon as it hits the ground. The way the author’s 8-pointer will be field dressed, skinned, handled, transported and cared for will affect the final quality of the mount his taxidermist can create.

Keep it Clean

Blood left on a hide for any length of time can easily leave permanent stains. Clean any blood off areas of the hide that will be mounted with snow or water as soon as possible. You remembered the toilet paper, right? Place some inside the animal’s mouth and nostrils to stop blood from leaking out – especially while hanging. Take care of your trophy during transportation. Don’t let it roll or bounce around in a dirty pickup bed. Take care to clean off all blood prior to transport, and wrap the animal or cape in an old sheet or blanket.

Get to It

Many trophies are compromised within the first few hours, as bacteria begin to attack quickly after death, especially in warm, humid weather. Completely skin, flesh and salt your hides (per your taxidermist’s detailed instructions) as quickly as possible when hunting in remote areas. Heat and moisture are the two main causes of hair slip. When hunting closer to home, keep every animal as cold as possible and bring it in to your taxidermist as soon as possible.

Do you have a tip for preserving your trophy? Share it in the comment section.

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Comments (5)

  1. I certainly have learned the hard way that you shouldn’t drag your deer. If you’re interested in taxidermy for your trophy, you need to keep it in as good of shape as possible. I’ve never tried dragging an animal by its hind legs but it’s obvious why that would be a bad idea with the backward growth of the fur.

  2. Hide Behind, Sir please slow down. Check your typing BEFORE you post the message.
    It is hard to understand what you are saying and I feel that the actual message is IMPORTANT to be read.

  3. Of all the game animals the elk and bear hides, and moose as well, need tobe caped out quickly as tbey retain heat far greater than do deer or varmits; Sthey turn sour very guickly.
    If you want to retain your hide, most beAr hunters do take your time and ffollow others on this site Dvice and carefully scrape all blood and especially the fat off of hides i.mmediately after kill.
    use back of blade to do do or better yet wittle a. Old piece of firesood to sharp enough to form a scraper.
    this will let hide cool wellbenough that when xone it will of cooled.
    An eell done elk, besr, or moose hide on your cMp cot is warmer than many new sleeping bagz.

  4. The best way to gut and cape will not make for a good mount if taken to an incompetent taxidermist and there are thousands of them outhere.
    if you are out of state you cannot trust even gun store owners within small towns as to whrre you can get your mount done?; as they will turn you on to some “Buddy”.
    Many a taxidermist do not do their own work but farm out hides and even mounts out to amaturetrainees.
    son goy a very gine white tail in Idaho, took advice of locals and nine months later ,and 400 miles one way, upon picking up mount gpund a complete butcher job by the idaho taxidermist.
    Guy has website and belongs to Tacidrtmist Association but upon questooning Asdociatoonbee gound half his picyures on intrrnet eete not of his own mounting.
    learn to cape but learn to find good taxdermist.
    Bring home by icing and shipping if legal in thatstate.

  5. After I downed my very first deer, as a first time hunter, I was in the process of gutting it when the ranch foreman I was hunting on, with permission, drove up. He asked if I knew what I was doing. I explained I had never done it before but had read up on it and even had a copy of a hunting mag open to the page where they detailed it. He laughed and asked to see the knife I had started using. It was a Buck knife and I thought, sharp enough to do the job. He laughed even more and said it wasn’t sharp enough, handed it back to me, and pulled out a similar Buck knife from a hip sheath. When he opened it, he showed it to me and said that’s how sharp you want your knife to be. Then, he proceeded to gut the deer with his sharp knife, giving me pointers along the way. I’ll never forget that lesson. After that, I always brought three ultra sharp knives on my hunts.

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