The key to authentic, beautifully preserved wildlife mounts in Montana is the proper preparation of the hide. If you’re planning on putting up a trophy that stands as a testament to your hunting prowess, make sure you’re paying mind to how the hide is field prepped and cared for before it’s given to Alpine Custom Taxidermy. Here are a few tips.
1. With deer on its back make a shallow cut through the skin just below the breastbone. Make sure that you start your cut well away from the brisket allowing plenty of uncut skin for your shoulder mount. Insert two fingers of the free hand, cradling the blade, to hold the skin up and away from the entrails.
2. Cut straight down the belly and around the genitals, separating but not severing them from the abdominal wall. Slit the belly skin all the way to the pelvic bone.
3. Cut deeply around the rectum, being careful not to cut off or puncture the intestine. Pull to make sure the rectum is separated from tissue connecting it to the pelvic canal. Pull the rectum out and tie a string tightly around it to prevent droppings from touching the meat. Lift the animal’s back quarter a bit, reach into the front of the pelvic canal, and pull the intestine and connected rectum into the stomach area.
4. If you want to make a full shoulder mount, do not cut open the chest cavity. Cut the diaphragm away from the ribs all the way to the backbone area. Reach into the forward chest cavity, find the esophagus and windpipe, cut them off as far up as possible and pull them down through the chest.
5. Roll the deer onto its side, grab the esophagus with one hand and the rectum/intestine with the other. Pull hard. The deer’s internal organs will come out in one big package with a minimum of mess.
Caping is the process of skinning out a trophy animal, is best left to the taxidermist. Their experience skinning, especially the delicate nose, mouth, eyes, and ears are invaluable toward producing a quality mount. Damage to a hide is costly to repair. Some types of damage simply cannot be “fixed” by the taxidermist.
Many trophies are ruined in the first few hours after death. As soon as the animal dies, bacteria begin to attack the carcass. Warm, humid weather accelerates bacteria growth. In remote areas or areas not near your taxidermist, a competent person may be required to cape out the hide in order to preserve it.
Every taxidermist has a preferred method of caping a hide. Contact your taxidermist prior to your hunt in order to get instructions on their caping requirements. However, the following techniques are generally acceptable.
Caping for a Shoulder Mount
With a sharp knife slit the hide circling the body behind the shoulder at approximately the mid-way point of the rib cage behind the front legs. Slit the skin around the legs just above the knees. An additional slit will be needed from the back of the leg and joining the body cut behind the legs.
Peel the skin forward up to the ears and jaw exposing the head/neck junction. Cut into the neck approximately three inches down from this junction. Circle the neck cutting down to the spinal column. After this cut is complete, grasp the antler bases and twist the head off the neck. This should allow the hide to be rolled up and put in a freezer until transported to the taxidermist. These cuts should allow ample hide for the taxidermist to work with in mounting. Remember, the taxidermist can cut off excess hide but he can’t add what he doesn’t have.
When field dressing a trophy to be mounted, don’t cut into the brisket (chest) or neck area. If blood gets on the hide to be mounted, wash it off with snow or water as soon as possible. Also, avoid dragging the deer out of the woods with a rope. Place it on a sled, rickshaw, or 4-wheeler. The rope, rocks, or a broken branch from a deadfall can easily damage the fur or puncture the hide. If you do need to drag it out with a rope, attach the rope to the base of the antlers and drag your trophy carefully.
Skinning Life-Size Big Game
There are two major methods of skinning for a large life-size mount such as deer, elk or bear. These methods are the flat incision and the dorsal method.
The Flat Incision:
The flat incision is used for rug mounts and for a variety of poses. The areas to cut are shown in. Make these slits (cutting the feet free from the carcass) and pull the skin off the carcass. The head is detached as with the shoulder mount.
The Dorsal Method:
The dorsal method of skinning involves a long slit down the back (from the tail base up into the neck). The carcass is skinned as it is pulled through this incision. The feet/hooves and the head are cut off from the carcass as with the shoulder mount explained later. Only use this method with approval and detailed instruction from your taxidermist.
For Small Mammals
For smaller mammal trophies, don’t gut the animal! Thin hides spoil quickly and can be extremely hard to salvage if not properly prepped. Instead, try to freeze the entire animal and take it to a taxidermist as soon as possible.
Keeping these tips in mind, you’ll be able to deliver a well-preserved hide to your taxidermist, who will transform it into a breathtaking wildlife mount. If you have questions and you’re in Columbia Falls, Whitefish, or Flathead County, MT, be sure to contact Alpine Custom Taxidermy today at 406-892-2907!