Help Us Help You: Taxidermy Tips for Sportsmen

Help Us Help You: Taxidermy Tips for Sportsmen
Is your trophy buck a mule deer or a whitetail? It helps if your taxidermist knows the subtle differences required for a proper mount. Darrel McMicken, shown here, has more than 25,000 mounts to his credit. Photo by Tim Lilley.

Every sportsman wants his taxidermist to turn out a great mount. In order to do that, it helps if the taxidermist gets what he or she needs from the sportsman!

That's what this story is all about. We'll break it down into taxidermy tips like dealing with trophy mounts of fish, birds and North American big game. Each has special considerations for hunters and anglers who hope to capture memories forever with quality mounts of their trophies.

There is one common thread, however, based on the conversations with taxidermists I had in preparation for this story. It's communication.

"Do research in advance," said Bill Yox, one of North America's best. Yox has been named Taxidermist of the Year by the National Taxidermists Association, and has finished No. 2 in the Best in the World competition for deer.

"I suggest that people scout for taxidermists like they do for nice bucks," he said. "Talk to several. Tell them where you're going, what you'll be fishing for or hunting, and ask them what you need to do to provide them what they need to get you the mount you hope for. Taxidermists don't always agree with each other.

"After price," the master taxidermist added, "the condition of the fish, bird or animal when it arrives to us is the biggest issue we taxidermists deal with. That's why I always tell people to prepare in advance for this part of their hunt or fishing trip. We want to do the best job we can, all of is. But they have to help us achieve that."

"It all starts with field preparation," said Darrell McMicken, who has more than 20 years' experience and is well known for his work, with more than 25,000 mounts to his credit. "Without question, temperature is your enemy. The effects of temperature is one of the recurring issues all taxidermists deal with."

After talking to Yox and McMicken, it's clear that cooling is the No. 1 in-the-field consideration. It ranks near pre-trip communications when it comes to the most important considerations in getting the mount you want.

FISH

Anglers have an option that hunters don't. They can have amazingly accurate replicas made of their trophy catches. Therefore, they can release the fish of a lifetime to fight another day, and avoid concerns over preserving the fish for the taxidermist.

"Some fishermen, of course, are going to want the actual fish they catch mounted," Yox said, "and I understand that. If an angler plans to bring me the actual fish he catches, I tell them to take a lot of pictures ASAP after landing the fish so that I'll have an idea of the natural coloration of that particular fish. I also ask them to take accurate measurements so that I can recreate how the fish looked when it came out of the water."

"Anglers should get fish in a cooler with ice just as quickly as they can after they land it," McMicken said. "And within a couple of days, they should seal it in a plastic bag and freeze it until they can get the fish to their taxidermist."

BIRDS

Yox and McMicken recommended a few fairly simple steps wingshooters can take to help their taxidermist get them the most handsome mounts possible of their game birds.

One of the most important in-the-field steps you can take is to inspect the birds you've harvested and pick out the very best one. That is, the one with the least amount of damage. Note that the less handling of the bird you do, the better.

As soon as you can, get the bird wrapped and sealed in plastic, and freeze it until you can deliver it for mounting. Reinforcing the tails of the birds will be helpful in achieving a nice mount, as will tucking the bird's head under a wing prior to freezing.

"Just wrapping birds in newspapers or pantyhose — which people have done probably to every taxidermist in the world — is not the way to assure a good mount," McMicken said.

"Common sense prevails with birds, fish, any animal you intend to have mounted," Yox said.

Wild turkeys make some of the most gorgeous taxidermy mounts. And you only need to remember a couple of things to make your mount among the prettiest around.

Don't put your gobbler in a game bag. Carry it out of the woods. The taxidermists suggest carrying a blaze orange shooting vest to wrap around the bird for the walk out as a way of enhancing safety. Again, the less handling you do, the better.

NORTH AMERICAN BIG GAME

Over the past 15 years, the state of deer hunting has changed dramatically. Quality deer management has helped create a number of big-buck hotspots that draw hunters from all over the continent — heck, all over the world — every season. Many hunters hope to visit one or more of those spots one day. The common thread is that hunters will be travelling across state lines to hunt their buck of a lifetime.

"When it comes right down to it," Yox said, "your best bet (for the best possible mount) is to leave the buck right there '¦ in the area where you took it. I encourage people to talk to their taxidermist at home, to the outfitter they'll be hunting with, and to taxidermists in the area that outfitter recommends."

If you take a big buck out of state and are committed to bringing it home to your local taxidermist, Yox and McMicken both emphasized that you know the rules regarding transportation and tagging. And, of course, you will have to process the animal after harvest and get the rack and hide ready for transportation.

Steps to avoid damage begin literally at the spot where you find the buck after your shot. Both men strongly recommended that hunters carry a plastic tarp with them for use in dragging the deer out of the woods.

"Putting that buck on a tarp and dragging it out does a couple of things to enhance the mount down the road," McMicken said. "First, it will help keep the animal as clean as possible. Second, it will minimize the amount of hair lost due to dragging the animal directly across the ground."

Both men highly recommend that hunters learn how to properly cape a big-game animal well in advance. Your taxidermist can help you learn.

OTHER CONSIDERATIONS

It's clear, after talking to these men, that if you're hunting home country and take a trophy you want mounted — regardless of species — just get the complete animal to the taxidermist as quickly as you can. That will assure that he will be able to have what he needs to provide the kind of mount you expect.

Although we covered a lot of information here, there's just as much that's not covered. Talk to your taxidermist. Plan your hunting and fishing trips in advance with taxidermy in mind.

Help your taxidermist help you.

Do you have any taxidermy tips to share? Leave a comment and tell us!

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