Trophy Field Care for Taxidermy

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Taxidermy Field Care How-To Guide: 
A simple step-by-step guide to skinning your trophy for taxidermy - Including field care tips.


Measuring Your Trophy Deer


Skinning Your Mount for Taxidermy:  Field Dressing


Caping for a Shoulder Mount


Skinning Life Size Big Game for Taxidermy


The Flat Incision


The Dorsal Method


Small Mammals








Measuring for Shoulder Mount Forms
There are 5 basic measurements that are needed when mounting a shoulder mount trophy. Taking accurate measurements ensures that you will be using the best mannequin or form for your trophy. The right form can save you valuable time and energy because less, and possibly no alterations will be necessary.  


Before skinning or "caping" the specimen, take a special measurement that will come in handy later during the mounting process. You will not need these to order your form, but they are very helpful in setting your horns in place on your form or mannequin. Measure from the tip of the right antler to the tip of the nose, then from the tip of the left antler to the tip of the nose. Don't forget to refer back to those numbers to get the original position of the antlers on the skull. Many armatures make the mistake of setting the horns too far forward or too far back on the form.


The next measurement is the "A" Measurement. It is the distance from the tip of the nose to the inside corner of the eye. The most accurate way to take this measurement is using a "caliper". It is a special measuring tool that is used in taxidermy to obtain the most accurate measurements. The rest of the measurements should be taken from the carcass of a skinned specimen. 


The next measurement is the "B" Measurement. This is the circumference of the neck at the throat and around the neck crossing the atlas of the neck.  


The "A" and "B" measurements are what you will need in order to select your form. The next 2 measurements provide information you will need during the mounting process in order to give a true representation of the the amount of swell a neck might have.


"C" is the circumference of the neck tight to the head, just behind the ears. And "D" is the circumference of the neck 3 inches down from the "B" measurement.  


Measuring a Tanned Cape:  To measure the tanned cape, soak the hide and lay it out flat, hair side down.  Pull the hide to full width, but don't over-stretch, and measure the width just below the ears. This measurement will correspond to the "B" measurement used to order forms. To find the "A" measurement, use a tape measure or calipers from the front corner of the eye to the front of the nose. This will be close, but "A" is best taken before skinning.


Skinning Your Mount for Taxidermy - Field Dressing


With the 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.

 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.

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 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.

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 wind pipe, cut them off as far up as possible and pull them down through the chest.

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, the process of skinning out a trophy animal for taxidermy, is best left to the taxidermist. Their experience skinning, especially the delicate nose, mouth, eyes, and ears is 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 begins 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 (or skinning) 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 (Skinning) for a Shoulder Mount

With a sharp knife, slit the hide circling the body behind the shoulder at approximately the midway 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 skinning 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.

Avoid dragging the deer out of the woods with a rope. Place it on a sled, a rickshaw, or a four-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 our 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 for taxidermy. These methods are the flat incision and the dorsal method.


Skinning Using The Flat Incision

The flat incision is used for rug mounts and for a variety of poses. 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.


If you can't take your hide immediately to a taxidermist, freeze it to your taxidermist's specifications.

Skinning Using 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 from the carcass as with a shoulder mount explained later. Only use this method with approval and detailed instructions from your taxidermist. Use this method only when the skin can be frozen quickly after skinning.


Small Mammals

Animals, coyote sized or smaller, should not be skinned unless by a professional. Don't gut the animal. Small mammals, especially carnivores, will spoil quickly because of their thin hide and bacteria. If you can't take the small game animal immediately to a taxidermist, as soon as the carcass cools completely, put it in a plastic bag and freeze it. With the epidemic of rabies evident in many areas of the country, take every safety measure necessary when handling your game.


Do not gut the bird. Rinse any blood from the feathers with water. Take the bird immediately to your taxidermist or freeze it. Put the bird into a plastic bag for freezing, being careful not to damage the feathers, including the tail. If the bird's tail feathers do not fit in the bag, do not 


Do not gut your fish.

If you cannot take your fish immediately to a taxidermist, wrap it in a very wet towel and put it in a plastic bag, making sure all the fins are flat against the fish's body (to prevent breakage) and freeze it. A fish frozen in this manner can safely be kept in the freezer for months.

Note: A fish will lose its coloration shortly after being caught. A good color photograph immediately after the catch may enable the taxidermist to duplicate the natural color tones of that particular fish.

  • Always have appropriate tags with your trophies when you take them to your taxidermist.

  • Do not cut off the ears for attachment.

  • Songbirds, Eagles, Hawks and Owls are protected by Federal Law and can not be mounted unless with special Federal permit.

  • For situations where you are hunting with no available taxidermist or freezer, ask your taxidermist about techniques to skin out the entire cape (including the head) and salting the hide. This is the only method in remote locations that can preserve your hide for later mounting.


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Measuring for Shoulder Mounts





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