Whitetail Buck in the field.jpg

Caring for a trophy mount begins in the field. It is never a good idea drag a deer through the woods as this can cause hair removal or bruising that may cause the hair to release after tanning.

There is an army of deer hunters in Texas, and many of them will be out in force in coming weeks with high hopes of tagging a buck worthy of a trip to their favorite taxidermy shop. Sadly, some of them will botch their trophies long before they make it to the fleshing table.

As busy as deer hunters are these days, it may be an even busier time of year for guys like Dan McBride.

McBride is a Burnet-based taxidermist who is also president of the Texas Taxidermy Association, a 34-year-old non-profit educational organization dedicated to the conservation of wildlife through the preservation of specimens to the highest standards of the art of taxidermy.

McBride is a veterinarian by trade, but he is also an award winning taxidermist with 50 years of experience under his belt. As much as he enjoys his side job, McBride hates it when a hunter comes calling expecting him to work miracles on a freezer-burned hide or a cape that has been hacked up so badly with a skinning knife that it can't be salvaged.

Like most taxidermists, McBride agreed that hunters can at times be their own worst enemies when it comes to turning a once-in-a-lifetime trophy into a work of art they can enjoy for many years down the road.

Bottomline: “Some mistakes can be corrected, but others can't,” McBride said.

I recently asked McBride to share some tips for hunters to follow to help eliminate the possibility of hearing bad news when they drop off their trophy for mounting, and how to keep the finished product looking showroom new for seasons to come:

1.) Making the Right Shot: Many high caliber rifles used for deer hunting will leave a bullet entry wound small enough to poke pinky in, but the exit wound may be as large as a baseball.

McBride says it is always best shoot a trophy deer behind the shoulder so there won't be any bullet holes to deal with once the cape has been transferred to the mannequin.

“It is not a good idea to shoot a deer in the neck, but if a shot does get misplaced and it leaves a big hole in the neck, a good taxidermist may still be able to make the cape usable,” he said. “There are lots of different styles of forms available that may make it possible to pose the animal so the damage isn't visible. Let the taxidermist be the one to make that call.”

2.) Cape it Out: The cape is the portion of the deer hide that covers the shoulders, neck and head; it must be removed and transferred onto the form of your choice.

McBride said it easy to damage a cape by making the wrong cuts with a skinning knife. One of the most common mistakes is cutting down the side of a deer's front legs and into the brisket area. Another is not leaving enough hide behind the shoulders to cover a shoulder mount form.

“I've had guys come in wanting pedestal mount when they barely had enough to do a shoulder mount,” he said. “If you are unsure about how much to leave, skin the animal halfway back around the belly area and let the taxidermist throw away what they don't need.”

If you are a true novice, it might be wise to let the taxidermist do the caping. There may be a small fee, but it will be worth it in the long haul. There are some excellent instructional videos on the Internet, as well.

3.) Care in the Field: Caring for a deer cape and head that is destined for the taxidermist is no different than caring for meat that is headed for the skillet. It's best to keep it clean and place it in a cool environment a quickly as possible.

If there is not a walk-in cooler available, McBride recommends putting the cape and head in a plastic bag and placing it in an ice chest with fresh ice. “I don't advise sealing the bag,” McBride said. “That hide needs to be able to breathe.”

Sometimes hunters will remove the cape from the skull and freeze it so it can be used for mounting later on. McBride always cautions against using salt on the hide.

“Salting will prevent the hide from freezing properly and it will cause it to freezer burn,” he said. “If you're going to freeze a cape for later use, wash it clean with a good dish or laundry soap to remove any blood and dirt. Rinse it real good and roll it up wet with the flesh side in and double bag it. It'll keep a year or longer that way.”

4.) Show and Tell: Lots of hunters are inclined to drive around with a big buck in the back of the their pick-up for hours showing their trophy to anyone willing to look.

McBride says you are safe to do this for a few hours so long as it is not more than 70 degrees outside. “If it's really warm you need to get it on ice,” he said. “If it's freezing, it not really an issue.”

5.) Clean It Up: Once you get your mount home, McBride recommends giving it a good cleaning once a year. The first order of business is blowing dust and dirt out of the hair using an air compressor. He suggests using Scott's Liquid Gold wood cleaner on a soft rag to clean the antlers and the nose. “I even use it on Q-Tips to clean around the tear ducts around eyes,” he said.

Matt Williams is a freelance writer based in Nacogdoches. He can be reached by e-mail, mattwilliams@netdot.com.

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