How to Make Your Taxidermist's Life Easier
By Troy Truman
By Troy Truman
Troy Truman is one of the best taxidermists in southern Utah. His work is known West-wide. We, as Huntin' Fools, are lucky to receive some useful tips from him that will help preserve our trophies. Give him a call at 435-231-1300 if you have any questions.
Wow! August is already here, which means hunting season is just around the corner. I don't know about the rest of you, but I schedule my life around hunting season. As a practicing taxidermist hunting season can be a little hectic with incoming trophies and hunts on top of each other. At times we find that it can be very difficult to follow our love of hunting and the outdoors; we are constantly trying to squeeze in quality outdoor trips. I was talking with Garth Carter from The Huntin’ Fool the other day, discussing his taxidermy projects, and he reminded me that he had a couple of fall Mule deer capes in the freezer. After a couple of days in the shop we finally got to look at the capes, finding his Kaibab Paiute Indian Reservation cape, which was a big, dark, desert cape. The other was a high-country Colorado cape, which had very dense, thick hair and was a gorgeous specimen.
Being a taxidermy artist for over 20 years now I have found that not all specimens are created equal. The final outcome of our trophies can differ due to many circumstances that we can’t avoid, such as scars due to fighting, ticks, early to late season hunts resulting in short hair to long hair, and even some without any hair (African animals). These and other factors can totally change the end result. Case in point is the Utah Sportsman Desert Bighorn 2011 recipient, Charles Pedersen, who started his season in early September.
He harvested a tremendous high 150’s Desert Bighorn 5 days into his hunt. With normal daytime temperatures in early September reaching 90 degrees or higher hair is generally very short. Therefore it was extremely difficult to mount in order to hide scars and stitching, but on the other hand the ability to create anatomical detail was virtually easy, making a beautiful product of this life-size ram. On the flip side Dave Mendenhall of St. George, Utah drew a Desert Bighorn tag that same year and harvested a great 157" Utah Desert Bighorn after hunting for nearly 2 months. This beautiful ram had very thick, desirable, dark-colored hair with brilliant white markings on the face and legs. Hair length not only added beauty but also increased the overall size of the ram, which is more desirable to look at. This mount proved to be an awesome, eye-popping trophy!
Speaking from a taxidermist's opinion, appearance can vary tremendously with size and color. While hunting, most of the time we, as sportsmen, don’t realize a good specimen from a bad specimen, rather we look at antler or horn size. That is what trophy hunting is all about, and we take our chances when antlers or horns are the primary goal.
I remember a couple of years ago I was on a trophy Mule deer hunt looking over many quality bucks, trying to find that elusive 200" plus Mulie. We were hunting in snow, and temperatures were very cold for the end of October; regardless it was a perfect day to be out after trophy Mule deer. My brother, Todd, and I had found a couple of great, mature bucks, and the larger of the two appeared to be what we were looking for. We watched him for quite awhile, trying to decide whether or not to harvest this buck. We started to pick him apart, finding antler symmetry problems. We opted not to take the buck, but we both commented on what a gorgeous white face and dark, double bib cape he had. I still to this day wonder if our decision was sound!
Archery season will begin very soon in some states. Extra care needs to be taken if you happen to harvest an elusive velvet-antlered deer. I receive more calls in August than any other month from hunters asking, “What can I do to ensure my trophy is in the best shape when I bring it to you?” My answer is to take all precautions necessary to guarantee that you not only take care of the cape and velvet covered antlers but that you also keep the trophy cool and get it to your taxidermist as soon as you can. As a master taxidermist there are some things I would like to share that will help you help us create high quality art pieces and life-long memories for your trophy rooms.
Take the best possible care you can while in the field. If velvet is applicable, you need to be educated on what you are up against. Velvet can be very tricky, especially if the antlers are close to shedding the velvet. Formaldehyde is generally the preserver, but it is very toxic to use. We would urge you to let your taxidermist preserve the velvet, but we understand that not all circumstances are the same. After that communicate with your taxidermist.
Remember that if you think the cape is long enough when you make the incisions, add a foot to be sure! Many full shoulder and pedestal full shoulder mounts require very full capes. If possible, do not cut into the brisket area from the front legs. Tube them high from the brisket, and always skin as carefully as you can. We realize that certain circumstances can cause problems, such as severe heat, darkness, weather, and especially cold temperatures. Do your best, and get it to your taxidermist. We will finish the skinning process and everything else necessary in the shop.
After you harvest take some photos. Great photos help us tremendously! Take different angle shots and multiple profile and head-on shots. This can ensure that we do your trophy justice. Geographical areas and age may alter the size of the animal. For instance, the Arizona Strip not only consistently produces some of the largest Boone & Crockett deer, but it also produces some of the largest anatomical deer I have ever seen. I personally have seen a few giant Mule deer bucks from the Strip that field dressed around the 300 pound mark. Taxidermy suppliers and form sculptors generally do not offer forms anywhere near the size we need for bucks that big. Therefore this becomes a challenge for us to create forms large enough to accept bucks like that. If you are going to cape these large animals, it helps us, as your taxidermist, to take a few measurements while in the field. Measure from the tip of the nose to the front corner of the eye. Also take a meat measurement around where the head meets the neck, if possible. If a life size mount is in order, take a circumference around the chest/stomach area and also from the nose to the base of the tail. These simple measurements can make a taxidermist’s life a little easier.
Salting is a necessary part of the cure/preservation process. We need to flesh the hide, carefully skin and turn the ears inside out, and split and skin the lips, eyes, and paws/hooves. When the skin is properly prepared it is ready to salt. I would suggest not salting your skins if all of the above procedures have not been taken. Premature salting adds more difficulty in preparing your skin for tanning. I would suggest that you properly freeze your skins, if you can, by rolling it headfirst into a ball with the hair out. Double or triple plastic bags will help if skins are in the freezer for a long period of time, 3 months or longer. Remember that thick-hided animals, such as elk, moose, and buffalo, need to be cooled well before freezing because heat will not dissipate well when rolled up prior to freezing. This will cause hair slippage in extreme cases, so be cautious.
While in the outdoors and after the harvest keep your taxidermist in mind regarding proper care and handling. The more precautions you take, the more satisfied you will be. I have thoroughly enjoyed many years working on countless, beautiful trophies. We always try our best to produce the most life-like and natural art pieces possible. Finally my advice to you would be to leave the artwork to your taxidermist because we have your best interest at heart. Our love for wildlife and the recreation therein is our motivator. Enjoy the outdoors, and most of all, be safe! Happy hunting! We would love to hear from you anytime.