1 Jun 2007
I have been a hunter from childhood. I was raised by a hunter who was the son of a hunters son. My first hunting trophies were squirrel tails, coon hides and a snake skin or two. My trophy collection has grown over the past forty years dominating every wall of every room in my log home. My collection has spread to the hunting lodge I built for my outfitting and guide business, and even my work shop, in my effort to ensure no trophy shall be without a place of its very own. Each trophy is unique in ways deeper than appearance, they all stand for a special moment in time, displayed for all to see and be reminded of the events that unfolded the day this animal was harvested. Every hunt is relived in unusual detail, when I look at a trophy mount on my wall. The days before and after the hunt are long forgotten, but that day of the harvest, the people who were there, the weather, the feeling of excitement, even the smell in the air are frozen in time like it all happened just moments ago. A mounted trophy is much more than a preserved recreation, it’s the key to that special day in your past.
Now is the time to make preparations for your next trophy, yes, before you’ve got it on the tailgate! You, the shooter, can make the difference between a show quality mount or one that’s bug eyed and sheds on the sofa. The outfitter, meat processor and the taxidermist are only as good as the ones you choose to hire. A small amount of research will go a long way when the time comes to trust someone with your one of a kind trophy.
If you don’t already have a taxidermist that you know and trust a good way to start your search is by paying attention to trophy mounts that your friends and family display in their homes. Information about local taxidermist and their work can be found at area sporting good stores. A wildlife expo is a great place to view mounts and talk to several taxidermist under one roof. After learning who’s turning out high quality mounts it’s a good idea to talk to them and ask about their personal preferences on capping and storing your hide. Find out about their average turnaround time and the fees they charge. Remember you get what you pay for, if something sounds to good to be true it probably is. The other side of that coin is the most expensive taxidermist aren’t necessarily the best. Let the quality of their work be the deciding factor. A professional dedicated taxidermist will produce a trophy mount that’s sure to look good for many years. Trust me when I say that you will never regret going the extra mile to have it done right.
A taxidermist is only as good as what you give them to work with. Skinning and properly preparing the cape for the taxidermist is a task all hunters should know. If you hunt “own your own” you gotta know. If you hire an outfitter, a guide or skinner should cape your hide, but you should make sure its properly done. These are things you need to know because you make the difference.
The two most common problems that taxidermist encounter with a cape is hair slippage (shedding) and hides that are cut off to short producing a cape that won’t fit over the selected form. The good thing is, these two common problems, are easily avoided. Other problems effecting the mount are bullet damage, improper handling and holes resulting from careless skinning.
If possible, avoid dragging a hog you intend to mount. Never drag against the direction of the hair (feet first). When you have no other option but to drag, try lying the hog on a tarp to protect the hide.
Never tie rope around the hogs neck to drag or hang it. This can also damage the hair follicles giving the coat an unnatural appearance.
Do not cut the hogs throat and try to avoid having to take a head shot. On most hogs, especially those with a thick coat of hair, a good taxidermist can repair most bullet damage and cuts, rendering them hardly noticeable. Many charge extra for this additional work.
Hogs have been known to carry brucilosis. I recommend wearing surgical gloves while gutting/skinning and handling raw meat. Once it’s cooked it’s ok.
When possible always remove the cape before field dressing or gutting. Blood and other internal fluids can stain the cape and accelerate spoilage by spreading bacteria. If you must field dress the hog before removing the cape, never cut forward of the breast plate. Any unnecessary cuts in the cape can have a negative effect on the quality of the finished product.
Too much cape is always better than too little, let the taxidermist trim the excess. If your cape is too short to fit over the form, you may have the only shoulder-less mount on the block! When capping a hog for a shoulder mount it is a good rule of thumb to start midway between the front and hind legs. Make a circular cut around the hogs entire midsection (see fig-1). Then cut around the lowest section of each front leg, next cut from this point directly down the back of each leg to the chest and on straight back to connect with the cut at the midsection (see fig-2). The above mentioned cuts are best made with a box cutter, set the blade ¼” out. I use the disposable type with the break off blades. I know it sounds cheap, but hey, it’s always sharp, never cuts to deep and keeps you from dulling your skinning knife on the tough hair and hide!
Start skinning (with your skinning knife) at the midsection where the cuts meet (see fig-3). Skin from this point down to the base of the neck. As you skin pull the hide forward and let it roll inside out (see fig-4 & 5). Work your way around the hog skinning a little on one side and then the other. Take your time and make every effort to cut as close to the hide as possible without cutting through. Any fat and meat left on the hide will have to be fleshed off later.
If the hog has a thick shield on the shoulders, like many mature boars do, you will find it will get increasingly difficult to cut next to the skin as you work your way toward the head. Your knife will tend to follow the path between the shield and the meat leaving the shield attached to the skin. This makes the hide stiff and difficult to work with but other than that is not a problem because the shield can be removed later. When your done I can guarantee you’ll have newfound respect for the toughness of a hog hide! When you reach the base of the skull, you will see the back of the jawbone, hold the hide out of the way and saw the head from the body with the cape intact (see fig-6 & 7).
Let’s stop here and talk about hair slippage. It should be your main concern. You shoot your hog between the eyes, cut the throat, wrap the neck with rope, drag it out, gut it first, whack-up the cape getting it off and cut it short, to deliver, dripping with blood, to your taxidermist. If he/she thinks a lot of you (of course your about to blow that) you may get a decent mount back. If you allow your cape to be a victim of hair slippage, the party’s over!
What is hair slippage? If the root of the hair does not “set” in the hide it will slip out causing the hide to shed hair. What causes hair slippage? Minor slippage or mechanical hair slippage can be caused by damage from dragging, from the animal rubbing or naturally shedding. Most hair slippage occurs when bacteria is allowed to grow causing spoilage/decay. Bacteria produce enzymes that break down the skin tissue. Once the skin tissue starts breaking down it looses its ability to hold the hair. Bacteria begins to grow at 40 degrees, it thrives in warm, moist, dark places. Hair follicles are rooted in a pocket of fluid where bacteria thrive. Bacteria feed off of the nutrients in blood and will be concentrated there. Feces and other internal fluids also contain concentrated bacteria. Internal fluids will spread these “pockets” of concentrated bacteria where ever they go. The hair slippage caused by bacteria is irreversible and can range from isolated patches, at best, to rendering a cape useless. No more talk about microorganisms, this is what you need to know to prevent hair slippage. Get your cape off the hog A.S.A.P.. Don’t ride all over three counties showing it off. Take some good pic’s and get to skinning. If it’s warm, say 75 deg., two hours from the time of harvest you should be getting the field heat out of that cape. In sub-freezing temperature this is not an issue, you’ve got time, but warm weather and hog hunting seem to be running buddies.
Ok, so you’ve removed the cape, head intact, from the hog as discussed above. You should clean it with cold water to remove any blood, feces, etc. Now you have a couple of options, cool it below 40 deg. or prepare the cape to be salted. The ideal thing to do is put the head and cape into an ice chest and go straight to the taxidermist studio. Because of logistics this may not be an option. If this is the case you should cool and freeze the cape/head. After you’ve cleaned it lay it stretched open uncovered in a fridge/freezer to remove the field heat. Once its chilled, fold the hide skin to skin wrap it up in a plastic bag and freeze (DO NOT SALT). If you fail to clean and pre-cool the cape it could sit in the freezer wrapped up full of field heat, insulated by hair, contaminated with bacteria and ruin before it freezes. If you salt it before freezing……….like the state salts the roads………understand. If you have access to a walk in cooler you can store your cape there for a couple of days before going to the taxidermist. The cooler should be under 40 degrees, you should still lay it open to pre-cool before bagging and you need to use a breathable bag such as burlap to allow drainage.
When your hunting from a spike camp or have a non-payment issue with the co-op, cooling/freezing may not be an option, then you must salt. Salting preserves the cape by removing the moisture, killing bacteria and its proliferation. Preparing a cape to salt is best if left for your taxidermist to tend to, but if your going to be in a situation where it is your only option you have to do it and you must do it right. We will go through the process step by step in the next edition of B.H.M.. See you in tusker city baby!