Trophy Field Care Guide by McKenzie Taxidermy Supply

      Trophy Field Care Guide

    by McKenzie Taxidermy Supply





    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, 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 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.


    Skinning Life-Size Big Game

    There are two major methods of skinning for a large life-size mount such as deer, elk, or bear. These methods are the flat incision and the dorsal method.

    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.


    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.



    Caping 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 field dressing 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.

    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 bend them. Let the tail stick out of the bag and tie the bag loosely.


    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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    TROPHY CARE from the field to the taxidermist-here's what you need to know.
    It never fails that each year I see several trophy animals ruined due to improper handling in the field. With a little knowledge, many of these mistakes could be prevented. The purpose of this article is to help you get your trophy to your taxidermist in the best possible condition. Proper field care, and knowing what to do, is a big part of making your mount look it's absolute best.


    Carefully examine the fish for damage and determine the best or "show" side.
    Take a good 35 mm color photo. Avoid bright sun and flash photos (too much glare). If you can't, a good taxidermist knows the color of the fish in his or her area.
    Keep the fish alive or get it cold. If putting the fish in a cooler keep the "show" side up, AND PUT NOTHING ON TOP OF THE FISH. This is very important to keep the fish from getting blotchy. No cans, no other fish - NOTHING on top of the fish.
    If you cannot take the fish to a taxidermist right away, then you must freeze the fish. Wrap the fish in a clean towel or wet rags, then press all air out. Put in a plastic bag (garbage bags work), taking care to keep the fish as flat as possible, place it in a freezer.
    ...............NEVER, EVER............... Gut the fish. While this damage can usually be repaired, it will cost extra.
    Wrap the fish in newspaper. News print can be absorbed by the fish skin and may be hard to cover. News paper also dries out the skin leaving the fins very fragile.
    If you are in a back country situation where freezing may not be possible, or a fisherman who practices catch & release, you may want to have a reproduction of your fish done, instead of a skin mount.

    Measure the length from the nose to tip of the tail. Fan or spread the tail when measuring.
    Measure the girth (circumference) of the fish around the belly. Weigh the fish, if possible.
    Note the sex of the fish (when possible) and whether or not it is spawning.This is most important for members of the trout & salmon family.
    Take several good quality color photos of the fish. 35 mm pictures are best, NO flash photos, and avoid bright sunlight (too much glare) if you can. A taxidermist can do a good job without a photo.
    Release the fish (or fillet it).


    Birds are very easy to care for in the field. First, you must determine if the bird is good enough to mount. Many birds brought in each year, particularly waterfowl, are not fully feathered enough to make a good mount. Check for pin feathers by gently lifting backwards and looking for feathers that are not fully grown. The back of the neck, the top of the head, the rump and the side feathers are the areas where pin or blood feathers are the most common. Look also at the size of the bird compared to other birds of the same species. Older, more mature birds are generally larger. Check to see how badly hit your bird was. If it has large holes, wing feathers shot or broken off or more then just a few pellets in the head area, it is probably in too poor of a condition to mount. If you are not sure, take the bird in to your taxidermist so that he or she can check it for themselves.
    Assuming that you have a well feathered bird that you did not shoot up. Rinse or wipe as much blood off the feathers as you can.
    Place a piece of toilet paper, or other absorbent material, in the birds mouth to help absorb fluids.
    Tuck the head under or next to the wing and place the bird head first in a plastic bag.
    Keep the bird as cool as you can and take it to your taxidermist as soon as you can, or place in a freezer.
    Turkeys and other large birds may need to be field dressed in order to keep them from spoiling. Make a short incision from the vent to the base of the rib cage. Remove the entrails and rinse the cavity with water, then place ice inside the cavity. Place in cooler or take in to your taxidermist ASAP.


    There are several different ways you may choose to mount a mammal and each way requires slightly different handling in the field. You may choose to do a full body mount. This is most common for small mammals (like mink and squirrels) and medium mammals (like foxes & raccoons). Bear, deer and other big game animals can also be mounted as full body mounts, but because of the size, they require different field care than small and medium mammals. Bears are the animal most often made into a rug, but bobcats, coyotes and foxes also make a beautiful rug. Field care is very similar for any animal you want to make into a rug. Half or 3/4 body mounts are also a very popular way to display many trophy animals. Deer and other horned and antlered animals are most often mounted this way.


    Whenever possible take it in fresh for the taxidermist to skin. NEVER SLIT THE THROAT OF ANY ANIMAL! When field dressing any animal that you want to have as a FULL BODY MOUNT, you must leave his or her genitals and vent attached. DO NOT cut these off.
    When field dressing any animal, always make your cuts with the sharp edge of the knife UP.
    If you must skin the animal yourself, make as few cuts as possible.
    Do not drag the animal unless you place something under it to protect the hide.
    NEVER hang or drag any animal by the neck! This damages the hide and stretches the neck.
    Place tags carefully in the hide, doing as little damage as possible.
    DO NOT SALT any animal unless it's head and feet are completely skinned and fleshed.
    Keep every animal as cold as possible and take it to a taxidermist as soon as possible. If you can't take it in right away, freeze it or keep it cold till you can.


    No matter how you plan to mount your small or medium mammal, up to the size of a coyote, the field care I recommend is the same.
    Check for damage. Head damage is particularly difficult to repair, so are very large holes. If you feel the animal is mountable, then...
    Place in a plastic bag. Most small and medium mammals carry fleas, lice, or ticks. If you have some bug killer, like RAID, spray the animal down before putting it in the bag.
    Take the animal in fresh or place in your freezer. DO NOT GUT or SKIN unless the weather is warm and you have no access to ice.
    This is especially true if you want a full body mount, Many measurements are needed from the carcass.
    If you must field dress the animal. Then make a cut form the vent up the center of the belly to the ribs. Do not cut past the rib cage.
    Remove the entrails. Do not cut off the testicles, penis or vent. Fill the cavity with ice and take in to taxidermist as soon as pos sible.
    If you take your animal whole, the taxidermist can look it over and help you choose the best way to mount your animal. Full body mounts and rugs are the most common choices, but there are some other interesting options.


    Full shoulder mounts, are the most popular way for most people to display their trophy animal. For local customers, once the animal is properly registered, I encourage you to take in the whole fresh animal. The taxidermist will gladly remove the cape sometimes at no extra charge, or very little. By capping the animal him or herself, he or she will know the cape is not cut short and can eliminate any extra holes that are often cut in the hide by inexperienced skinners. The taxidermist can get several fresh and accurate neck measurements which helps get the proper size from for your animal. However, the following instructions should help you if you are in a situation where you have to skin the animal yourself.
    Make a cut around the body BEHIND the front legs.
    Make a cut up the back of the front leg to the point where the leg meets the body. Then bring the cut over to meet the first cut.
    Cut around the front legs, just above the knee.
    Lift and pull the hide toward the head as you begin skinning.=20 Be careful in the "armpit" area not to cut any holes.
    Continue skinning until you are at the back of the skull, then stop.
    Using a cloth tape measure, (or boot lace if you forgot the tape) measure the neck, behind the ears and under the jaw. Measure on the meat, not on the hide, at the smallest point.
    Make a second measurement 3" down the neck, on the meat parallel to the first measurement.
    Separate the skull from the neck, fold the hide flesh side to flesh side and place in a plastic bag to keep from drying out.
    DO NOT SALT THE SKIN!! Salt should be used only after the cape is fully processed or it will prevent the hide from freezing properly and create excess fluid which can cause the hide to spoil faster.
    If you are still unsure about where to measure, leave at least 6" of neck attached to the skull and take it to your taxidermist. The head and cape may also be frozen now and taken in later. Keep in a cool, dark place like an unheated garage or spare refrigerator. You must take the head into your taxidermist immediately if the temperature is above 60 degrees and within 2 days if the temperature is above 45 degrees, or you need to freeze it. The hair will begin to "slip" if it is not frozen or processed soon after skinning.

    I hope this helps you to understand more about getting your trophy
    "From the Field to the Taxidermist"

Copyright 2002 PETER WARD Click Here to Visit!