You’ve just pulled the trigger on the trophy of a lifetime, or netted that fish you’ve seen only in a dream.
No matter the quarry — whitetail buck, mallard duck, giant bass or speckled trout — it’s the next steps that will determine whether that outdoor adventure becomes a memorable trophy.
Taxidermist David Cavaretta said there are several guidelines for hunters and fishermen when it comes to taking a trophy from field to taxidermy shop.
Deer: Cavaretta said the biggest issue is that hunters often do not take enough of the deer’s hide to make a quality shoulder mount.
“Make a complete circular cut behind the front legs and rim the front legs at the knees, then remove the hide like a big sock,” Cavaretta said. “Leave the complete brisket (the area from under the neck back between the front legs) … and there’s no need to cut the animal’s throat. You can pull the legs out to get a complete cape.”
After that, Cavaretta said keeping the hide as clean as possible, then cooling the cape and the head as quickly as possible are the next steps.
“Wrap up the head and hide in an airtight bag, preferably two bags and refrigerate or freeze it until you can get it to a taxidermist,” he said. “This applies to all deer, elk and all large animals.”
Small animals: Cavaretta’s tip is to clean the animal as much as possible, then wrap it in an airtight bag, preferably two, in as natural a position as possible, then freeze.
Birds: “The biggest issue is to make sure to cool it as quickly as possible. Use a paper towel to plug the beak and the mouth to prevent blood drips.” Cavaretta said.
A tip is to fold the head under a wing, making sure the wings fold around the body, then, starting at the front of the bird, pull a nylon stocking over it until the stocking completely wraps the bird, then put it in an airtight bag.
Cavaretta called this, “Keeping him in order … and don’t put it in the bottom of an ice chest. Once you break a feather, I can’t replace it.”
Fish: “The best thing is to wrap the fish real good in an old, wet towel. This insulates the fish. Put the fish in a bag and put it on the top in the ice chest. Try to keep it as flat as possible when you refrigerate or freeze it.”
Next steps: Get your trophy to a taxidermist as soon as possible. Cavaretta said storing game or fish for more than six months risks freezer burn and “after six months you lose the skins ability to be tanned.”
Cavaretta said a once-in-a-lifetime trophy demands attention from hunter and taxidermist.
“Sportsmen should demand only the best quality, regardless of price. Unlike a bad haircut, poor taxidermy tends to hang around,” he said. “Ask to see the most current work of your perspective taxidermist. Demand thoroughly tanned ‘leatherized’ capes and skins, and up-to-date and accurate manikins. There aren’t any shortcuts in good taxidermy, but if you do your homework chances are you’ll be pleased with the results.”
Preserving the process: “I get mounts every season in the shop with environmental damage from sun, smoke and moisture exposure,” Cavaretta said. “The best way to deal with our coastal environment is to treat your mounts like a fine piece of artwork or furniture.”
For deer, he suggests routine cleaning or brushing with a fine cotton cloth or brush, and cleaning eyes with a cotton swab dipped in Windex.
“No other cleaner should be necessary,” he said. “Bright sun and active fireplaces are a big no, as is tobacco smoke. Most mounts will need to be retouched and freshened. This can be done by an experienced taxidermist.”