By Josh Boyd
With your heart racing, you walk up to tag the buck that you have just taken. With each step in the downed buck’s direction, the amount of hardware that adorns his head seems to grow as rapidly as the smile across your face. As you reach down to lay hands on your prize, you take in the moment.
There he lays, in all his woods wise splendor, the buck of a lifetime. Every memory made as the season progressed, all of the hours spent on stand, and moments spent in anticipation culminate in this exact moment.
Maybe it is a true bruiser buck of the likes that few have ever seen, maybe it is your first buck, or maybe it is a buck that you have had a significant amount of history with. Whatever the reason of significance, the moment indeed carries much weight to the hunter who has taken him.
When a hunter is lucky enough to take a buck of much significance, it is only natural to attempt to preserve the memory in anyway possible. For many hunters, this takes the form of preservation as a shoulder mount.
A shoulder mount is an excellent way to display your trophy that facilitates enjoyment and admiration for years to come. Few things bring a hunter as much joy when not in the woods as reliving a monumental hunt, from their arm chair, while studying their mount on the wall.
Skilled taxidermists work wonders when preserving our trophies for display in our homes. Taxidermists craft masterpieces out of our memories so that the final product can be cherished by the hunter that it means so much to.
However, much of the finished product’s quality stems from how well the trophy is cared for in the field. Mishandling by a hunter can lead to less than ideal results or even an unusable cape altogether.
John Cave, of Bowling Green Taxidermy in Bowling Green, Kentucky, says, “Although most capes that I receive from customers have been well cared for, some do come to the shop in less than ideal shape. Cutting the cape too short or damaging a cape through extensive dragging of a deer are some of the most problematic circumstances that taxidermists are faced with.”
Taxidermists can turn out surprisingly high quality work out of less than ideal circumstances, but even the best can’t breathe new life into a cape that has been ruined. By being aware of what must be done prior to delivering your deer to the taxidermist, you will be doing your part to ensure that your buck is preserved in its best possible state.
When field dressing a buck intended for the taxidermist, the initial cut to open up the body cavity should be kept as short in length and as confined toward the midsection of the deer as possible. Cuts extending past the sternum become additional stitch work that a taxidermist must conduct in preparing your cape for use.
Once field dressing is complete, the buck must be transported from the field. This is yet another potential step during which a cape can be damaged. Dragging a deer can cause hair loss and balding of a cape due to friction with the ground at the point of contact.
Once a sizeable section of hide has been rubbed free of hair, options on how to salvage the cape become limited. If a truck or ATV can be driven to a location in close proximity to a downed buck, it is advisable to do so. This minimizes the amount of distance that a deer must be dragged.
If no choice exists but to drag a deer for an extended period, a game sled can be used to reduce cape contact with the ground. If a game sled cannot be located, a jacket or old sheet can be placed between the buck and the ground while dragging.
Once you have retrieved your buck from the field, the deer will need to be caped. The first item to remember when caping a buck is to always leave as much cape intact as possible. A taxidermist can always cut excessive cape off. However, they cannot replace what had previously been removed.
To accomplish this, begin by making a cut around the entire circumference of the deer at approximately the mid point of the rib cage. This gives the taxidermist an extensive amount of cape to work with for the best possible outcome.
The cuts for the legs become the next item of business. Make an incision around the circumference of each leg at a point just above the knee joint. Once this is complete, you will begin cutting from your cut around the leg, downward in a straight line, until the cut meets your initial cut around the deer’s torso. This step is completed in the same manner in context to both legs.
While cutting from the initial leg cuts to the centralized cut along the deer’s torso, it is often helpful to follow the color change between the white hair of a deer’s underbelly, and the brown hair that it transitions to. This can be used as a template to help guide your cuts.
Once these cuts are made, you are now ready to begin skinning the cape upward toward the head. It is important to take your time and be careful as to ensure that the cape is not punctured by your knife. This process will continue until the cape meets the base of the head.
An incision can now be made through the meat, down to the spinal column. With this cut complete, the head can be twisted until it separates from the rest of the carcass, a process that is often aided by getting a firm handhold on the bucks rack for leverage.
The cape can now be wiped free of any excess debris, folded up, bagged, and transported to a taxidermist of choice. If you are unable to immediately transport your cape to the taxidermist, ensure that it remains at refrigerated temperatures until such a trip can be made.
If good fortune falls upon you this fall, avoid costly errors that can jeopardize your buck’s potential to be preserved for future admiration. A job well done is always worth the additional effort. As you gaze proudly upon the sight of your mount, recounting the story of that fateful morning on stand, you will appreciate the diligence of your handiwork.