To achieve the best results for your mount or floor mat what you do immediately after the animal has expired is critical.
The quicker you can get the skin or cape off your trophy and cooled down the better the skin will be. Even on the hottest days the skin will cool remarkably quickly once it has been removed from the animal and hung in the shade.
For best results for a shoulder mount, or any mount for that matter, the sooner it is skinned out, ears turned, and the lips, eyes and nose is split the better. Once this is done the cape or skin can be salted. Don’t be scungy with the salt. Have at least a 10mm cover over the whole pelt making sure the entire surface is covered, taking particular attention to the lips, eyes, ears and nose as well as any creases. Set the skin in a position where any fluids can drain off and not pool on the skin. After 24 hours the first salting needs to be shaken off and another 10mm of salt reapplied to all the skun surfaces. At this stage the skin can be rolled up and kept in a cotton or hessian bag. DO NOT PUT YOUR SKINS IN A PLASTIC BAG.
If you don’t feel confident in skinning out the head then your taxidermist can do that for you but you must get it to him as soon as possible. (Most Taxidermists have a charge for this). If it is cool to cold then you could get away with the next day. But the longer you leave it the more likely hood of hair slip.
If your visit to the taxidermist is going to be delayed, or you are not comfortable with turning lips, ears or nose, you can freeze the cape or skin. However DO NOT salt if you are going to freeze. If you have salted at least shake off as much salt as possible before freezing. Any salting done before the skin or cape has been fully prepared makes it that much harder for your taxidermist to give you the best job they can. Salt dries the skin out so if the ears, lips and nose haven’t been attended to they become harder to prepare.
Small animals can be frozen whole and left to the taxidermist to skin out. If you are going to freeze a whole animal have it laid out as flat as possible. Game curled up into a ball take longer to freeze, which can affect skin quality, and take a lot longer to thaw out.
Capeing your trophy
The cuts for a shoulder mount are around the centre of the chest, down each front leg and up the middle of the back to within 100 mm or so short of the horns or antlers. This is the same principle for all shoulder mounts. If they don’t have horns or antlers you will still do the dorsal cut up to the back of the neck, but no “Y” cut.
Make sure you do the cut around the centre far enough back, about halfway between the front and back legs. If in doubt take the cut to the back of the ribs. You can’t add any skin back on, better to take too much and cut excess off later. The cuts down the back of each front leg should continue in a straight line towards the back leg until they intercept the cut around the centre. One of the main mistakes made by hunters is drifting this cut towards the brisket. Make sure it goes straight back from the front leg. You should have two parallel cuts here from the front leg to the centre cut. Also make sure the cut around the front leg is below the knee. The amount of skin left attached to the cape from the front leg and brisket area can be the difference between a great shoulder mount and an average long neck mount.
At the end of the cut below the horns or antlers you make a “Y” cut from here to the base of each horn/antler. When skinning out the head pay particular attention to the base of the ears, cut close to the scull. When skinning around the eyes put your finger into the eye socket from the hair side this will help show up the base of the eye lid, again cut close to the scull. When skinning out the mouth make sure you leave enough lip skin, cut close up to the teeth. As you get to the nose take plenty of cartilage again cutting close to bone. Most deer have some sort of pre-orbital gland; in Sambar this is very deep. Be careful around here as well. As I have said if in doubt leave too much.
Turning the ears and splitting lips, eyes and nose has to be done at some point, the sooner this is done the better the cape will be. This is not really a hard process but requires some patience until you become proficient at it. To turn the ears start with a sharp knife from the skun side at the base of the ear working away at the membrane between the cartilage and the inside of the back of the ear. Once you have created a small pocket then a round ended tool (like the handle of a spoon) can be forced into this area. Pushing and moving the implement sideways will break away the inner membrane eventually making a pocket of the ear. Go as close to the edge of the ear as practical without breaking through. Eventually the ear will be able to be turned inside out. Leave it this way for salting. A commercial set of “ear pliers” are available for this process but unless you are doing a large number of animals they are probably not worth purchasing.
Splitting the lips, and eyes, doesn’t mean you actually split these items. If they have been skinned correctly you will be able to see a noticeable skin line 10 mm or more from the edge of the eye and lip. This is the part of the skin that was exposed to the air when the animal was alive. Try and run a sharp knife between inner skin of the eyelid or lip and the inside of the main part of the back of the skin, eventually creating a flap of skin for the taxidermist to work with when mounting the animal. Be careful here and don’t get over exuberant. The eye skin is very thin so if you aren’t confident leave these alone and focus on the lips and nose. Holes right through the lip or eye lid just create more work for the taxidermist.
Splitting the nose requires you to lay the hair side of the cape on your hand so you are looking at the nose area from the inside, or skun side, of the cape. With a sharp knife cut through the cartilage that separate the two nostrils until you have reached the back, or underneath of the nose skin. You should then be able to skin around both nostrils. This enables the salt to penetrate properly and avert the possibility of the epidermis of the nose slipping. Again be careful here. Holes create more work and can affect the finished product. But if you don’t split the nose you can also have the same slippage problems.
I can assure you this is a lot harder to write about it than it is to actually do. Have a go.