Proper field dressing and care could mean the difference between a beautiful mount, or a damaged and potentially unusable specimen. Make plans and know what to do it you might be planning on preserving your memory! Feel free to contact us and ask questions.
The way you handle your fish from the moment it is on your line makes a difference in the way your mount will turn out. If you think it's a "wall hanger", try not to use a net whenever possible. If you have to do it, try not to leave the fish in a net or basket too long. Fins and scales are more easily damaged than you might think. While ice fishing, try not to let the trophy fish flop around on the ice and snow. The same thing applies here, fins and scales are easily lost and damaged. If possible, take several photos of your fish, including close ups of the head and body. Then measure it. The most accurate length measurement should be taken with the fish laying on a ruler, tape or bump board. NOT with a tape wrapped over the fish. Once this is done, wrap the fish in a wet towel. Then wrap it in plastic and freeze. The wet towel will create a solid ice barrier around the fish to protect it from damage. The same procedures should be taken for reptiles. Specimens will be safe for years in your freezer this way.
If a dog retrieved your bird, check it over for rips, tears or missing feathers. Some things may be repaired, but the better the bird, the better the mount. Tuck the head under the wing and seal the bird well in plastic. Sliding your bird into a nylon stocking before plastic helps hold the feathers in place also but is not necessary. Then freeze the bird. Try to get the bird to the taxidermist as soon as possible. They are very thin skinned, and they tend to freezer burn and dry out after about a year.
There is a little more to skinning for a life size animal mount. If it is a small enough animal (fox, raccoon, fisher, etc.) wrap well in plastic and freeze it whole to give to your taxidermist like that. Whenever possible, it is a good idea to bring large mammals to your taxidermist and have them help you with the skinning. If you are hunting with an outfitter, they should know what to do. If you have to do it yourself, do the following: Cut down the back of the front legs to the armpits. Cut from one armpit, across the chest to the other to connect the two. Then, cut down the back of the rear legs and meet the cuts at the vent/anus. Cut from the vent up the belly, as straight as you can, and connect to your first cut across the chest. Skin the animal down to the skull, as you would for a shoulder mount, and cut the head from the neck. Now, DO NOT roll it up in a ball and throw it in the freezer! Especially bears, but true for any game. Heat will stay trapped in that ball of flesh and fat for days and bacteria will start to grow and possibly ruin your trophy. Instead, trim as much of the "big stuff" (meat and fat) off of the skin. If it is cool outside, lay the skin open in the shade and let the skin cool down. You can also do this in a chest freezer. When the skin cools down or starts to freeze, fold the skin and completely freeze in a plastic bag.
If you are going to be in a remote area when you are hunting, it is a good idea to call your taxidermist before you go on your hunt. There are ways of taking care of meat and skins in the mountains and backwoods as well. Call before you go for tips and ideas to help you get your trophy back safe. If you are ever unsure about anything that has to do with any trophy -- call! Calling before you go on your hunt, whether is be Africa or your "stomping grounds", is always a good idea. Your taxidermist should be happy to answer any questions for you.
• Try to make your belly cut centered, except going around the genitals, and as centered up to the chest as possible
• When making leg cuts, follow the “line of longer hair you’ll see down the back of the legs of most any animal
• Try to make your leg cuts as symmetrical from side to side as possible. This is especially important if you plan on having a rug done.
There is a lot to take into consideration here. First, sometimes you need to let an animal go for a while after the shot, but recover your animal as soon as possible. The warmer the weather, the more important this is. As soon as an animal dies, decomposition starts. Heat and moisture create bacteria. Bacteria damages the epidermis (skin), which starts a process called slipping. Slipping is when the hair starts falling out and wiping off the epidermis. This may not take place until after the skin is tanned and ready to mount so do yourself a favor and take care of the skin ASAP. Don't drive around town and show your buddies for a week. Bad news! Upon finding your downed game, field dress it and let it start cooling down. If you wash the inside of you animal out, try not to get the skin very wet. Skin the animal as soon as possible.
Remember: Heat + Moisture = Bacteria
For a shoulder mount, cut around your animal at least 6 inches past the front shoulders. Then, there's usually a line of hair that is a little bit longer than the rest, right down the back of the leg on most animals. Cut down that line and connect right to your first cut. "Tube" skin the cape as close to the back of the skull as possible and cut the head from the neck. Try not to cut holes in the cape, although, minor ones can be repaired.
• Avoid cutting all the way down the back whenever possible. However, if you’re in the field you probably don’t have a choice
• Leave several inches of hide behind the front shoulders, especially if considering a pedestal mount
• When making leg cuts, cut along the hair pattern on the back of the leg that forms a “line” of hair
• ALWAYS stick your knife in and cut UP from the bottom to avoid cutting hair