Trophy Deer Care

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Published on: Oct. 2, 2009

Last revision: Dec. 15, 2010

the bag during the aging process. This has helped considerably when the weather has turned warmer and a few insects temporarily appeared.


Clients often ask me whether it is OK to take their deer to a meat processor and have the caping done there. I strongly recommend that the deer be brought to the taxidermist first. I am sure that most processors do their best to cape a deer for mounting; however, their expertise is likely not taxidermy.

For those hunters who prefer to do it themselves or who are interested in further honing their skills, the basics of caping are quite simple—really!

People often believe that skinning the entire deer is the answer: “I brought you the whole skin, so I know there is enough to work with.” Nothing could be further from the truth and is the most common caping error that I encounter. If the skin is cut incorrectly, it doesn’t matter how much of it is there. Additionally, because we use the term “shoulder mount,” the assumption is that shoulder skin is the most important. In my 30 years of mounting deer, I have never been short-changed on shoulder skin—never. If the skin is cut short, it is invariably from the front of the deer, i.e. the legs, armpits and brisket. However, on a mounted deer, you’ll notice that the beginning of the legs is part of the mount. Logically, if part of the legs is needed, then any skin next to the legs is also needed (armpit and brisket). From a side view, it is obvious that more skin is needed from the front of the animal than from the back and shoulders. I cannot emphasize this enough.

Clients tell me they are afraid to cut too close to the skin for fear of cutting a hole. Actually, a small hole is preferable to excessive tissue. Holes can be sewn; a spoiled skin is gone forever.

When skinning toward the head, go as far as possible, leaving as little of the neck as can be managed. The skin will start getting tight as you approach the head, so you will probably have to leave a few inches of neck intact inside the skin.

I am often asked if the hunter should apply salt to the skin. Salt is a necessary part of the process; however, only a professional taxidermist should salt the skin. Salt is a desiccant and will immediately start drying and hardening any meat that is left on the skin. In a very short period of time, the scraps of meat will become “jerky” and, therefore, almost impossible to remove without cutting holes in the skin. So let the taxidermist do the work of cleaning and salting the skin.

Your trophy

It is always best to bring the head to the taxidermist while very fresh. However, if necessary, the head can be frozen for a period of time. Some delicate areas, such as the eyelids, tips of the ears, and nose pad, which can and will dry out from freezer burn. Therefore, it is best to keep the head frozen as short a time as possible—just a few weeks, at most.

A mounted deer will grace a hunter’s wall for a lifetime. Therefore, do not hesitate to drive some distance to seek out a high-quality taxidermist. In addition, be prepared to spend more for quality work. Over the years, I have remounted literally hundreds of deer. Yes, the client paid twice—the first time for an inferior mount and then a second time for a remount. Moreover, be prepared to wait. Most hunting seasons are concentrated during October and November. During that 60-day period a professional taxidermist will take in a year’s worth of work. Unfortunately there is no magic machine that mass produces the mounts. Each piece must be done one at a time by hand.

It doesn’t matter whether a deer is harvested strictly for table fare or for the added bonus of majestic antlers—it is a trophy either way. Developing the skills to properly take care of meat or skins will add greatly to your outdoor experience.

The procedure:

  1. Start approximately 6 inches behind the shoulder, cut all the way around the animal.
  2. At the knee joint, cut around each leg.
  3. On the back side of the leg, make a cut straight to the original cut that circumscribes the animal.

Some points to remember:

  • Stay straight on the back of the leg.
  • Do not stray off to the side into the armpit or brisket or shoulder.
  • Try to cut reasonably close to the skin, so as to leave as little meat and fat on the skin as possible. Small scraps of meat are probably unavoidable; I am just concerned about big chunks that would invite bacterial growth.

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