Planning to mount your trophy deer or fish this year?
How you handle and care for fish or game after it's harvested has a lot to do with how nicely your mount will look when it's completed.
Whitetail deer make beautiful mounts, but they require a certain degree of care between the field and freezer, said Lloyd Johnson, a veteran taxidermist who owns Master's Wildlife Services in Washington, Ga.
"You definitely don't want to be dragging it where you'll skin up the shoulders," he said. "Sometimes you can't help it, but if you need someone to help you keep it lifted up, get a buddy to help."
Deer capes should be kept cool or taken to a freezer quickly. "In hot weather, putting it in black plastic bags is a no-no," Johnson said.
One of the biggest taxidermy sins occurs during the skinning or caping of trophy deer, he said.
"That's where you can really mess one up," he said. "The worst thing people do is to `short-sheet' them, or cut them short. I tell people not to go any further forward than the sternum. Stop there and peel the skin out. Take the whole thing to the taxidermist and let him go from there."
If you're not comfortable caping a deer to be mounted, find someone more knowledgeable to help, he advises.
Modern commercial "forms" for mounting deer are somewhat larger and deeper than those of previous years, he said. Consequently, more of the hide might be needed for a taxidermist to produce a quality mount.
Hunters planning to mount a trophy buck also should consider where they want to put it in their home or office.
"If it makes a difference in which direction it's facing, they need to let the taxidermist know," Johnson said. "Or they can just let the taxidermist decide which looks best for a particular animal."
Choosing a taxidermist is one of the most important aspects of having your trophy mounted.
"Go in and look," Johnson said. "See their work and compare photos of live animals you find in magazines to see if their mounts look like that."
Look for cleanliness and quality work at a prospective studio, he said.
"If you're tripping over dead deer, and there's a foul odor when you walk in the place, you have to decide whether you want to leave your deer there or not," he said.
In Georgia, taxidermists are licensed by the Department of Natural Resources, although there is no such requirement in South Carolina, he said. "Make sure you're dealing with someone who's licensed."
Birds and fish also require special handling to improve the quality of a finished mount, said Angel Hamilton, a Martinez taxidermist.
Birds, especially waterfowl, can be placed inside an old pair of panty hose for storage until the taxidermist gets them, she said.
"You can also stuff a piece of cotton or tissue in the bird's mouth to keep blood away from feathers," she said. Hunting dogs and retrievers should be kept away from birds that later may be mounted.
"It's also a good idea to take a good look at the bird, take the wings and spread them apart," she said. "If you're planning to mount a bird with outstretched wings, spread the wings and inspect them for damage."
If they are broken or damaged, it might be best to use another specimen, she said.
Fish should be rinsed with water, wrapped in a plastic bag and frozen. They can be kept for six to eight months before mounting.
"But don't wrap them in newspaper," she said. "It takes all the water out of them and makes them more prone to freezer burn."