So you've harvested your big game animal, you've taken pictures, gotten high-fives from your buddies, and field dressed your animal… and the whole time all that kept going through your mind was how fricken awesome it was going to look hanging on your wall. Well, let me stop you right there because how this trophy looks as a finished product started the minute it fell on the ground. How you handle it from that point forward will determine the quality of the finished mount.
A good taxidermist can hide or repair a lot of different types of damage, but it's usually very frustrating for them, and quite costly for you. Your best bet is to avoid any damage all together. Here are some general rules to follow:
- Don’t tie a rope around the animals neck and drag him out.This will cause hair loss due to trauma to the skin and hair.
- Don't grab him by the horns and drag him up and down every hill and valley for a mile to the bed of your truck.Dragging, for any distance, will cause hair loss in the front shoulder.
- Don’t cut the cape too short.Once the cape is cut, the taxidermist can't sew it back together or add a piece on, unless of course you want your mount to look like Frankenstein's pet. You either work with what you have or replace the cape at your expense :(
Treat this animal like a fine, very fragile piece of china, and you will ensure you end up with a quality finished product. Ok so now that I was a total downer, I will get back to my original goal which was to explain how to cape this animal so that you can take him to your taxidermist. Follow these steps, and you'll set your taxidermist up for success.
1. Decide to skin it where it lies or move it.
Decide if you're going to skin him where he lies or if you're going to move him to a more convenient location (avoid dragging if you move him)
Note: When skinning, having a buddy or a piece of rope to hold legs is always helpful.
2. Cut down the middle of the back.
For the first cut, start at the head, about an inch or two behind the horns and cut towards the rear of the animal. Cut down the back until you get to about halfway between the front and back legs
Note: All big game will have a dark streak or long patch of hair that runs down their back. Use this as your guide where to cut.
3. Cut around the body.
Now roll the animal on its side and cut around the belly, again going about halfway between the front and back legs.
Ok you're doing great, just a couple more cuts!!
4. Cut around one of the front legs, between the knee and shoulder.
Now this is where your buddy or a rope comes in handy because you want to lift the front leg and hold it in place while you make your cuts (deer aren't too bad to hold yourself but elk and moose can be a chore to handle on your own). You want to cut around the leg between the knee and the shoulder.
5. Cut along the thick tuft of hair on the back of the leg, from the leg cut to the belly cut.
Find the heavy tuft of hair down the back of the leg. This is where you will make your next cut. Start at the cut you just made, slide your knife between the meat and the skin and follow that tuft of hair up the back of the leg all the way to the armpit then cut straight back to the cut you made around the belly.
6. Roll the animal over and repeat steps 4 and 5 for the other leg.
7. Skin the animal, starting from the belly and stopping at the back of the skull.
Take your time with this step, your taxidermist expects some holes or cuts but again the less damage to the cape the better the quality. Start at the belly cut and start skinning forward with the cuts you made you will be able to skin all the way up to the back of the skull, saving all your meat.