Proper handling of your harvested game afield can help your taxidermist better preserve your trophy and your memory.
We all know if a trophy mount from even the most memorable hunt doesn't turn out well, it can be an awkward conversation piece instead of a opportunity to boast. Often times mounts are destroyed by mishandling in the field before the animal even gets to a taxidermist. This is where you as a hunter should take the extra time to do things right. Whether you are flying a turkey back from Nebraska or dragging a buck back to the house from behind the shed, it's important to handle your harvested game correctly.
I was fortunate enough to meet a guy named Matt Colesante of Oneida Lake Taxidermy. Matt has a wealth of knowledge when it comes to birds and bucks having mounted over 3,000 in his career. Stepping into his basement can be overwhelming with a over 500 completed mounts. His work catches eyes worldwide both hunters and judges, having won many shows.
Growing up in a house where his father took on taxidermy, Matt learned the ins and outs from years of trial and error. I was able to meet up with Matt and ask him a few questions in regards to hunting and harvesting game. I quickly learned there are myths, tales and misleading information that even I thought were the correct way all these years. Below are some of the things Matt and I spoke of that could help you better your chances of getting a cleaner mount in the end.
1. Keep the Newspapers for the Paper Boy And the Stockings for Santa.
Wrapping your birds in news paper and pantie hose are the worst things you can do to a trophy bird. I know, I always thought otherwise too. We know newspapers are cheap but freezer bags are cheaper and work better.
Fibers from the paper and stockings will freeze onto the feathers damaging the birds natural beauty and can make any taxidermist call a psychiatrist. Matt is always thankful when customers bring him their bird in a freezer bag. Just be sure to let all the air out of these freezer bags. This works for two reasons: It protects the feathers from getting damaged and it can also help to store the bird longer. Matt has had birds last for two to three years in a freezer bag. He also mentioned to try and dry the bird by hanging it so its not dripping wet when you store it in the bag. Moisture can freeze and expand doing some longterm "damage" much like a cowlick on a human.
2. Rope the Legs, not the Neck!
Most hunters carry a drag rope with them while hunting. The question is do you know how to use it? Sure the old loop swoop and pull might work but it could be costly in the end. Never, if you plan to mount your game, put anything around the animals neck. Whether it be a game strap hauling a limit of puddlers out of the swamp or a deer drag pulling out that 250 pound, non-typical you have dreamt about your whole life. Don't put anything around the animals neck.
Game straps can take feathers off the birds neck damaging the bird's overall look. Rope around a deer can also damage the deers cape looking like a scar when a mount is finished. I have seen these both first hand.
3. Where To Tag Your Bag
This may seem like a mundane topic, but you would be surprised. When you're sitting around taking it all in after you just harvested your biggest buck to date, before you do anything else, you should tag it. But do you know where to tag it? Matt and I both suggest tagging the deer using his antler or leg, depending on preference. Often times, you will find hunters placing a small cut in the deers ear to ensure it's properly tagged. If you want to mount this deer, that is a bad idea and you're only making more work for the taxidermist. Taxidermist can stick the ear but the ear is thin and theres not a lot of hair to cover the stitching so be smart and go with a better option!
4. Open Your Eyes Before Your Wallet
One of the biggest things about taxidermy I have learned is to do your homework. It's not always, "You get what you pay for" believe it or not. Don't always jump to the first person you see at an outdoor show or the closet person to your house. I know Dustin travels over two and a half hours for his taxidermist who is not only reasonably priced, but takes the time to ensure it's done correctly.
Take a look at some of the taxidermist's work. You may have to travel but it can mean the difference between a great mount and an ok mount. After all mounts can last a lifetime, if of course they are done correctly.
Some taxidermists specialize in certain animals as well as statutes. Matt specializes in waterfowl but has taken on some impressive projects including a family of silver foxes with the mother holding a pintail in its mouth. This is a sight to see.
Don't be in a rush to get your trophy mounted, take the time to research and find the right person for the job. If you don't your mount will be in the next garage sale or in the shed with the rest of the "I'll take care of this later" items. Trust me I've been there.