The art of taxidermy can bring out the beauty of an animal for a lifetime of preservation and display.
Anaconda taxidermist Don Capp, owner of Capp’s Taxidermy Studio, has spent the last 40 years mounting wildlife from across the globe. During that time he has seen pelts and capes come into his shop in all manner of conditions, as hunters often make a lot of mistakes when handling their trophies in the field. Capes can be valuable as well, so even if hunters do not plan to mount their animals, taxidermists are often interested in purchasing them.
Here are some do’s and don’ts for taking care of an animal for the taxidermist:
Get some air on the cape: For bigger animals such as elk and moose, Capp recommends a dorsal cut splitting the skin down the back to the ribs where the cape starts and then letting the air naturally cool it. “You’ve really got to open stuff up, get it off the concrete on some saw horses, get it off the cardboard because it can’t breathe,” he said.
Get the cape in the freezer: “If in doubt, always freeze it if it’ll fit in the freezer,” Capp said. Freezing a cape in hot weather will preserve it until a hunter can get it to the taxidermist. But once an unfinished cape is frozen, it only has about six months before areas like the ears become freezer burned.
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Watch YouTube: Capp is a big proponent in watching YouTube videos to learn about where and how to make proper cuts on various game animals. Whether it’s a dorsal cut for an elk or tube cut for a predator, teaching videos are available.
Learn to skin the face off the skull: Capp is amazed at the stories of hunters skinning up to the skull and then backpacking the cape still attached for miles. Learn to carefully take the skin off, cut the antlers and save the extra weight, he says.
Don't cut the cape short: One of the biggest mistakes Capp sees is cutting the cape too short on shoulder mounts, leaving the taxidermist with few options. Cut vertically from at least midway down the ribcage and work forward to ensure there is plenty to work with, and when in doubt, more is always better.
To salt or not to salt: Trying to get the flesh off a hide once it has been salted is like trying to remove layers of plywood, Capp says. He recommends hunters stay away from salt altogether, but do cut away flesh to prevent spoilage.
Don’t cut the throat: Capp notes that there is an old tale about cutting the neck on a freshly harvested animal to help drain blood. The practice not only ruins most capes but is unnecessary, he said.