The art of taxidermy is probably almost as old as the human race itself. Archeologists have found ancient Indian duck decoys in caves around the Great Basin that were made from preserved duck skins stretched over a tule decoy body.
Those ducks aren’t all that different from the mounted ducks I see in hunters’ homes and offices today. A taxidermy mount can help remind you of a hunt just last year, or, of expeditions long ago. Although mounting a critter can be quite expensive, it can last you a lifetime. My Dad was once fortunate enough to catch a really big Brown Trout along the Merced River just outside Yosemite National Park. He had it mounted and the taxidermist did a great job with it. Every time I went into Dad’s den, and saw that trout, it reminded me of the smile on Dad’s face as he walked down the shoulder of the road back to camp with that 5-pound trout. Dad is gone now, but that darned stuffed trout still brings back a smile.
If you are fortunate enough to be successful in your hunting or fishing expeditions you might want to consider having a taxidermy mount made. Interestingly enough your stuffed critter doesn’t have to be a monster trophy. It can be your son’s first bear, or your daughter’s first deer. It can be a crappie from that spring vacation when you rented the houseboat on Lake Don Pedro and the kids had a blast catching a tubfull of fish with minnows and bobbers. I have a raccoon hide on the wall of my garage that brings back memories of the family dog fighting that coon in the garage. For months we couldn’t figure out why the cat was getting so skinny until old Buddy caught that coon stealing the cat’s food and put a stop to it.
Last weekend my son and I were out in the hills in search of rattlesnakes. A couple weeks before the wind was blowing so hard, I had to carry my Stetson to keep from losing it. There wasn’t a snake in sight. This weekend, we happened to hit everything just right, the sun was warm, but not hot, Just a hint of breeze to cool us a little. The snakes were sunning themselves and looking for prey, and so were we. We caught six nice snakes from 2 feet in length to 3 feet. One of the larger snakes had been lying on a stack of fence posts waiting for a squirrel. That snake was exactly the same color as the fence posts and will make a great mount. While I usually skin my own snakes, this one I took directly to the taxidermist so that he could handle the delicate skinning around the mouth and eyes. In years to come I can look at that mounted snake and recall a perfect day with my son.
Once you do get a critter worthy of mounting here are a few tips to preserving your catch successfully. If you’re going to take a fish to the taxidermist, never clean the fish as you ordinarily would. Just wrap it in a damp towel, keep it in your ice chest, and get it to the taxidermist as soon as possible. For both fish and mammals, take lots of photos. Take the pictures from every angle possible and in every light possible. They will help your taxidermist immensely.
For small mammals it’s OK to salt the hides but on large critters like elk, deer, and bear, it’s best to just keep the hide cool and get it to your taxidermist as soon as possible. When you’re skinning your critter do not attempt to skin the head around the eyes, ears, and nose. Unless you’re really a pro, you’ll foul it up and ruin the mount. Let your taxidermist do the work on the head. A good taxidermist is a true artist, so let him do what he’s good at. Taxidermy can be a wonderful way to relive trips over and over again, if you’ll just take a few steps to get the critters back in good shape. Before you go hunting, check with your taxidermist for more tips on how to get the best mount.
Until next week,