Preserving trophies for the taxidermists

Posted: Thursday, October 03, 2002

POCATELLO, Idaho (AP) -- Whether it's taking a 200 plus-inch Boone and Crockett mule deer, a 350-inch bull elk or a first-year hunter bagging a young buck, each is a trophy, with a story that will provide years of memories.

Each sportsman has a different reason for trekking the mountains and valleys stalking prey. Some hunt to be with their family and friends, others for meat and still others search for a truly magnificent trophy animal.

Richard Jeppson, owner of Jeppson's Highland Taxidermy in Pocatello, has seen it all and has preserved animals from spike bulls and fork-horn bucks to Argali sheep and bison.

''Trophy animals are different to everyone,'' says Jeppson. ''And each animal and hunt has its own story that is what taxidermy does, preserve the memories.

''You've heard the saying, 'you can't eat the antlers,' so we use those parts that would generally be wasted.''

To preserve a trophy for mounting, there are several steps.

One of the most common problems Jeppson sees when hunters bring their animals through the door of his shop are unusable capes. The cape is the skin of the animal from the center of the rib cage forward over the head of the animal.

''Ten to 40 percent of the capes should be replaced,'' says Jeppson. ''There's everything from poor care, poor skinning, or damage from bullet holes or falls.

''One thing a lot of people don't know is that taxidermists usually charge for unnecessary cuts and any damage they have to repair. And if the cape is unusable and they still want the animal mounted it can cost anywhere from $50 to $500 for a mule deer replacement cape and $35 to $100 for an elk.''

Cape costs are determined by the size, quality and season of the year the animal is harvested and if they want the cape to look like the one on the animal.

In order to be prepared, hunters need to understand what they must do before seeing a taxidermist.

Here is a list of pointers Jeppson gives to make the animal look the best and keep the costs down:

-- Hunters need to talk to the taxidermist before going hunting. Some taxidermists have different requirements, or like animals handled differently. Some will charge extra for caping the animals, while others include the skinning charge in the mount's cost.

If you are in an area remote from your truck, here are the steps you need to take:

-- Once the animal is down, don't cut its throat. If the animal is dead, cutting its throat will not help it bleed out more than it already has because its heart has stopped.

-- Before gutting the animal, remove the cape. According to Jeppson, even rolling the animal over can damage the cape if it hits a sharp rock or slides downhill.

When removing the cape, start at the center of the body and skin forward to about six inches behind the base of its head and cut it off at the neck. This can be taken off with three cuts; one around the diameter of the body, and one cut around each of the front legs right at or just above the knee joint.

The leg below the knee joint will have to be removed so the hide can be pulled over. If the cape can't be removed in this fashion, a fourth cut may be made down the center of the back, six inches from the back of the skull.

To help protect the meat, lay out a large tarp to skin on. This will keep dirt off the meat. After the cape is removed, lay the flesh sides together and roll up, and remove the shoulders and meat and place in a game bag.

If the weather is hot, capes can begin deteriorating, hair may slip and the hide spoil the hide will need to be removed from the head.

Take three measurements: one around the animal's neck at the union with the skull, one from the tip of the nose to the corner of the eye, and the last from the tip of the nose to the back of the skull.

Split the hide up the neck and make a Y cut to the base of each antler. Remove all the hide from the head, including eyelids and inner eye lining, nostrils and gums and lips.

People unfamiliar with this process can ruin the cape and should watch the process being done before hunting in the back country for once-in-a-lifetime game animals.

Do not store the cape in plastic bags, but in a meat sack so the hide can breathe just like the meat. Hides need to be taken care off just like the meat, but will often rot because of bacteria.

''People need to get the cape to the taxidermist faster than getting the meat to the locker,'' says Jeppson. ''In cool weather, I like to have the capes within 24 hours and in hot weather, the faster the better.

''Don't wash the hide and get it wet it makes it deteriorate and it will rot faster.''

Animals taken in early season with velvet are even harder to take care of.

''Velvet has to be taken care of almost instantly,'' says Jeppson. ''Don't even touch the velvet with your hands get it in a cooler or to the taxidermist as quickly as possible.''

For more information on preserving hunting or fishing trophies, contact a taxidermist before heading out.

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