Shooting a big deer is like falling out of a tree. Some people go their entire lives without doing it and some think it will never happen to them. But every year hunters kill big deer. Once the deer hits the ground, many of those hunters wonder what they are going to do next. For truly exceptional deer most hunters choose a shoulder mount. The work you do before getting to the taxidermist is just as important as the work done after you drop off your buck.
Think about what pose you would like even if you’ve never shot a big buck before. Many trophy bucks are killed by people who are hunting an area for the first time or who have never seen a trophy class deer in the field before. It can happen fast and when you least expect it. There are several poses available including upright, alert, semi-sneak, and full sneak. Look at mounts from friends or displays and decide what you like best.
Ask fellow hunters about experiences with their taxidermists. Were they easy to work with? Was the work completed in a timely fashion? Was it done on time? Were they happy with the mount? A taxidermist telling you it will take six months to complete the job and delivering in six months is preferable to a taxidermist telling you it will take three months and completing the job in five months.
Price is a big factor for a lot of people. Money is important, especially these days. Some taxidermists do great work for a low price. However, if one taxidermist charges $500 and another charges $250 there is probably a difference in work. When you think about all the work, money, and time that went into killing a great deer is saving a few hundred dollars really worth it? Maybe it is. If you plan on hanging the mount somewhere you will see it everyday such as your living room or office perhaps a bigger investment is worth making.
Once you’ve decided on a pose and a taxidermist, now all you have to do is get your buck! Easy right? If you’re lucky enough to put a trophy deer on the ground, the real work begins. Tag him, get him out of the woods, and field dress him as soon as possible. Drag the buck as little as possible to prevent ruining the hide. If he goes down in a field and you can load him in the truck from there, even better. If you do have to drag the buck grab him by the antlers and lift him over obstacles like logs and rocks. Never tie a rope around the neck of a deer you plan to shoulder mount. Before loading the deer, get some good photos in the field for yourself and for the taxidermist.
Don’t get too crazy with the knife when field dressing. If I’m field dressing a doe, I’ll zip my knife right up the rib cage. If you’re planning to shoulder mount a buck, don’t cut past the first rib or two. It’s a bit messy but you will be left with a better cape if you reach into the chest cavity to pull the vitals out.
You should always hang deer from the hind legs. This allows heat to escape the body cavity. It also makes skinning easier. When skinning a deer for the taxidermist, send the entire cape. If he needs extra hide for any reason he’ll have it from your deer. Roll the hide down the body until you reach the front legs. Cut the hide just below the knee and then slit them up to the brisket. Skinning can get difficult in this area because there are a lot of folds in the skin.
Once you get into the neck area the hide pulls off easily once again. Pull the hide as far down the neck as possible but stop before your reach the skull. Most taxidermists prefer the head intact. They are skilled at removing the hide, ears, and nose from the carcass. They would rather do the job correctly than fix the mistakes of someone who didn’t know what they were doing. Having the head intact also allows taxidermists to take good measurements of the buck and leads to a more realistic mount.
Some people store deer heads in a freezer for several months. It can be done but you’re taking a chance of losing the hide to freezer burn, a power outage, or a freezer breakdown. If you can get the hide to a taxidermist within a day or two there is no need to freeze it. Just keep it cool and dry.
If you take the right steps ahead of time and after the kill, your shoulder mount will be everything you hoped.