Mounting Your First Deer Head

Deer Head By CJ Herring

It’s that time of the year again when men and women tip-toe into the woods outfitted in camouflage hoping to take down the buck of a lifetime.  Yes its deer season once again. The crisp cool mornings of early autumn trigger the instinct within a hunter to get outdoors and to sit hours on end in a tree or ground blind, waiting for that one moment that will most likely last under 60 seconds. Within that 60 seconds you will take aim and so precisely release the string on the bow or squeeze the trigger of the rifle, that was most likely handed down to you from dad or grandpa. Instantaneously your heart begins to beat rapidly, your legs start to shake, adrenalin rushes through your veins. It’s a done deal, BBD!  You just killed the biggest buck of your life! Congratulations you got your deer head to mount!

After the tracking, the dragging followed by the celebration you come to the conclusion that this buck is going to get mounted and hung on the wall.  So what next? You have never had any taxidermy done before which means you probably don’t have a clue on the proper procedures involved on getting your trophy to the taxidermist.

This is by far the biggest mistake hunters make when getting their first deer mounted. They fail to do their homework ahead of time not knowing the right or wrong way of handling their trophy after a kill.

If you didn’t know you will now know the clock begins ticking as soon as you take that shot. You can destroy a deer hide within one hour of the kill (most will argue sooner) if you do not know the proper field care procedures and rules of taxidermy. It’s no secret I have turned away countless hunters with their deer heads from my shop over the years due to uneducated and inexperience mindsets. Do not be one of these people.

If you plan on having your deer head mounted there are a few things that must be done right away. Quickly recover the deer as soon as possible. If the weather is warm meaning temperatures above freezing, you need to worry. The clock has now sped up on you and time is of the essence on getting that head to a taxidermist after you do you part of the process.

The hunter is actually the first person to perform any taxidermy related procedures on a trophy harvest whether they know it or not. It is the hunter’s responsibility to deliver a high quality specimen to the taxidermist. It is not the taxidermist’s responsibility to return a high quality mount if the hunter cannot produce and deliver a good quality, mount worthy specimen.

When gutting the deer, do not slit the throat! Do not cut up into the rib cage. Stop when you hit the bone. It will make it more challenging to pull the lungs and heart out and also cut the diaphragm away, but it will save your taxidermist from headaches down the road. And also could possibly save you an extra charge on your taxidermy bill. All the deer hide just before the armpits forward towards the head should be intact and all in one piece.

If there is blood, mud, dirt on the deer DO NOT WASH it with water. Avoid any water contact with your deer. No matter what, you are not to hose the deer or drag it through water. This will cause bacteria growth especially if the deer has not cooled off from its original body temp. You can also kiss your deer head good bye if it remains wet in temperatures above freezing (32F degrees). Any mud will dry up but wipe off what you can and then let it be.

You must at all costs prevent the deer from being dragged on its shoulders. Keep the head as high as possible when dragging him out of the woods. This is where game carts come in handy or better yet an ATV. But do not drag the deer with the ATV. Put the deer on the ATV or side-by-side while taking it out of the woods. If you have no choice and must pull the deer by a machine then put the deer on or in something. Like a tarp or a sled or if you have a wagon that will be great.

So now that your deer is in the hanging tree, hung by its hind legs it’s time to cape out it out for the taxidermist. There are plenty of online videos showing this and you should not have a problem in getting the job done. Some taxidermists will cape out a deer for you for an additional fee if you do not feel confident in doing it yourself.

I highly advise you that you do not take your trophy to a meat processor. This will only delay you from getting your deer head to the taxidermist. I have seen many deer capes come into my shop where there was no question that a meat processor caped out the deer.  I and many other taxidermists will charge a client extra if a deer cape is not caped properly. Meat processors, butchers are not taxidermists and are not in the business of properly caping out a deer head to be mounted.

Once the deer is caped out hang the head by its antlers. Do not lay it on the ground or stuff it in a bag or box which is another reason to avoid sending your trophy to a meat processor. You can also freeze the head at this point if you haven’t made up your mind on what you want done with it or you are short on cash at the moment. Do not roll the head up tight when freezing. Chest freezers are best when freezing caped out deer heads. Lay in freezer as flat as possible. It’s OK to put it in a garbage bag when placing in freezer. Just make sure it’s not rolled up when freezing.

At this point you should already have a taxidermist in mind and an appointment made to drop it off. Your taxidermist will give you further instructions on how to transport it to the shop.

The average deer head taxidermy mounting price within the United Sates as of 2018 is $600 to $800, with an average down payment of 50% of the total bill. Most states require sales tax on taxidermy so you can figure that in too as an added cost.

Before choosing any taxidermist you must at all costs do your research prior to hiring that person to mount your trophy of a lifetime. Google their business and personal name and examine their work and perhaps get references.

Good luck to you and if you have any further questions don’t hesitate to contact your taxidermist to get further info.


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CJ Herring
With over 20 years in the industry CJ Herring is a taxidermy journalist and contributing writer for TTN News and is the founder of the Taxidermy Journal. Licensed and certified CJ has experience in all phases of taxidermy. From small animals to full body mounts along with birds and fish. CJ specializes in turkey taxidermy, whitetails, cold and warm water fish taxidermy, along with any and all small mammal taxidermy.