The quality of any mount starts with the care taken immediately after the animal is harvested. Cape or skin the animal at your first opportunity. Refer to the photographs and diagrams at the bottom of this page for placement of your cuts. Use a sharp knife and keep your incisions clean and straight, without cutting any hair, if possible. Even if you have experience removing the head from a hide or cape, it's much easier for the taxidermist if you leave it in tact. I've never received a hide or cape that has been properly removed from the skull by a hunter. This results in repair work which is an added burden for the taxidermist and reduces the quality of the finished mount. 

After the hide or cape has been removed with the head in tact, your three main concerns that must be controlled are temperature, moisture content, and bacteria.

Blood carries bacteria and so do your hands. Wipe off excess blood as quickly as possible and handle the hide or cape no more than necessary. Paper towels can be used to dam up any hole from which the head might still be bleeding. This includes nose, mouth, bullet holes, and any arteries in the neck.

Moisture content can be difficult to control. Often times animals are killed in the rain. If your hide or cape is wet, shake it out the best you can and let it drip dry in a cool area. If you have an extra towel, dry the hair the best you can, going with the direction of the hair, not against. If the hair on your cape or hide is dry when the animal is killed, do your best to keep it dry. The skin side of the hide or cape, however, should retain its natural moisture until fleshed and salted. Unless you have experience fleshing and salting, you should leave this to your taxidermist, as often times the best of intentions actually result in more work for the taxidermist and additional time before a cape or hide is salt dried, which is detrimental to the cape or hide.

The hide or cape should be kept as cool as possible without freezing solid, if you can get it to a taxidermist within a couple of days. Ideally, the temperature would be between 32 and 38 degrees fahrenheit. This can be achieved by placing the hide or cape in a plastic bag AFTER the body heat has dissipated, AND placing the plastic bag in ice. Never place a hide or cape in a plastic bag, cooler, or other air-tight container before the body heat has dissipated, and never place a hide or cape in a plastic bag if you cannot maintain a temperature of 38 degrees or less. The plastic bag is used only to keep the hide or cape from soaking up moisture from the ice. Placing the hide or cape in a plastic bag, cooler, or other air-tight container without putting it in ice after the body heat has dissipated will hasten the bacterial growth and decomposition of the hide.

Get the hide or cape to your taxidermist AS SOON AS POSSIBLE. It is NOT o.k. to leave it in the bed of your pickup for several days. You should get the hide or cape to a taxidermist even before you get the meat from your animal to the butcher or begin wrapping and processing it yourself. Failure to do so will likely result in patches of hair loss or even loss of the hide or cape altogether. Your hide or cape is a perishable item and should be treated as such. Remember that the hide or cape still has to be fleshed, salted and cured by the taxidermist before it begins drying, and then it later undergoes a rehydrating and tanning process as well. This all takes time, during which the hide or cape continues to decompose. The taxidermist and tanner need that time to work with that hide or cape, so every day or even hour that you delay is detrimental to your hide or cape.

Sometimes the location or circumstances of the hunt make it impossible for the hunter to get the hide or cape to a taxidermist within a couple of days. This is the only circumstance under which freezing or salting by the hunter are recommended. The problem that freezing presents is that the taxidermist then has to thaw the hide or cape before it can be fleshed and salted. A hide or cape wrapped up in a plastic bag and frozen thaws on the outside while it remains frozen toward the center. The hide or cape cannot be fleshed and salted until it is completely thawed. This results in bacterial growth and decomposition in some areas of the hide or cape while other areas are still frozen. For this reason, freezing is not recommended unless the hide or cape cannot be taken to a taxidermist within a couple of days. If a hide or cape is frozen, it should be wrapped tightly in a plastic bag with as much air as possible removed to prevent freezer burn.

Salting is an even more complex issue and it is not recommended unless access to a taxidermist or a freezer is not available. Salting REQUIRES that the head and if applicable, all of the bones in the paws, be removed from the hide or cape and that the hide or cape be completely stripped of all meat and fat. All of this process leaves a lot of room for mistakes and damage to the hide or cape if the hunter is not thoroughly familiar with the process. However, if it is the only option available, the skin side of the hide or cape should be heavily salted, including every wrinkle, crevice and fold. The ears need to be turned inside out and salted, the lips need to be turned and salted, the nose and eyelids need to be turned and salted, and the hide or cape needs to be laid flat, but not level, so that the moisture removed by the salt can drain. The hide or cape needs to remain like this for 24 hours. Then the wet salt needs to be removed and new dry salt needs to replace it. The salt may not penetrate through to the hair follicles if the meat and fat is not all removed and if the hide is more than 3/8 of an inch thick. If this is all done correctly, and temperatures are cool enough, your hide or cape will be preserved when it dries. If it is not done correctly, there will be patches of hair loss. Additionally, if all of the meat and fat are not removed, the taxidermist has to rehydrate the hide or cape to a workable state and remove it, then re-salt it. This is very detrimental to the hide, as it incurs additional decomposition time and gets the hair wet, which we are trying to avoid. It is also a lot of extra work and time for the taxidermist and additional costs may be passed on to the hunter. This is why I recommend salting ONLY when there is no other alternative.

Again, I cannot stress to you enough that you should get the hide or cape to a taxidermist as quickly as you can. I advise that you choose a taxidermist before you hunt and keep that taxidermist's phone number with you while you hunt. Get the cape or hide to your taxidermist the same day or the following day if possible. This is especially important for spring or summer hunts. The warmer the conditions, the less time you have before the animal begins losing hair or becomes unusable altogether. 

The cuts that you make on the cape or hide also determine the quality of the mount. When in doubt, leave more hide than you think necessary, not less. There is no reason to split the brisket beyond the first rib and no reason to cut into the "armpits" of the animal. There is no reason to cut the throat of the animal. I charge an additional fee for excessive repairs to a hide or cape and some capes, if cut too short or cut up too badly are altogether unusable. Follow these caping diagrams:

For a quality deer, elk or pronghorn shoulder mount, make your cuts as depicted by the blue tape in these photos, damaging as little hair as possible:

 

 

For a quality bear rug, your cuts are important. Make your cuts as depicted by the yellow line in this diagram and always cut to the center of the foot pad. On the back legs, cut from the anal opening to the center of the foot pad, being conscious that any skin you leave extending past the base of the tail will be trimmed away and will not be present on the outer leg of your rug, resulting in a smaller rug: