Jul 5, 2017

Taxidermy

By: Doug Houghton

My name is Doug Houghton, and I have owned and operated Fox Valley Taxidermy since 1983. I am going to discuss the best ways to prep and preserve your trophy bird, fish or game animal before taking it to the taxidermist. 

A little history first on myself and the business. I became interested in taxidermy at 11 years old, taking mail order lessons from "Northwestern School of Taxidermy" and filling my parent’s freezer full of little critters to mount. At that age, it was way more fun to "obtain specimens" than it was to do the taxidermy work. 

After high school, I went to AIT (American Institute of Taxidermy) in Janesville, WI where I graduated, and proceeded to start my business in Wautoma calling it, Wautoma Taxidermy and Bait. I spent a year there before moving to Oshkosh, where I spent the next 20 years as a taxidermist.      

There are many different ways to prep your mount for the taxidermist, and also things that you should, and shouldn't do. So, I will discuss my methods that I recommend. Some preferences may vary from taxidermist to taxidermist. But, in general, the three worst enemies for your mount are bacteria, freezer burn and time. All can be minimized with a little forethought. 

First, after you harvest of your trophy, bacteria will be the first concern. Cooling down your mount the fastest way possible will help keep bacteria in check, as body heat/warm temperatures start the growth of bacteria. Bacteria is the cause of smell, hair and feather slippage and spoilage of your mount. The warmer the temperature, the faster bacteria will grow.

The next issue for your mount is your freezer. Most freezers today are" frost free" which keeps the frost from building up on the inside of the freezer, and in doing so, will also dry out your mount leading to freezer burn, and ruin your trophy.

Another issue that should be addressed, are all your friends, relatives, and grandmothers that know the “best way” to preserve your mount for the taxidermist. For example, in my 30 odd years as a taxidermist, I have never told anybody to wrap their fish in a "wet towel" and throw it in the freezer. Yet 90% of the fish that come in are wrapped in a $20 Turkish bath towel, frozen solid to a $10 cutting board to keep it straight. The wet towel does protect the tail from getting damaged, but if the fish isn't wrapped in plastic first, or at least last, it will freezer burn as the frost free freezer can suck all the moisture out of the towel, creating freezer burn fairly quickly. 

Time is another enemy that is simple to solve. Get your trophy to your taxidermist ASAP!!! It's way too easy to throw your mount into your freezer, and forget about it until your wife demands the "thing" needs to go in order to make room for something else. A year later, you take it to the taxidermist, where it will go into his freezer for at least another few months more (like 6-9), now your mount is starting to get compromised because of the time parameter. 

So, after all that, what is the best way to prep your mount? Plastic. Fish and small mammals just need to wrapped tightly in a plastic bag and frozen ASAP. Never put your fish on ice cubes in a cooler, as the ice cubes will leave white spots where they had contacted the fish, however a fish wrapped in plastic first will solve this issue.

Birds can be slid into an old nylon sock of your wife or girlfriend repeat.....old sock.....that she gives you.....unless you have a death wish, don't touch her good ones! The sock, or stocking will keep the feathers from getting ruffled, and once again, rolled tightly in a plastic bag. Birds are the first thing to freezer burn, even wrapped in plastic, so don't dilly dally on getting it to your taxidermist.

Larger animals, like bear, need to be skinned, and cooled down BEFORE they go into a plastic bag. If you roll a warm animal into a plastic bag, you have also rolled with it all the heat that won't be able to escape and bacteria will grow which will ruin your trophy. Once an animal has cooled down, it can be put into the freezer, or like deer, may be allowed to hang depending on the air temp, the colder it is, the more time you have.

In a nutshell, your best friends for preserving your trophy are plastic, calling the taxidermist that you plan on doing the work, and getting it to them in a very timely manner.