Whitetail Deer Shoulder Mount: The basics
Every year I spend many hours in the fall and winter hunting on my property and nearby for whitetail deer. I’ve never been lucky enough to take a true trophy deer but I usually have my fair share of venison in the freezer by the time I put away my bow, shotgun, muzzleloader and all the assorted gear that gets me through the season. Last year I was fortunate enough to get two of my best deer, not at all trophies by any standard, but I was happy. I’ve always wanted to try to create a shoulder mount, so I found a book written by an old time taxidermist (“Taxidermy Guide” by Russell Tinsley) and decided to give it a try. Here is an account of my first attempt
Measuring the hide
This is the first step and is fairly critical in order to purchase a correctly sized form. Forms are usually specified as type of posture, straight upright, right turn upright, left turn semi sneak, full sneak, etc. etc. and with three critical dimensions
A--Nose to Corner of the Eye - you can use calipers from the corner of the eye to the center of the nose to get your measurement, but an 1/8 " difference one way or the other isn't going to make any difference, so a tape will work if measured carefully
C--Behind the ears - this is the circumference around the neck at this point. In some parts of the country this is called "at the cinch".
B—the circumference 3" down the neck behind the ears
These measurements are taken before skinning. A useful link:
Skinning and Caping
There must be adequate hide to cover the form, therefore the cape should be cut just behind the front legs. Excess hide can be removed later. Begin to remove the hide with a sharp knife working towards the head. When you reach the ear bases cut the ears away from the skull, the cartilage will be removed later. The area around the eyes is tricky, leave as much of the eyelid attached as possible. The next tricky spot is around the lips, cut as close to the teeth as possible to leave inner lip intact. Typically the cape is slit up the back of the neck with a T shaped or Y shaped cut between the antler crowns. Only a slightly extended Y shaped cut is need through which the skull plate and antlers can be removed. This will reduce the amount of sewing need in a later step. Once the hide is removed from the head and the crowns of the antlers, drape it over the antlers, to allow room for cutting the antlers from the skull. They should be sawed off along a line from the bridge of the nose, through the eyeball to the center of the flat part of the back of the skull.
You will need the following:
Foam form of proper dimension and pose that you like
Plastic ear liners
Fishing line or artificial sinew
Acrylic paint – black, brown, natural, gray
Borax – 1 lb.
Alum – 1 lb.
Salt – 10 lbs
T shaped push pins
Scalpel or very sharp knife
Knife or homemade hide scraper
Preserving the cape
Any chunks of flesh remaining on the cape must be removed by scraping or cutting away with a razor sharp knife. The lips must be split and fleshed. Excess flesh must be removed from around the eyes and nose also. The cartilage must be removed from ears. This can be done by pushing your thumb between the skin and cartilage all the way to the end of the ear. All of this should be done carefully as to not cut through the hide. The hide should then be liberally coated with non-iodized table salt. The salt should be rubbed into every crevice to be sure the hide is fully coated. The hide should then be rolled tightly and placed in a cool dry place to drain. In about 2 days unroll the hide and repeat. This will cure the hide and prevent hair slippage. This is also a good time to boil the skull plate to remove flesh. Care should be taken not to over boil which could cause the skull to fall apart.
The recipe to complete the preservation (pickling) of the cape requires 8 lbs. of salt, 1 lb. of alum and 1 lb. of 20 Mule Team Borax, and a container that holds 5 gallons of liquid, I used a plastic tote. Put 3 gallons of water in the container and dissolve the salt, alum, and borax in 1 gallon of water by boiling in a separate container. Pour the 1 gallon into the 3 gallons, stirring, then allow it to cool. Completely submerge the hide in the liquid. I used a brick to hold it down, since it will want to float. Allow the hide to pickle for a week, agitating it every other day. The hide can be left in the solution for up to a month.
Cleaning the cape
Once the hide is removed from the pickling the flesh side should be scraped thoroughly to remove the membrane. Any extra flesh remaining in the nose or around the eyes and lips should be carefully scraped away. Now is the time to sew any holes in the hide. Use 6 lb test fishing line. Cut around bullet holes with a football shape so that the hide will pull together evenly when sewn. Sew the mouth together so that the edges of the hair just come together. Place the hide back in the pickling solution.
Attaching the antlers, eyes, and the cape
Mannequins will usually have a wood backed cut out for the antler skull plate. With the mannequin hung on a wall at eye level trim bone away from the skull plate and place the antlers into the cut out. Repeat the processes of trimming and placement until the antler placement looks natural. Before permanently mounting the antlers, take a small amount of clay to place in each eye socket of the mannequin. Push the glass eyes into the clay then stand back and look at them carefully to be sure they are straight. Pack more clay around the eyes and blend into the mannequin. Remove the cape from the pickling solution and rinse it thoroughly with clean water. Rough the surface of the mannequin a little with coarse sandpaper then cover it with a coating of hide paste. I used a powdered paste that I mixed with a little water and a tablespoon or so of Borax. The cape can now be placed on the mannequin taking care not to get too much paste into the hair, if you do it should be washed out before it dries. Turn the ears right side out, like you would a sock then insert a plastic ear liner in each.
Next, drill holes through the bone and attach the antlers to the wood backing of the mannequins antler cavity with dry wall screws. Step back and take another look from the front and the side. If you are satisfied, tighten the screws. Fill the gaps around the skull plate with modeling clay and blend it in. Wash any clay out that happens to find its way into the hair. Anchor the base of ear liners to the mannequin with finishing nails. Try to place them in a position that looks natural.
Using the glover’s needle and a 15 lb. test fishing line or artificial sinew, sew the opening between the antlers together using a baseball stitch. Insert the needle each time on the flesh side of the cape. Stitches should be about ¼ inch apart. The skin must be tight around the base of the antlers because it will pull away as the hide dries. Press balls of clay into the inner ears to help them stand up and keep them anchored. Smooth the hide onto the mannequin and use finishing nails to hold down any areas that want to sag, like under the jaw. Tuck in the skin around the eyeballs and anchor the corner of the eyes with finishing nails, leaving enough exposed so it can be removed later. Tuck in the nose and the mouth so that they look as natural as possible. T shaped push pins can be used hold the nose and mouth in place as the hide dries. Allow the hide to dry for at least 2 weeks. As it dries it will shrink and the mouth may pull apart slightly or the eye sockets may shrink. Any gaps can be filled with clay and painted. Paint the nose with gloss black acrylic paint. I used a color named “Licorice” that I found at a fabric and craft store. Use other colors to touch up here and there where anything has discolored from drying and does not look natural. The hide can be then nailed to the wood backing of the form and any excess trimmed away. Brush the hair with a soft bristle brush, place the mount so that it is prominently displayed in your living room, then grab your favorite beverage and sit back to admire your work.
There are probably better books available but this is the one I had.
Want to try a skull mount?
- Whitetail European Style Skull Mount: The Basics
A simple deer skull mount in 10 easy steps.