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Thursday, November 8, 2012


Notice to all hunters hunting South Africa's northern Transvaal.  We will no longer be accepting trophies harvested in the Limpopo region due to the on going mishandling of skins.  This area of South  Africa is well known for it Water Based tipping procedures.  Trophies coming from the northern regions of South Africa all need to go though a Water Based dip before exportation.  This procedure is 98% responsible for trophies slipping hair.  The other 2% is poor handling in the field.  I have been writing and giving talks about this procedure since 1992 when I first experienced it for my self.  The average hunter will collect 8-10 trophies while hunting in this region.  He will experience a 40 % loss of skins due to the Water Based Dipping process.  The skins shown here are an example of the ongoing practice in South Africa today.  If a hunter has plans on going into these regions, just know that it is not the outfitters fault for the poor handling of trophies that causes the slippage.  It is the Water Based Dipping procedure still practiced today.  I have posted a link to the details of the dipping process. 

The process is a government mandated process.  The only fault that I place on the outfitter, is his acceptance in which his clients skins are being handled.  The South African Professional Hunters Association is fully aware of the problems with the re-hydration of trophies once they have been salted and dried.  Looking at the Cape Buffalo skin shown here is an example of the epidermis slipping do to the dipping process.     

This is a photo of an Eland cape.  Here again the epidermis has slipped due to the re-hydration of the skin.  In my opinion, this is want and waste and should not be tolerated.  I mentioned a 40% loss on skins.  I need the mention that the loss is 40%; on 100% of the hunters.  If a hunter hunts in these regions, he or she will have trophies damage.

  Slippage like this is avoidable with a little involvement by the hunter.  Most hunters send time going to the range, and buying the perfect hunting clothes for photo ops. If this is more important than receiving high quality handle skins, than no research is needed.  Just go hunting have great time and the skinners will take care of the rest.
This hunter paid daily rates, trophy fees, shipping, dipping, clearing, gave tips, and other connected cost, and ended up with this as his trophy.  In the end;  the hunter is responsible for the outcome.  With some research, he or she can avoid this by just hunting in Africa where the Water Based Dipping Procedure is NOT being used.

 I mentioned 2% was do to poor handling.  It is more possible that is 50-60%.  This photo here would look normal to most hunters.  Most guys that call themselves taxidermist would not see a problem either.  When I seen this;   I went crazy.  Stop and look closely at the wet dark area around the edge of the skins.  This is all the moisture that the salt has pulled out.  These skins are soaking wet under;  on the hair side.  The salt did a great job, but can not hold that volume of moisture.  This is where resalting the skin comes into play.  The professional hunter has not been checking on the skinners to be sure they are changing the salt.  All salt needed to be removed from the skin after the first 24 hours.  That salt would be put in a pile to drain.  The skins are then re salted in a second pile.  Again 24 hours later, the salt is removed and the skins salted for the third time.  Following these steps allows the skins to CURE.  We are not trying to dry the skins before they CURED.  It takes 3 full days to CURE any skin correctly.  A skin can be dried in one day, but it will not be CURED.  Understanding the salting process will insure quality skins at the end of the hunt.  ALL hunters should talk with their taxidermist BEFORE they go on the hunt.  This will save skins from being damaged, and at that time the taxidermist may want to purchase from the hunter, skins he will not be using.  This helps with the taxidermy bill.

Like always, the hunters is responsible for any skins that come back mishandled.  The hunter himself has to be involved in the process.  All taxidermist spend time educating their hunters on skin handling.  Locate a good qualified taxidermist, and begin understanding the value of wildlife.    

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Museum Quality Deer Shoulder Mount - New for 2012

Starting in January of 2012, we will be offering a Deer Shoulder Mount for $600.00.  We have been developing this shoulder mount over the past 3 years.  With the help of several supply companies, we have been able to produce a deer in the $600.00 range for the first time.  This is not an easy task, nor will it fit everyone's needs.  Trying to reduce the price of custom high quality work without giving up something is an impossible task.  The same way a beginning taxidermist / hobbyist can not produce high quality work due to his ability;  I have found it very difficult to produce highly detailed work at a low price.  These deer shoulder mounts will be labeled Museum Quality.  Just like in a museum setting, they will be best viewed at 8-10 feet.  Museum mounts have the correct anatomy and symmetry,  but do not have the detail required in a show piece.  Museum pieces have less time put in to them and the quality of forms, glues, earliners, and alteration are not required in those projects, so this is how money can be saved on these mounts.  Remember;  the goal is to produce a lower cost deer mount. This is accomplished though cheaper supplies, cheaper tanning, and less time spent on detail.

        Our Deer Shoulder Mount that we are known for is $850.00, and is a show quality piece that is second to none.  You can not receive this quality of mount from any production shop.  In these pieces, alteration is the most important part of  the Show Quality Deer Shoulder Mount.  The alteration is very time consuming and is the hardest part of learning the art of taxidermy.  I have found over time that most all taxidermist / hobbyist will not learn the art of alteration because it is very labor intensive, boring, and they do understand how to determine what, where, and when to make changes.  Most all taxidermists misidentify the deer specie  / subspecies that has been presented to them.  This happens quite regularly here in California.  Here we have 13 specie/subspecies in our state.  There is not one supplier that has sculpted a deer mannikin for any of the 13 species we have.  A Taxidermist may say what about the Blacktail deer mannikins?  Well;  those mannikins were sculpted for the northern deer from Oregon and Washington.  Those deer are much larger in ever aspect.  That is why our A zone and B zone deer do not fit those mannikins correctly.  We also have our Blacktail / Mule deer cross.  These are the most beautiful deer you can harvest.  They are also the most misidentified.   

We have both a Museum Quality Deer Shoulder Mount, and Our Show Quality Deer Mount on display.  You will be able to view both up close and learn more about the difference in the two pieces.  Be sure to read though more of our tutorials and watch videos to learn more about field care and preparation.  Spending time before the hunt learning how to properly handle your trophy in the field will yield a great finished mount that you can enjoy for years to come.

 Accurate eye sets are what make for a beautiful trophy.  Because most taxidermist do not leave the eye socket attached to the skull;  they do not have an accurate gauge to set the eyes to.
 Eye set combined with proper ear butt shape and placement, also leads to a realist face.
 Most deer mounts do not have a proper ear butt sculpted in during the mounting procedure.
 Do not be fooled by low price.  The price is a direct statement by the taxidermist.  He is saying he has less confidence, and will put in less time.  With less confidence and less time; comes less price.

The tutorials on the site shows where I have remounted trophies because of this very reason.  In the tutorials I show where the lack of confidence and lack of time produced an unsightly trophy. 

Just do your research.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Remounting a Zebra

In this tutorial we will be remounting a Zebra that was mounted in South Africa.  There is a lot of problems with this trophy, and we will reveal them as we move forward.  This Zebra was brought to us by a hunter that was very disappointed when he removed his trophy from the shipping crate.  Nothing about this Zebra is correct.  I would say that the low price and the encouragement by his outfitter convinced the hunter it would be a good idea.  It was only good for the outfitter, who received his 15% kick back.  The taxidermist that the hunter had been introduced to,  was never going to mount this trophy himself.  The white African has his Blacks do all the work.  They are not skilled craftsmen, and this is just another example.  I mention these facts so future hunters would at least spend some time doing research among taxidermist in their home town or even well known out of town Taxidermy shops.   
 Having trophies mounted in Africa is always a disappointing proposition.   If you are a hunter that has trophies at this time and think you like what you received, you have just settled for less.  More than likely, with close inspection you will see unsightly stitching, improper skin placement, and lack of detail.
The ear placement on this Zebra in incorrect.  With a little research on the internet, there are some great references.  The body symmetry and head size is where the problems begin.

 In this photo, the hunter has shown us the unacceptable sewing that was preformed on this trophy.   When this Zebra was skinned in South Africa, the blacks did a very poor job.  They should have kept the incision close to the main where the stitch could have been hidden.  Once it was at the taxidermist, the blacks there still did not fix the problem, but just quickly stitched it up and out it went.
 Once they began to detail this trophy, they felt that filling in the gap from the open stitch was a good idea.  This is unacceptable and just shows the disregard for the hunters trophies in Africa.

 Here;  there is a hazy look in the eye of this zebra.  It looks dirty, or possibly tarnished.  I tried to clean the eye with solvent, but it still had a hazy dirty look to it.
 Here it is easy to see there is no paint detail at all.  This eye looks lifeless.
 I have began removing the skin from the mannikin.  This was a big mess.  There was no rhyme or reason behind the thought process when mounting this trophy.
 This here is the ear.  I have began removing the plaster based product that was used to build an earliner.  The taxidermist did not remove the ear cartilage, so this increases the ear thickness when the earliner is installed.  Removing the ear cartilage allows the skin the be taxied on the earliner, producing an extremely detailed ear.  Leaving the cartilage in makes the job faster, but is incorrect and cheap.  These are just short cuts being preformed at a discounted rate.  
 Remember the eyes and the problems I was having.  Once I removed the skin, I could get at the eye.  What I found was;    they were plastic.  Yes;  they were plastic.  I cut this one eye in half on the band saw.  Try that with a premium glass eye.  Again more short cuts to save money.  These are the things they do not tell you.  Besides that you are in the USA, what are you going to do.  This is just wrong.  The hunter can avoid these problems, but by the time the hunt is ending, the money begins to dry up.  So, at the end the hunter ends up with junk on his wall, and the outfitter does not care.    
 Here I have the skin removed, and cleaned up.  I can now remove the ear cartilages and begin the shaving process so the skin can be taxied correctly in to place.
 Here in our shop we have many Zebra skulls.  So after measuring the width, I found that the mannikin used on this Zebra was 1 1/2 inched to wide.  That is huge.  That means I would need an extra 3 inches of skin for this to fit the original mannikin.  Head width never came into there thought process.  Why would it;  there has not been any thought put into this mount yet.  The hunters also never researched for a qualified Taxidermist prior to going on the hunt.  Leaving these arrangements until last will always yield poor judgement.  
 The above photo shows the skull to be 7 1/2 inches wide.  The mannikin they used was 9 inches wide.  It is hard to see the width measurements in the photo.  The head width is the most important part of the alteration to the mannikin.  This is also true when it comes to our big game here in the states.  Most taxidermist do not pay attention to these measurements.  The taxidermy industry has avoided this part of importance when talking about the mannikins.  The industry targets the hunter to mount his own trophies.  If they were to discuss alteration, most hunters would not take on the task of mounting there own trophies. 
The hunters are trying to mount heads that normally would not be mounted.  This means that the industry would not be selling supplies for that project.  These heads are generally small and not large enough to take to a taxidermist.  Targeting the hunter, will sell more supplies, and the hunter has no chance of mounting this head because nothing will fit as he has been told.

 Here is the mannikin that I will be using for this Zebra Pedestal.  As you can see, this mannikin came with rods installed.  This was a mistake that the supplier made and then would not take care of the problem.  There should NEVER be rods installed into any mannikin for any reason.  The industry targets the hunter as there customer, and not the full time taxidermist.  This is what makes taxidermy for the beginner so difficult today.  They want the hunter to believe that there is no alteration needed, and the skin will just go right on the mannikin.
 With a saw I sliced down both sides of the rods and pulled them out.  Now I can use the original hardware that was used in the beginning.  Now this mount will still fit on the client original cabinet.
 With the rods out, I can make the cuts need to size the mannikin for this skin.  I will size the head first off of the original skull.  Then the neck and shoulders are next.  Once the mannikin has been altered for size, and can make the final alteration for direction. 
 From the side here cuts from the alteration are visual.  I did not have all the skin that I would have liked to have.  This made extra work to fit the skin properly.  With a few cuts and 3 1/2 hours later, the skin is fitting like it should.  This extra time made all the difference in the fit of the skin.

 After preparing the head,  the skin was ready to go in place.  With the earliners glued in,  I removed a round section of foam where the ear butt could settle into place.  The nob that stuck out on the mannikin was removed, and a con-caved area was created to receive the ear butt.  I then began placing the skin, and started the sewing.  As I sewed the skin, I used a 2-part epoxy to glue down the stitches so there would not be an unsightly gap.  This is one area that was incorrect the first time it was mounted.  
 Alteration is the key to a skin fitting a mannikin correctly.  For those of you who have ever had to try stretch the skin, you know that the finished mount is never perfect.  In fact, most of the time the taxidermist is just hoping the client just picks it up and pays the bill.  This is no way to preform the art of taxidermy, or treat the client.  Stop guessing and learn how to alter the mannikin.  The client will pay you for your time and he will return with more work.
 This is the epoxy is the same adhesive I use for the ears.  I always use this to glue down my stitches.  Using the epoxy under the stitch guarantees the stitch will never come open. The glue also gives me the ability to taxi the skin into place.   
In this photo I have finished the sewing and will begin to set the eyes.  I have carded the mane in place.  The client was very disappointed in the attempt by the first taxidermist when it came to the mane.  The mane looked like a bad hair day.  I have groomed the mane into place for a neat natural look.
 Everything is set and pinned in place.  I will let it dry for around two weeks, and then start the detail.  Here is where the Zebra will come alive.
 Here is a photo from the front.  Compared to the photo below of what I started with.  There is a large difference between the before and after photo.  Once the Zebra is finished,  It will be remarkable.
This was mounted in Africa.  The skin was tanned by the taxidermist on site.  I found the tanning to be very hard to work with.  There no no stretch or forgiveness.  This had differently added to the outcome of the end result.  The skin was still very thick and needed to be shaved down before it was manageable.  The skin had been shaved in the beginning, but there were thick and thin spots throughout the skin.  This made it very inconsistent.  
Here is a photo of the finished piece.  Correcting the ear position began to change the features and gave it that Zebra look.
Here is a close up of the eye.  Head width played a large part in being able to taxi the skin in to position.  This head was 1 1/2 inches to wide .  This is over 3 inches in circumference.  This is the reason I try to drive home the importance of head width.
Eye set is important, but can not be achieved if the skin is being used in other areas.  Anytime the mannikin is to large, the taxidermist will struggle and end up with a piece that shows all the flaws.
Ears on a Zebra work in together.  That is not to say they can not work independently, but Zebra tend to move their ears in the same direction at the same time.
Here is the back of the pedestal.  The client had some small pieces left over from the back skin.  There was just enough skin to cover the back.  This pattern I used is interesting and it draws your eye to the center.  This make the seam down the middle acceptable to look at.
After all the detail, the change is dramatic to say the least.
I have used the same base that came from Africa.  The craftsmanship here was poor with no attention to detail.  I put a good coat of wax on the cabinet and that seemed to help its appearance.
The finished Zebra.  There was a lot of man hours into this piece.  There never is any profit in remounting trophies.  There is only the experience learned from taking these pieces apart to find the problem.  The problem is the same every time.  The mannikins a always the wrong size, and the head is always to wide.  I took the measurements from the skull, and the skull never lies.  Pay attention to the head width, and stop relying on the mannikin to be correct.  The mannikins are never correct for the piece you are doing.

We have more videos in the working, and will be on the blog soon.   

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Remounting A European Wolf

Recently I received into my shop a European Wolf that had been mounted as a rug mount.  We rarely take in Wolves from Russia.  This is only the fifth European Wolf that has came to my shop in the past 37 years.  This wolf here is a little different.  It was already mounted in the Ukraine.  The tanning was done very well, but the taxidermist struggled in the mounting process.  From what I could see, they are most likely limited to the taxidermy supplies available in Ukraine.  I found it very interesting to see the way this wolf mannikin was constructed.  They had used the original skull as the base and began modeling foam around it.   If this taxidermist had good quality supplies available, I believe he could have put together an outstanding mount.  This was not the case, and the client decided that we needed to take it apart and start over.  I will walk though the steps taken to remount this European Wolf.  

 Looking from the bottom, you can see the jaw embedded in the foam.  I began by using a wet sponge to lightly dampen the skin around the head area.  I was not sure if the tanned skin would hold up to being wet and pulled on.  To my surprise the skin was in good shape and the glue began to release as I removed the skin from the mannikin. 
I started on the lower jaw first.  I gently separated the skin from the jaw bone.  The skin had been glue to the foam which was molded to the jaw bone. 
 With the skin on the bottom jaw freed, I began focusing on the nose area.  I wanted to reduce any damage to the nose that could come from separating the parts.  The florescent pink material that is seen was a rubber compound used to fill in the mouth area and give it its color.  This material came off very easy.  
This is where it got very interesting.  In this photo, I have pulled the skin back past the ear canal but just short of the eyes.  The lighter color material that is there is silicone.  He used this to fill in any voids in the foam.  Silicone was also used to embed the ear butts into.
 Here is a better photo of the silicone used.  It made the transition from the foam to the skull smooth and complete.  The eyes were molded back in place using clay.  They were set in the eye socket just like the real eye.
The two pieces of tin were cut out to form earliners.  They had came from some empty can that was in the shop at the time.  The writing on the back was in Russian and it looked as if the can may have contained some kind of solvent.  There were two holes in each earliner.  These holes had a loop of wire that secured the skin to the earliner.  No glue was used, the skin just took the shape of the pieces of tin.
Here I have removed the skin and fleshed all the glue, foam and silicone that had been adhered.  Using some earliner material, I traced out the shape and began fitting the liner back in the ear.
I had to alter the form for size.  Once that was done, I dug out a void for the ear butts to fit down into.  This is how I keep the ears from appearing to tall and long.  Most Loins, Leopards, and Bobcats are finished with ears that are protruding to far out from the head.  This is the first mistake on most cat mounts.  Some people will remark on how the eyeset gives the cat a poor look.  This is true, but I have found that the ear butt placement is were it goes wrong.  
I always card my ears to give them a smooth, sleek appearance.  Here the Wolf is pinned and set aside to let dry.  
I have jumped ahead here. I have finished the mouth detail and border around the Wolf once I finished stretching the skin.
Here is a close up of the mouth showing some paint detail.
There is a great change from when I first began.  Always remember, having a fresh skin to start with makes the job much easier.  When a Taxidermist begins taken a mounted animal apart, he is playing with fire.  To start off with, there is always less profit when remounting any trophy.  I am not being paid for the tear down time, nor all the extra time needed to fix problems and rehab the skin.  There is a good chance of losing the skin and having nothing.  Most Taxidermist do these jobs for the challenge.   
Here is the finished rug. 

Watch for more tutorials and videos coming soon here at Dick's Taxidermy.