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Friday, December 6, 2013

To the common eye, this may not show signs of a disaster,  but you would be wrong.

In this tutorial I will be addressing the on going problem with skins coming from Africa. Regardless of the country in Africa, hair slippage and skin rot has always been an issue but never has been addressed. I hope to be able to shed light on the salting and curing procedure that is so important to a finish trophy. Culture plays another part of poor skin handling in the field. I will explain how different cultures look at the wildlife in their own country and how that contributes to mishandling of skins.

Field care and handling techniques determine the quality of skins once tanned. These skins that have been presented to my facility demonstrate how important proper salting and skinning directly affect the finished trophy. This is the salting method I have found to be best for handling of trophies world wide.

First Day; Step One:
After the trophy has been skinned and all flesh has been removed, a thin layer of salt is laid down on the floor where skins are to be salted. The skin is salted, being sure that all edges and hidden areas are covered completely in a layer of salt. At this time the skin will begin to discharge moisture at a very fast rate. It does not take long before the salt on the skin is loaded and can not hold any extra moisture. This is fine for the first 12 hours while the salty brine is CURING the skin. We are not trying to dry the skin; we are curing the skin.

Second Day; Step Two:
Within 12 hours of the first salting the salt will now be removed and the skin should be scraped down removing any remaining salt. The scraping will open the pores in the skin, allowing the next salting to penetrate even deeper. Allow the second salting to remain on the skin for 24 hours. By now there is no moisture accumulating around the edges of the skin.

Third Day; Step Three:
This is the third salting. Resalt the skin one more time. This salt will stay on the skin for 24 hours. The skin will have a nice blue color to it once this salt is removed on the fourth day. The salt has cured the skin all the way to the hair follicle. Now at this time the skin should be cured completely though. If the skin is thick as in a Cape Buffalo, Giraffe, ect, one more day should complete the curing process. At this time skins can now be hung to dry. There should be no dripping of moisture at this stage. The skins should be dry to the touch when they are being hung. If skins are wet, the salt used was old and not able to perform its duty.

These are the proper steps needed to cure skins for taxidermy purposes. In my opinion, this is the proper way to handle skins, and any other method will prove to be unsuccessful.

You may ask, why are all skins not handled this way. It comes down to culture. In Europe, Wildlife is more than just a renewable resource. There is a stronger connection between the people and wildlife. The wildlife is revered as a sacred gift given to them to look after. The killing of wildlife is something to celebrate and honor the animal death. In Germany, the clothing that the hunters wear is all part of the respect given to the wildlife. I recently had a friend hunt Roe Deer in Germany. It was mandatory to wear the proper hunting clothes before, during and after the hunt. Once the trophy was taken, offerings back to the animal and the land was highly important and part of the hunt. There is a great heart felt connection between the European culture and wildlife. I did fine a connection in Cameroon (West Africa) between the people and the wildlife. The Boca people have lived in the forest for thousands of years. They believe that there are spirits in the forest both good and bad. They believe that if they do not give back to the spirits, they will not be protected from evil. They never waste any part of the animal, in fact they use ever last piece including the bones. So you can see with a deeper connection to wildlife, these hunters, put there heart into persevering ever last part.

Hunting Africa since the early 90's, I have hunted with many different cultures. I have hunted with the very spiritual Boca people where the animal is highly respected and never wasted. I have also hunted the Northern Transvaal in South Africa where the animal is just a commodity. I found that in countries with this believe field care and trophy preparation was at its poorest. Hunters will never change a culture. We can see in history where many times we have tried to change how others live and what they believe. That has never worked out yet. Changing how skins are handled in places like South Africa's Northern Transvaal will never take place. The hunter has two options. He can allow the outfitter to handle the skins and hope for the best; or take care of the skins himself. I have learned to take care of my own skins.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Preparing skulls for shoulder mounts

Though out our tutorials, we have made reference to skull placement and correct alignment.  Back in the 70's and 80's cutting the throat was a common occurrence.  As taxidermist we spend endless hours trying to educate the hunter in proper field care.  Nothing worked at all.  We had photos and descriptions of proper skinning techniques but it fell on deaf ears.  It was not until we started charging for the extra work and time,  that things began to change.

We are now at another cross road.  Since the finding of  Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD);  we now have uneducated people in the field cutting skulls and skinning trophies with the worst results in handling that I have ever seen in 36 years of being in business.  So you might ask; how can this be turned around.  There is only one way to get the hunter to want to stop and learn proper field care.  We will now begin to charge for the extra work it takes to fix these problems.  This will change the action and  attitude of the industry.  In the following photos, notice how skulls are cut and how they relate to the mannikin.  Most Taxidermists and guys doing taxidermy (and there is a difference) do not pay enough attention to the usage of skull measurements and placement.
Here is an example of a full time taxidermist who has cut this skull.  Our client harvested this Mule Deer in Colorado.  He took it to a local taxidermy shop where he found this full time professional taxidermist.  I find it hard to believe that this taxidermist cuts his own skulls in this manner.  This would make his job so hard to do, and do correctly.  Only thing I can say is that the taxidermist was mad that the hunter was taking his trophy back home to have mounted in his home state.  This is just an example of poor handling at its finest.

Here is what a skull cut in this manner gives you.  There is no skull to reference to the angle of the antlers.  Eye sockets are missing, so getting the correct skull width is also not an option. Attaching this skull to the mannikin is another problem.  As you see, skulls cut in this manner makes no sense.  This would be like trying to build a house on one prier block.  This is very unstable and everything is a guess.    

Notice here how the skull has been cut.  I have the bridge of the nose in tack to align up with the slope of the nose on the mannikin.  This will set the antlers at the correct angle.  There is no guessing here.  Next;  notice I have the eye sockets in place on the skull.  This is going to give me the correct width.

 The width of the skull is most important measurement to have when mounting any big game.  The eye to nose;  nose to the back of the head and neck measurement are second to skull width.  Most all mannikins are to wide in the head.  I am estimating over 95 %.  Believe it or not, this is the one measurement that most  taxidermist do not pay attention to. This limits there ability to produce high end quality mounts.  This will open the door for a new taxidermist to move in town and take over an area.  With this knowledge, he will be more accurate.  Now his prices can also be 30% higher, and he will still take the majority of the work.

 Here are the way skulls come from Africa.  Do you ever wonder why they send the whole skull.  This is to get all the measurements need to perform the job.  The width of the skull is there, along with length, depth and shape. This is very important on African game.  Well mounted African game will bring in the good clients.
Notice here, everything lines up.  There is no guessing.  We will end up with a natural looking deer.  Perfect these techniques and you will surpass your competition.  These techniques also bring in more profit and build a better client base.