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Monday, August 4, 2014

That Doesn't Look Like My Deer

In past tutorials, we have written about the handling of skulls.  I will try to explain more about how important the skull is to achieving a more accurate mount.  Let me say, not all taxidermist will be in favor of having more skull to work with.  Some taxidermist do not use the skull the way we do.  They are not wrong in there methods, they have chosen a different path.

In every country I have hunted, the outfitter/Guide has always provided the hunters with the full skull.  This is so we (taxidermist) have all the accurate measurements needed to recreate the animal as close to life like as possible.  The skull is the key to the skin fitting the mannikin correctly. There is no substitute for the real skull.

This tutorial is not for those who know what they are doing, and have a process they follow.  If it is working for you, do not change a thing.  If you are a hunter who keeps receiving poor quality work;  or a taxidermist/hobbyist that always has trouble fitting the skin to the mannikin, then maybe this can help.

After years of stretching skins on mannikins and realizing nothing ever fit good, I began to do research.  I called a Taxidermist up in Canada that had been doing some outstanding work.  I had dialed the phone hoping he would tell me some secrets to his success. Bingo, it was my lucky day.  He began talking about the length between the first digit and the second digit.  Listening closely;  I was trying to understand how this was important.  The mannikins I am purchasing has already done all that for me.  As I listened more, it became very clear that all mannikins were just something to start with.  He ordered all Life Size without rods.  This he did;  so he could change the length and the circumference to fit the skin he had.  He said he also uses this method to correct the head shape and size on his shoulder mounts.  His Deer and Elk mounts were some of the most beautiful heads that I have ever seen. I now realized why hunters paid him a premium price to do their mounts.  He began explaining to me that once the mannikins were altered, the skins would go on the mannikins and begin to take on a life of there own.  They actually looked like they were alive.  He did not have to stretch and distort the skin.

This would be a difficult skull to get any info from.
The photo above shows a skull with much of the bone cut away.  The back of the skull is missing, along with the bridge of the nose.  Capturing the skull width is not an option here.  With the bridge of the nose missing,  means we have to guess the the angle of the antlers.  Another issue that comes into play is the stability of the antlers once attached.  With the lack of bone, the skull could eventually be cracked and be a floppy mess.  This can all be eliminated with the use of more skull.

Again, this is not for you that have a method in place.  This is to shed light on an option for those who struggle with the fitting of skins, or hunters receiving poor quality mounts back from a taxidermist.

From the front, photo shows the eye sockets and bridge of nose is missing.

The photo below shows the mannikins we purchase straight from the supply companies.  The mannikins come with the eye socket sculpted in place.  For the last 25 years, mannikins have all been made in this same manner.  The presumption was to cut all the eye sockets off the skull and use the form as is.  This is so far from the truth.  This was intended to give the taxidermist the width of the mannikins head.  Then the taxidermist was to measure the skull on the deer he was mounting.  At that time, the taxidermist would make the necessary adjustments to the mannikins width before removing the top plate from the mannikin.  Now he could line up the bridge of the nose,eye sockets, and the back of the head for a perfect fit.


Then the supply companies got a great idea!  They would begin to market there product as a perfect fit form.  All that would be needed was to purchase preset eyes, some professional made ear liners, and anyone can mount there own deer with perfect results.  The perfect result part is a non truth.  Then new taxidermist just starting out begin to believe that this method was in fact the dream they were hoping for.

Now that the industry begin using the mannikins in this way, it set in to motion the elimination of the importance of the skull measurements all together.  Now the taxidermist just measure the width of the neck, and order a form to fit the neck size.  The width of the head no longer comes into play.  By now you should see this is a major problem.  The taxidermist found this method speeds up his production.  He does realize that the quality of the mount has decreased, but he has less time in the mount meaning more profit for him.  It does seem to work for some taxidermist.  This is only because the hunter is excepting the type of work.

Again, if this works for the taxidermist and works for the hunter, don't change a thing.  If a taxidermist is struggling with the skins fitting good, or the hunter is receiving poor quality mounts, look at this practice a little closer.

When ordering a mannikin from a catalog, here is what you will find.  All mannikins come in gradated sizes.  They start with the small and work up.  A small deer would have a 16 inch neck and a head size to match.  A larger deer with a 20 inch neck also has one head size.

As all hunters know when a deer is taken in the pre-rut the neck is not swelled yet and would be around 18 inches.  That same buck 30 days later in the rut will be 21-22 inches.  You can see that when I order the mannikin with an 18 inch neck the head is proportioned to fit that deer body.  We now take a deer during the rut his neck is larger, but his head size remains the same.  When I order the mannikin to fit his neck size, the mannikin comes in with a much larger head.  You can see nothing will fit correctly.  Here is where the altering of the mannikin is so important.  Altering a mannikin means more time to the taxidermist, and he has not planned for that.  There now is only one solution;  stretch the skin on.  This is where the deer begins to lose its life like look. I once had a taxidermist on the internet tell me that today mannikins are much more high tech, and alteration is no longer required.  That is so far from the truth.  What he should have said, is today's hunters are lacking the knowledge to see poor quality work when it is staring them in the face.  This is just a lazy statement from a lazy taxidermist.  The same taxidermist will not have enough work and blame it on the economy.

By now you should understand more about the roll the skull plays in a shoulder mount.  Preparing the skull as if it was to be a European skull mount,  stops all these issues.  Only the hunter being involved with his trophy will produce a great mount in the end.

This is a perfectly handled skin and skull.  This trophy mule deer was taken by a youth hunter  last season. 
The photo below shows a skull cut leaving very little bone.  Now the repair starts to recreate the skull needed to mount this shoulder mount and have great results.  This repair is around $250.00. At this price it only covers the time spent reconstructing the skull back to workable product.
This hunter is removing 80% of the flesh and all the brain. He will then apply salt and be ready to transport.

This antler will be embedded into the artificial skull base. 
Until this deer season, when I would see a skull cut like the one above, I would be very upset.  Now I see more work that pays great money per hour.