Field Care and How to Cape a deer in the field for mounting

When you’re out in the field with a prize buck that you want to get mounted, there are several crucial steps you need to be aware of to ensure it’s in the best condition for the taxidermist.

The first step to a great looking mount is the removal and care of the cape. The best way to make correct cuts is to ensure you have a flat open space with room to move – though this isn’t always available. 

Always take your time when skinning your trophy, always use a sharp blade and always cut from the flesh side (never the hair side) so as not to cut the hair fibers in half. The process of skinning out a trophy animal, is best left to the taxidermist. Their experience skinning, especially the delicate nose, mouth, eyes, and ears is invaluable toward producing a quality mount. Damage to a hide is costly to repair. Some types of damage simply cannot be “fixed” by the taxidermist. Many trophies are ruined in the first few hours after death. As soon as the animal dies, bacteria begins to attack the carcass. Warm humid weather accelerates bacteria growth. In remote areas, or areas not near your taxidermist, a competent person may be required to cape out the hide in order to preserve it. Every taxidermist has a preferred method of caping a hide. It may be beneficial to contact your taxidermist prior to your hunt for instructions on their caping requirements. However the following techniques are acceptable in making sure you get a quality piece of work.

Make a cut around the midsection, keeping well back from the back of the shoulders (fig2A).  One of the biggest mistakes is the tendency to cut too far forward on the brisket. Slack and adjustments for shoulder mounts are dictated by the brisket length so leave plenty. The diagram below shows the cut behind the shoulder but it’s best to make your cut at the mid-abdomen section of the animal.

The following cuts should be just above or at the first knuckle or knee of the animal (fig2B). The most effective method is to ‘tube’ the cape up to the back of the head. Stop approximately 2-3 inches from the back of the head where the spine and skull meet and cut the skull from the spine (fig3). The other optional, but inadvisable, cut is directly up the spine-line, stopping at the skull. This cut is very easy to mess up so it’s best to refrain from doing this in the field unless absolutely necessary.

Cuts applicable for life size mounts:

After skinning care

After skinning the cape lay it out of the sun, hair-side down and let the flesh-side cool. After the heat has gone from the cape, fold it over on itself, roll it up (hair side out) and place in a cloth bag such as a meat bag – refrain from plastic bags (unless transporting in a cooler to prevent saturation from melted ice or immediately freezing). As soon as you can, unroll the cape and cool it again either by putting it in the freezer or packing on ice. Salting a cape should be your last option as it causes problems on ‘green skinned’ capes and should only be performed if you are days away from a cooler or ice. Freeze if possible, ensuring the cape is not soaking wet as this will be cause freezer burn much sooner. In short keep the cape dry and as cold as possible until it arrives at the taxidermist.

 Things your taxidermist will appreciate

1. Keep the clean cape: Sometimes it’s next to impossible, but a clean cape free of debris and large chunks of meat are much appreciated and facilitates prepping the cape for form mounting.

2. When in doubt, leave more: Don’t try and guess where the skin needs to be cut for the minimum amount needed for the form. More is better! Granted, more skin equals more weight for the pack out, but it could save you money if the cape ends up being too short and additional work is needed for patching or moderate/major repairs.  Some of the biggest mistakes are in the brisket areas…cut well back from the brisket areas.

3. Leave the head in: Unless you are proficient in removal of the skin over the head don’t try and attempt this yourself in the field. Eye, nose, lip, ear, and scent gland membranes must be retained for adequate and effective mounting. The best practice is to leave the head/skull in the cape and deliver to your taxidermist so they can take care of the final removal.

 Common Mistakes

1. Cutting too close to the brisket:  When gutting, it’s a common mistake to come too far up and cut into the brisket skin, inadvertently splitting part of the cape. This requires repairs by the taxidermist and can cause potential problems, especially for early season/warm weather animals that carry shorter hair.

2. Not making the round/midsection cut far enough back: Stay at least 4-6 inches back from the shoulder blades when cutting around the mid-section for the cape removal to ensure you have enough skin to cover a shoulder mount form.

3. Incorrectly cutting lines or using a dull knife: If you decide to make the cut up the back of the neck line, make sure your animal is squared up. A ‘wavy’ cut or one that goes down just one side of the neck presents potential problems and more work for the taxidermist. The best practice is to ‘glove’ the neck and leave the cut up to your taxidermist. Use the sharpest knife you can, a dull knife will make rough cuts and damage to the skin and hair.

4. Not cooling the cape down: Capes spoil very quickly so make sure to cool it as soon as possible. Keep it cold (either in a freezer or ice) and get it to the taxidermist within 24-48 hours. Heat and moisture are a hides worst enemy.

5. Salting: Do NOT salt the hide unless you are proficient in splitting the ears, lips, eyelids and nose, removing all excess flesh and fat, and removing toes and tail bones, Once the hide is salted, I can NOT take care of these sensitive areas and the hair will slip in any area that was not completely penetrated by salt. If you are not proficient in these areas, the best course of action is to freeze the hide (or keep it as cold as possible) until you can get it to the taxidermist.

  • Never cut the throat
  • Never hang the animal by the neck
  • Never drag your animal (if possible) if dragging is necessary do so by the antlers and avoid as much contact with upper body.

Remember, every taxidermist has their own method of caping and requests for care of trophies. Therefore, it is always best to contact your taxidermist if you have any questions before your hunt.

Recent changes to transport of cervids from other states and methods to take to remain compliant

Due to increasing concern over the spread of chronic wasting disease (CWD) new laws have been implemented to reduce the potential for spreading to non-affected areas. This includes transporting cervids with intact spinal columns and/or brain material across state lines. Certain measures can be taken to be compliant with transport regulations. The following videos illustrate proper techniques to remove the skull, once the skull is removed cut the skull downward through the eye orbits and behind the skull meeting up with the previous cut through orbits. Once the antler and skull plate are removed clean out any remaining brain matter and cover skull plate with salt or borax.

Thanks to Ben Mears in conjunction with Mossy Oak, McKenzie Taxidermy Supply and Precision Taxidermy for their instructional videos.