If you intend to make a plush rug out of that gorgeous white or brown bear’s hide, you will need to be prepared in advance. The same goes for getting the most from that elk or caribou meat you are eyeing up – that is right, we said it before, and we will say it again: plan.
When you are hunting for a big game trophy or the bear skin rug, you will want to consult a local taxidermist for specific instructions regarding managing your animal carcass. Though the principles for preserving the head and antlers of most four-legged species are similar, each taxidermist has their own way of mounting a trophy – and if you fail to follow their specific instructions, you are unlikely to get the best possible result.
So, talk to a taxidermist, or if you intend on doing the mount yourself, read up on the best practice and take a brief how-to guide written on a 4×6 recipe card that you’ve either laminated or sealed in a small zip-top bag. Having the card to hand will ensure you are able to get the best of your catch in terms of display. In brief, a head mount will need to be carefully removed, and this is best done by stringing the animal up so you can ‘cape’ the animal without worrying about blood or debris getting on the head.
Think of how a cape falls across your own shoulders, and do not cut anything on the animal above the place that line would translate to them. This will make doing the rest of your field dressing tasks a bit more complicated, but overall, the job of meat preservation takes priority for most hunters. (“The Hunting Specialist: HARVESTING YOUR HUNT”)
Now, to preserve your trophy, make an incision around the animal along this cape line. Then, work to carefully roll the hide forward from there, right up to the ears. You will always want to leave more hide than is necessary for your taxidermist to work with – after all, it is easy to cut off any excess, but impossible to ‘make’ more hide if what is available falls short of requirements. Next, cut the neck about three inches below the junction of the head and neck. Once that cut is complete, you should be able to twist the head off by gripping the base of each antler firmly and applying a reasonable amount of pressure.
The other leading consideration for hunters is how to best preserve the meat they have won. Again, this is something with basics that remain the same across all species we hunt. The most immediate concern is getting the meat cool, as this helps protect the meat from spoiling.
To field dress most birds and small game, all you will really need is a good hunting knife. For larger game, you need significantly more than this. The essentials are a good hunting knife, a compact folding saw, a hatchet, and a sharpening stone. You will also want to take along some rope to stabilize the carcass while you are working and a kit to hang the animal if you need to.
Whether your field dressing your kill for meat preservation or to create an exquisite trophy, a good tip is to bring a couple pairs of rubber gloves while you are working – they will keep some of the grot off your hands, give you a truer grip on the slippery bits and, most importantly, provide a little protection against nicks and cuts.
Whether you opt to skin your kill, bone, quarter or simply haul the animal out whole, there are a few things you must consider. First, heat is the enemy. You need to cool that carcass down if you want to eat the meat later, the fastest way to do this is to gut and skin the animal. The quick and straightforward guide to gutting is as follows:
- Slit the animal from anus to brisket (or lower, depending on your requirements) – take care not to puncture the innards
- Cut carefully around the anus and genitals, again taking care not to puncture anything
- Reach inside the upper end of the cavity and work to roll the innards down and push them out the end of the animal. Cut away the diaphragm to gain access to the upper body cavity
- Continue cutting organs from the upper part of the body cavity out, carefully going along making precise cuts the whole way. The innards should slough out through the bottom of the carcass easily enough, bear in mind that if you intend to save the heart, kidneys, or liver, you will need to pack them in bags and get them on ice as soon as possible.
- Once the innards are removed, you may need to quarter your animal to pack it out.
Second, once you have packed the animal away from the kill site and have it back at your base camp or in your rig, you need to find a way to keep it cool. Avoid storing the carcass in an enclosed space, like a car trunk. Third, you must keep the meat clean – that means free from debris as well as bugs.
One good tip for fending off insects is dusting your kill with a can of black pepper, and a solid piece of advice for keeping dirt at bay is to skin with great care so there is a layer of fat remaining around the carcass. Finally, secure your game properly for transport – the last thing you should do is tie it to the hood of your vehicle. Instead, be sure it is properly bound in the rear of your ride. On the other hand, you should be careful not to limit air flow around the meat – limiting air circulation can lead to spoilage and make the rest of your efforts all for naught.
Rewards Of the Hunt
Whether it is a stunning trophy buck mounted on the wall, or a delicious meal made from meat harvested by your own hands, the rewards of hunting are many. On average, a deer will yield around fifty pounds of meat. You will convert just under half the weight of most hunted game into meat if you wish to do so.
You can opt to butcher the animal yourself or take it to a local butcher – there are advantages to managing the carcass either way, but most people will opt to take the easier road of using a butcher.
Bear in mind that all butchers operate differently, what’s customary practice to one guy will be a completely unthinkable process to another.
So, as with all other things, you will need to be prepared. If there is a local butcher you know and trust, use it. Otherwise, check with fellow hunters, friends and family in the area and see if you can produce a couple of butchers to talk to.
Once you have had a chance to discuss the butcher’s working approach, you will know which one is most suited to your own needs. Butchers will produce a variety of cuts of meat for you – so it is important to discuss your requirements both before the hunt and as you are handing the hardwon carcass over to the butcher afterward.
As part of your planning process, remember to ask the butcher for any recommendations you should follow when field dressing your kill as this will allow you to get the best results in terms of meat yield and quantity. Some butchers can fix your mistakes, in terms of how you have quartered the animal, for example. But, if your meat was too hot for too long and spoiled, was tainted by debris or some other substance, even the best butcher will not be able to do anything about it – and he should not. At the end of the day, tainted meat will only make you ill, so there is no point arguing with the butcher about it. Of course, you can take the carcass to another butcher for a second opinion, but if the meat is spoilt, it is spoilt and there is nothing you can do but learn from your mistakes to avoid them in the future.
If you have been fortunate enough to get an animal worth mounting, you will be gutted if you roll up to the taxidermist’s shop and present something he tells you cannot be mounted. “So, as always, prepare yourself for success by visiting the taxidermist beforehand.” (“The Hunting Specialist: REWARDS OF THE HUNT”) Follow the instructions your taxidermist gives you in the field, pack the mount according to his guidelines and the odds of having a gorgeous memento of your best hunting experience are improved.
One final tip for successful trophy mounting, be sure the wall you are going to hang the mount on is up to supporting it. The rack on an elk can weigh twenty pounds alone. Add to this the weight of the skull, stuffing, mounting board and accessories and you will quickly be beyond the support rating of a mere nail in drywall. You will also be out of the range for a normal picture hanger – so find a good stud wall and get the right sort of bracket to avoid having your trophy come crashing down.
“The most lasting reward of the hunt experience is one of the most often overlooked.” (“ebooks – gigapedia.org”) Your memory. “Of course, you and the other guys in your party will each have your own take on the whole experience, which will lead to amusing late-night arguments for years to come.” (“ebooks – gigapedia.org”) But more than this, particularly if you have hunted with younger family members, you will have a lasting image of something truly special. An experience that friends and family across generations come together to learn, teach, and experience together.
The meat, if it is not spoilt, will last a few months. The mount will stay on the wall until it goes out of fashion or is replaced by something bigger, better, or rarer. But your memory of each hunt experience sticks with you until the lights go out. And that is something truly special.
Best Wishes, Coy
See Tomorrow: “A Bird Hunter’s List”
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