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Taxidermy Tips

The following is our attempt to make the mounting process go as smoothly as possible for those that are new, it is extremely important to us that your experience mounting with our tanned skins is a good one. So I will take you through our process, step-by-step. While this won’t cover all questions you may have, it will give you a good start. If you have any other questions feel free to contact us.


In the Beginning

When you receive your capes put them in the freezer, until you are ready to start working. When you pull them out of the freezer they will take a short time to thaw, 30 to 60 minutes if you begin unrolling them as soon as they allow, and continue opening the cape as it thaws.

After it has thawed, or close to completely thawed. Wash in a solution of kemal-4 (about 3 capfuls per 4 gal. of warm water). Kemal-4 is a relaxer, cleanser, degreaser distributed by Knoblochs and can be purchased from almost any Taxidermy supplier.

Move your cape around in the Kemal solution, making sure the water makes good contact all over, inside and out, agitating by hand increases efficiency. After you work them around in the solution, usually less than a minute, leave them in to soak for about 3-5 minutes, agitating occasionally. This will clean the oil out of the hair and allow the skin to relax. During this process you will feel the change as the skin begins to relax, as it lets out. Again this should be noticeable in about 3 to 5 minutes, at that point you can remove the skin from the Kemal solution and rinse. It’s ok to leave the skin in a little longer, just stay with it and continue to monitor, but 5 minutes should do the job.

After rinsing, spin the cape out in a washing machine on spin cycle. Once you have removed the excess moisture you are ready to begin the prep work, which you will notice is minimal.

NOTE: Some people use Dawn or Tide to wash them, some use shampoo. If you have a preferred method, it should be compatible with our tan.


Preparing Your Cape

Next, take the cape to the workbench and invert the face (skin side out). With a scalpel, go over the eyes and tear ducts to make sure everything is properly thinned and trimmed, this should be minimal work for you. You’ll notice that I don’t trim the lips or nostrils at this point in the process, but later just before we tuck them. Purely a personal preference, but I find it easier to trim the lips and nostrils after the cape is on the form, the form holds the skin in the perfect place allowing you to use both hands as you trim.


Removing Cartilage

We use ear liners and this is the process we use. With the ear inverted the first thing I do is remove the ear canal area, it is located at the bottom of the cartilage. I usually begin my cut near the top of the “shelf” that is located directly opposite of the “V notch”. I use Eppley earliners and you can get them with or without the ear canal detail cast into them. Again, your preference.

Remove the cartilage by folding the ear in half (top of the ear down to the bottom, cartilage side out), then LIGHTLY make a straight cut from left to right cutting through the cartilage only. It’s not quite as hard as it sounds but you don’t want to cut through the inner ear skin, just the cartilage. Simply put, after making this cut from left to right, you will have separated the top of the cartilage from the bottom, now you can work with 2 pieces instead of 1 large one.

Now to separate the cartilage from the inner ear skin, remove the cartilage. With your fingernail, start at one side of your cut and gently peel the top half of the cartilage towards the top of the ear. Work evenly as you go up the ear. Meaning, as you start working your way up, go left and right as well as up. This will prevent the cartilage from getting in a bind.

If you come to an area where it looks as if the hair is coming through the inner ear skin, stop and go to the other side working to that spot from a different angle. This helps keep the hair from pulling through the skin, or ripping the skin as it gets thinner.

Now remove the bottom half in the same manner. Go slow and let the skin/cartilage dictate how and where you go with it, some are just harder than others.


Installing Earliners

After the cartilage is removed, it is important that the moisture be removed from the skin. The best way we have found is to use a hair dryer to dry the hair side of the ear first. After the hair is dry, invert the ear. Rub sawdust onto the skin side of the ear vigorously until the skin side feels dry.

The sawdust we use is nothing special, just excess we collect from a table saw. It will dry the ear skin very well, providing an excellent surface for adhesion.

There are good products available for gluing the skin to the earliner, the best product I’ve found is 5-minute epoxy. The reason it works so well is that it locks the skin down to the earliner long before the skin begins to dry. Think about it, if while using earliners you’ve ever had the skin pull away from the liner as it is drying (drumming). As the skin dries it wants to move or pull, common issue. By using a 5-minute epoxy the skin is literally locked to the liner long before the skin even begins drying. You have totally eliminated any chance of the skin moving on you if your earliner fits correctly. This method produces perfect ears consistently.


Sewing Any Holes

Now go over your cape and if you have any holes, now is the time to sew them. When sewing holes or rips in the fine areas such as the muzzle of a short haired deer for example, use the smallest needle you can. Ohio Taxidermy Supply seems to carry the best selection of good quality small needles. I would suggest you order an assortment of different needles to see what works best for you. It’s amazing what can be fixed with the proper equipment, patience and the desire to challenge yourself.

Thread is the other important ingredient. The only thread we use isn’t even thread. It is fire line that we get from the Wal-Mart fishing department. We use the smallest line we can find for facial or brisket area fixes - usually 8 lb. test and 2 lb. diameter. To sew the seam down the back of the neck, we use 20lb. test and 12 lb. diameter. Make sure you purchase braided line not monofilament. You will cut your finger before you can break it, the strength it has compared to the tiny diameter is unmatched. This goes along way towards helping you hide a seam.

Before you sew anything, whether a seam on a deer or a fine fix in extremely short hair, it is important that you trim the edge of the skin up to the hairline, so when the edges of the skin come together the hair does too. After sewing is complete, take a small hammer and lightly tap the seam flat from the skin side. It prevents a lump from showing when the skin is placed on the form.

It’s worth noting that at this point, after I have cape prepped, ear liners installed. I take a measurement of the cape to order the form and then I place the cape(s) back in the freezer and order the form(s). I like measuring after the tan, I know a lot of people measure as they skin the animal. With this method I can prepare and measure multiple animals, and then order more forms at once.



With the eyes set and the skin on the form you can do your trimming on the lipline and nostrils. Again I don’t do this on the work bench while I’m doing the eyes because it is so much easier when the form is acting as a third hand and holding it in place for you.
Trim and thin the lips and nostrils to your liking, thinner is always better. Also, try trimming the papillae off the outer part of the lips, this reduces unnecessary thickness and makes them much easier to tuck and taxi as your mounting. After tucking the lips, scrub the lip line with a wet toothbrush to clean off any hide paste. This will reveal any lip skin that was not completely tucked, which will show up as dried, unsightly skin. Also this gives you a chance to make sure your hair patterns are lined up.

Now that you have it sewn and you are done with the mounting process keep an eye on it while drying, especially the first 24 hours. Our capes will dry fast if you let them. If I have a cape that I think will dry more than needed overnight, I place a garbage bag over it to slow the drying until I can watch it throughout the next day.

Occasionally go back and adjust, especially around the eyes. As your mount dries you will notice the clay firming up, allowing you to make micro adjustments to get and keep everything where you want it.

You can waste a lot of time chasing the eyes around, pushing them here and there just after you mount it because the clay is still soft. If you just rough them in, where they are close to what you want, then come back about 8 to 12 hours later, you’ll be amazed how easy they go and stay where you want them. By giving the clay time to firm up you will be surprised how much time and frustration it will save you.

I go back on the 2nd day and insert a modeling tool into the tear duct prying it open just a little. Then put a small dab of super glue into the tear duct and press it back into place. This will insure it doesn’t creep open while drying. Not a necessity, but a handy tip.

Continue to check the entire mount over the next couple days, it takes literally a couple minutes each time. It’s my opinion that a lot of good mounts are lost by those who neglect this part.


Finish Work

I usually wait a minimum of 3 days before I do finish work. Some may read that and think that isn’t near long enough and if conditions are humid it might not be, and then I wait longer. But normally if the furnace or A/C is running they dry well in 3 to 5 days. You will notice how thin the skins are shaved, that helps tremendously to speed drying, and why it’s important you check your mount periodically as its drying.

I start the finish work by cleaning the eyes, removing any clay or hide paste I may have missed. Using a flashlight helps to see things that otherwise might not be revealed.

Then I mix up a small amount of Apoxie Sculpt, an Aves Product. I use the brown color they offer for filling the small gap between the eye lids and the glass eye, careful to make sure it isn’t flush or above the top of the eye

lid. After getting the Apoxie Sculpt in place using a modeling tool I finish the job with a small artist’s brush, smoothing and blending even more.

If the interior of the nose has any small holes or foam showing you will want to use the same material to smooth and blend these areas as well. When I prep my form I am careful to carve out the nostril area as precisely as I can, I also leave the nostril skin a little long so that there is only painting to do inside the nostrils.

Once I’m happy with the way it looks I’m ready to paint. I first clean the eyes with glass cleaner and then I like covering them with and eye protectant, there are a few different ones in your taxidermy catalogues, and all that I’ve tried work well.

I use an Iwata airbrush that I have been extremely happy with, the HP-BC. They are pricey but very durable, I’m on my second one in just 20 years.

I’ll share my paint schedule with you, it is nothing special but seems to match the colors I need. There are multitudes of them from different companies, so play with a few and see what you like.

I use 4 colors total to finish deer. These are Hydro-mist paints. Natural Flesh, Dark Brown and Cocoa Brown.

The fourth color is a mixture of the following: 45% Natural Flesh, 45% Dusty Pink, and 10% Mars Red. Play with the percentages and see what suits you, use good reference when comparing the mixture you come up with, good reference is priceless.

When you mix this start with about 5% Mars Red and increase to suit you, this color is extremely powerful and very little goes a long way.

First I spray the eyes and nose pad with the Natural Flesh, a medium to heavy coating. Then I spray the inner nostrils and inner ears with the 3 part mixture we made, the fourth color.

Now I use Dark Brown over the Natural Flesh on the eyes and the nose pad. I apply a little lighter than the first coat, you want it to have some depth, slightly seeing the flesh through the Dark Brown, very slightly.

Now I use the Coco Brown and apply it over the inner ear and inner nostril, same thing with this, you want to create a little depth with both colors.

Once the paint has dried I go to texturing the nose pad. I use a Liqui- tex product called Gloss Medium& Varnish, I purchase this at Hobby Lobby. I prefer using a small artist brush to apply it to each nodule on the nose pad. You don’t want to just wipe it on with the brush, but dab it on and manipulate it on the nodule to cover the entire area. Tedious, but fun, as you begin to see it come together. Once you have it coated completely allow it to dry completly and you are ready for a gloss coat.

I use gloss topcoat, also a hydro-mist product, for spraying the nose pad and lightly, very lightly over the eye skin.

Once it has all dried properly I will remove the masking material from the eyes and all that’s left is a last grooming and double check for anything you missed.

One point I’d like to mention is REFERENCE. You can ask people their opinion on anything I’ve written here, and get a lot of different and great tips and ideas. But the correct way is to get as much good reference material you can find. Talking to experienced taxidermists is invaluable, and the best way to do that is to join your state association and pick the brains of the many great people in this industry. But a similar theme you will hear from the best in the business is reference, reference reference! 

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