Dead Game mount of a wood duck.

The Importance of Trophy Care in the Field

Just the night before I did the wood duck mount above, I saw a photo of a beautiful drake wood duck in a similar pose on one of my taxidermy related Facebook sites. I remarked to my wife, "Why would anyone do this with a perfectly mountable wood duck?" The very next day I received this bird from my client in New York, quite thawed, rather "ripe" and losing its barred flank pin feathers. I quickly skinned, fleshed, and washed the duck, and almost called it a lost cause. Without the barred flank feathers, a wood duck makes neither a good flying or standing mount.

In asking the question, The LORD gave me the answer. It was the ONLY option left to have a decent looking trophy mount. But isn't taxidermy the art of making God's creatures appear realistic, and look alive again? Yes and yes. So here we have a clean, well-groomed bird in the only pose left. Alive, no; realistic, no, and for one reason. A "realistic" dead game mount would be muddy, bloody, and shot up. Hence my reasoning in using this mount as an example.

Believe me, I know we don't always get choice specimens in to mount. The value of a trophy is relative to the occasion. Both mine, and my wife's first ducks were hen gadwalls - not exactly what one would call pretty, but both taken on the wing. I also suspect that many, if not most young hunter's first ducks are shot on the water at close range.

The condition of the bird also dictates the options for obvious reasons. Wings shredded by shot make a very poor flying mount. Birds kicked around the bottom of the blind or boat do not fare well, even in the hands of the best taxidermists. I use the original bills, as taxidermists have done until recently, because many artificial heads lack realism, and one size does not fit all. Shot damaged bills can be repaired with an epoxy compound, but if it is missing, we have to use an artificial head. Wings and legs can be transplanted from a bird that the customer by law provides, but that is additional work, and will likely result in extra charges. An ethical taxidermist, (a fast disappearing breed) will advise you of the true potential for your mount. His counterpart often substitutes a bird in better condition that you did not shoot, and that is illegal.

Caring for Birds in the Field

Ever since I started mounting birds, (1969), I have said, "That is why God gave ducks feet - to carry them by." Do not carry them by a strap around the neck if you plan to mount it. This will break, or pull out feathers. Wash off the blood in the water if you can, and set the potential trophy on top of something to keep it from being trampled underfoot. Keep it cool, normally not a problem during regular duck season.

At your vehicle, place in, or on top of a plastic bag before putting it in the ice chest. If it is a duck water will not hurt it. Keep it separated from the other muddy, bloody birds. A trip to your taxidermist while the bird is fresh is always best, but if you must freeze it, do so at the first opportunity. Lay the head beside the wing, and wrap the bird in two plastic bags. Whoever came up with the idea of using pantyhose did not take long-term storage into consideration. It will keep in plastic for a year or maybe two without freeze drying the feet. The pantyhose will allow the feet, wings and head to dry out in this time, depending on one's freezer. If you do this, also wrap it in plastic, and then newspaper. Tag the bird with the date and place killed for future reference. The less time the birds are in your freezer, the happier the wife will be.

Caring for Fish - Dead and Alive

The concept of Catch and Release has caused a lot of misinformation among anglers in the recent past. I see photos of the fishermen holding a bass by its lower jaw, and then releasing it. Recently, specimens donated to the Share a Lone Star Lunker Program have died due to broken jaws, preventing them from eating, and other mishandling, and overhandling. These "jawbreakers" should take up pike or musky fishing. Sure, all the live fish at a tournament are released, but how many actually survive the ordeal?

I understand that Catch and Release allows others to catch the same fish, again, and again, often bigger each time. I also accept that if even half survive, it is more than if they all went as unwilling participants at the club fish fry. But when I see pictures of a magnificent fish with its maxillary (upper jawbone) mangled, or unable to close its mouth, or otherwise disfigured from being mishandled and released multiple times, I shake my head in disgust. Handle God's creatures with respect, whether you kill, or release them.

That said, most are happy with the photo as proof that they caught this big fish. Fewer kill the fish to put on their wall for bragging purposes. Even fewer want to spend the money necessary to have a realistic reproduction mount done. Sadly, there are comparably cheap excuses for fish mounts permeating the market these days. Without quality reproductions to compare to, some taxidermists get away with these. Sorry boys, I am back, and I will show people what trash you pass off as a "replica mount".

All a reproduction mount requires is a length and girth measurement, and "TA-DA!" Instant fake fish. However, a replica mount of YOUR fish demands a good color photo showing the markings, and colors that a true artist will reproduce. Why settle for a generic fake fish that has thick fins, cheap eyes (set wrong), poor detail, and looks nothing like YOUR photo? Good blanks for fish reproductions are available, but they cost as much or more unfinished than the quick and dirty knock-offs from China do finished.

One local taxidermist told me, "I can't do fish, and I make $250 just to take it out of the box, ready for the wall, and put it on a piece of driftwood. If I use those other blanks, I have to put it together, and paint it, and I don't make as much. Besides, they don't know the difference."

Yes, there is a difference if you care. One is molded from a real sacrificial fish, and the other machine carved with scales that look like they were imprinted by a shell casing. Don't pay good money for the latter.

Should you actually have the dead fish, keep it cold, and wrap in a large plastic bag before freezing, IF taking it to the taxidermist is not an option. For long-term freezing or shipping to the taxidermist, wrap the plastic in several layers, (about an inch or more) of newspaper. Freeze it as flat as possible.

Shipping Your Trophy Birds and Fish

True overnight shipping is expensive, and sometimes not available in our areas. As with fish, wrap your bird in newspaper and freeze at least a week, two is better. Pack in a box surrounded with crumpled newspaper which acts as insulation. Keep it frozen until delivered to your shipping carrier, or picked up. Wait until cooler weather to ship, and notify the taxidermist of its pending arrival so they can track it. Comply with all state and federal regulations regarding shipping of fish and game specimens. If in doubt, ask. We would rather answer questions beforehand than tell you that your trophy is ruined upon arrival.

Hunting/Fishing license number and signature are required on all bird and skin mounted fish work, regardless of species.

Even the best skin-mounted bass cannot compare to a quality replica, molded directly from what God created.

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