By John Hayes
Clay Newcomb reached out to me with a picture of his bear that he had just gotten back from another artist, having questions about some spots that were on his bear. He sent me some pictures and from there I realized his bear had been severely damaged during the skinning and shaving process, leaving it with bald spots all over its head and body. Clay wanted to turn his trophy bear into a rug, so he asked if there was anything we could do to repair it. He brought us his bear, and once receiving it I saw there was an immense amount of damage done- from there the repair process started.
Once we repaired it and had it finished we posted pictures on our instagram page of the before and after pictures where we received a lot of comments like, “I didn’t think that was possible” and “I thought it was ruined”. We also received a great deal of questions from people on how to avoid this from happening to them.
How to avoid this from happening to your trophy
So, the question is how you can avoid this similar thing or anything bad from happening to your trophy animal?
We strongly encourage that before you even go on that bear hunt, you do your research on the taxidermist you choose. Look at their work, ask questions and get referrals. If you are using a guide or an outfitter, don't be afraid to use your chosen taxidermist over someone they recommend or provide if you know your preferred choice does quality work. Start to picture what you would like done with your bear before the hunt- options usually include rugs, flat tans, shoulder mount, half-life size and life-size. If you want a life-size done, will your bear be standing or walking; what habitat do you wish to see? Know what you want when discussing options with your taxidermist, and make sure they have the ability, as well as the time to bring your bear to life using quality products and processes that will insure your mount will last.
If the taxidermist you choose is not local to you, talk with them to find out how to get the bear to them. Find out what cuts they prefer in the field - dorsal cut or abdominal cut. If you are not experienced in the cuts they prefer, do your research and watch some videos. The cuts you make in the field are very important, especially with a rug, you want them to be symmetrical cuts. If the taxidermist you choose is local, talk with them to find out what cuts they prefer or if
you are not experienced or feel comfortable doing it in the field ask them if they would take the animal whole but gutted so they can cape it themselves to reduce the risk of error. No matter if your taxidermist is local or not, ask them for tips on field preparation and care for your bear to help ensure a good mount is produced.
Preparing your bear for the taxidermist
We have some tips on the best way you can properly prepare your bear for your taxidermist.
- If you do not know how to skin or cape the bear in the field, let someone who knows how do this. Whether that be your guide/outfitter or if the taxidermist will take the bear whole, let them cape it. If you are hunting by yourself or cannot get the bear out whole this is why we strongly encourage you to ask the taxidermist what cuts they prefer and learn how to make those cuts because the lack of skill can ruin a mount.
- You want to skin the bear as soon as possible leaving the head and paws attached
- Unless you are experienced or have someone with you who is experienced do not remove the hide from the face just cut the head off at the base of the neck once you have skinned it.
- If you are planning for a shoulder mount, leave lots of cape behind the shoulders, your taxidermist can always cut off excess, but if there is not enough hide to work with a shoulder mount can not happen.
- If you are rugging your bear your cuts need to be symmetrical
- You want to remove as much fat and flesh from the hide as possible.
- Once skinned, fold the hide flesh to flesh, if you can get to the taxidermist within a day or two the cape and head are okay to be put in the refrigerator, but if you cannot get to the taxidermist that fast or you are shipping it, it needs to be frozen.
- Talk with your taxidermist before your hunt about whether they would like you to salt the hide or not, most taxidermists don’t recommend salting the hide unless you can not get to a cooler/refrigerator or freezer for a few days.
- Do not leave the cape and head laying around for too long before putting it in a cooler or freezer because the soil, blood and moisture will grow bacteria which will cause the hair to slip and if that happens your cape is ruined.
- If you are not using a local taxidermist in your hunting area but you need help preparing your bear cape you may need to ask them for help to prepare your bear for shipping to your chosen taxidermist (if you are using a guide/outfitter ask them in advance).
Types of cuts you can make
This is mostly used if it is going to be a standing bear looking at you (because the seam will be in the back). From the neck/shoulder area you will need to insert your knife under the skin and with an upward motion cut down the spine toward the tail. Cut through the tailbone leaving the tail with the hide. Now start pulling up on the hide and cut between the meat and the hide, working each side. Cut off the neck at the shoulder area and continue down the legs. Go as far down as you can to the paw and cut it off (do not cut through the bottom of the pad).
Mostly used for rugs, walking bears or similar poses. Lay the bear on his back, start an incision between his front legs and the center of his chest and go toward the tail area, keeping your knife under the skin and pulling upwards so as not to cut any hair. Go to the right or left of the penis and down to the tail. Now from where you first started go up the inside of each leg staying in the center to the paw (do not cut through the bottom of the pad), do the same on the rear legs. Now just start pulling up on the hide and cutting between the meat and hide. Cut off the neck and wrist leaving the head and paws with the hide. You will need to work one side, then the other.
Repairing a cape
If somehow someway your trophy cape gets ruined we highly recommend doing research on the taxidermist you take it to to repair it. No taxidermist is going to have the same answer, we all have different ways of doing things. How I knew how to repair something 20 years ago is way different from the way I know how to now. There are a lot of things that can not be fixed but not everything is impossible, you just have to find the right taxidermist.