By Clay Newcomb
One of the most asked questions I get when I come home from a bear hunt is, “What are you going to do with it? You’ve already got lots of bears.” My first response is usually aimed at making the person asking feel a little bit ridiculous. They act as if I haven’t thought this through, and naturally, I feel an obligation to make them reconsider their assumption. My next response is usually quick and blunted and often revolves around one of these five things to do with bear hide. Here are some ideas for your bear.
Circular Rug or Throw
For the hunter that has lots of bear rugs, consider cutting the legs and neck off in an oval pattern to make a rug. A flat rug with legs, claws and head is really nice, but you may want to be a little subtler in some situations. An oval bear rug is really unique and looks great. You don’t need a taxidermist to do this for you, just get your hide tanned and use a heavy pair of scissors or a sharp knife to the cut the hide. You can use a rope to “mark out” the shape of the rug then carefully cut. A 5.5 to 6-foot bear will make a rug about 4-feet long by 2.5-feet wide.
I recently made my first circular bear rug and was very pleased with the way it turned out. Using a tanned hide flipped over on the hair side, I traced with a marker the outline of the rug. I was intentional to get the most square footage as possible out of the hide. I used a thin rope to help guide my tracing. I started off with a pair of scissors, but ended up using a sharp knife to easily cut the hide. In total, the project took all of 20 minutes. I decided to use the hide as a “throw” over the back of the couch. A throw is basically a smaller blanket used primarily for decoration, so I think this describes it perfectly. It’s classy, yet rugged.
Probably my favorite way to preserve the memory of a bear hunt is to simply tan the hide. Typically this is called a “buckskin” or “soft” tan. A bear hide is classic Americano décor and is a great addition to any room in the house. Once a hide is tanned it can be hung from the wall from a single nail or hook, causing it drape to the ground. Or it can be spread and pinned on the wall, used as a rug for the floor, or it can even be draped over a heavy-duty curtain drape or quilting rack. For the hunter that’s got lots of bears and wants to display them, draped buckskin-tanned hides (hung from the nose) look great hung side by side.
The most attractive part of this method is the financial one. This is the most cost effective thing you can do to preserve your bear hide. Typically, hides will cost around $6 per inch measured from the nose to the base of the tail. This puts the average bear (5 to 6 feet square) costing between $250 and $300 for the finished product.
Full Body Mount
The full body mount is the classic bear-related memory activator that every bear hunter needs at least one of. A life-size bear adds some rugged grit and wilderness realism to any room, and is a nice piece for a hunting room filled with antlered game. There are multiple options for full body mounts and it will help you to understand the basics. Full body mounts typically range from $1,500 up to $5,000, and can vary greatly in quality and artistic appeal. Most taxidermists take from six months to two years finish up a full body mount.
How do I skin the bear for a mount? For a bear standing on all four legs you’ll skin in the typical fashion, cutting up the belly and down the inside of the four legs. However, if you’re going to do a standing bear mount you’ll need to make a dorsal cut down the top of the back. For either method, cut the feet off at the ankle joint and let the taxidermist joint out the paws. Additionally, it’s advised to let the taxidermist skin out the face.
If you don’t have room on the floor, wall pedestal mounts are quite popular. Typically, the taxidermist uses a reproduction log or rock that attaches to the wall and the bear is standing on the fixture. These make for some very unique and eye catching mounts. Use lighting to highlight the bear for an extra accent. The classic mount of a bear on all fours in the natural position is a nice look, but you might consider a pedestal base using a rock or log with the bear’s front end higher than the back. This brings the bear’s eyes closer to eye level, making a more striking appearance.
Shoulder mounts capture the essence of the bear without taking up much room or costing too much money. This type of mount is very popular, and when done right, looks really good. A shoulder-mount bear is going to cost slightly more than a shoulder-mounted deer. A bear typically runs between $400-$600. When you look at this option, be sure to ask about the “pedestal wall mount.” This is where the bear almost looks “3D” as it’s angled off the wall. Additionally, you can add a habitat base to a shoulder mount to really make it stand out, like a rock or tree limb.
As with any type of bear mount, you’ll need to decide the position of the mouth. A “panting” pose has the bear with his mouth slightly opened in a natural-looking position. An aggressive mouth would be snarly teeth and tightened face. A closed mouth bear will cost slightly less and makes a nice conservative mount. Don’t overlook a shoulder mount in 2017. I suggest using a taxidermist that enjoys and specializes in bears. They can be tough to deal with and a taxidermist’s passion or lack thereof will show through in the finished product.
Make A Bear Skin Coat or Vest
Have you ever considered making a bearskin coat, vest, or some type of clothing? I know it would be different, but you’re a bear hunter so people expect you to do off-the-wall stuff, right? There are companies all across the country that will take your tanned hides and make clothing out of them. To be right up front, it can be very expensive to have a high quality furrier make a piece of clothing. However, you can probably find a local seamstress who could do a pretty good job for a lot cheaper price. The first step is going to be getting your hide professionally “soft tanned” through your taxidermist.
The second step is going to be to search for a furrier in your region or one that you can mail the hide. Multiple options exist for making a vest, a full coat, a hat, or even a coat with a simply a bear hide collar. Try Master Furrier, Debra Lark Lemberger in Kansas City, Missouri at jandn.dazium.com or 816-554-1450.
Make a Bearskin Sleigh Blanket
When traveling during the winter months involved riding in an open sleigh pulled by horses, bearskin sleigh blankets were used to keep passengers warm. Fabric technologies we use today to block out wind and moisture were non-existent, so cotton, wool, and animal hides were the primary things used to keep people warm. When you think about it, it’s actually a brilliant idea. Bear hides are extremely warm, wind proof, and durable. Long rides in frigid weather were made tolerable by adding insulation to your warmest clothing. A sleigh blanket uses one or more bear hides cut in a square pattern with a fabric backing sewn onto the leather side. Basically, it’s a heavy-duty bear-hide blanket made for outdoor use. The hair side of the blanket would be facing out towards the elements, while the fabric side would make the inside of the blanket.
Not many people are using sleighs these days for transportation, but a sleigh blanket draped over the back of the couch would make a very interesting conversation piece and would be a metaphorical nod to the primitive uses of bears in times past. Quilters and seamstresses in your region would have good idea of how to make one of these, though I doubt many have.
As hunters, it’s part of our ethical responsibility to utilize, to the best of our ability, as much as the wildlife related assets that we gather as possible. Think outside the box and don’t be afraid to try something different with your bear hide.