Now, there is always a funny stigma attached to the world of Taxidermists, but if you find a good one you will find they are just as human as you and me, so we at the Diary like to do things in style, so we would like to present Mr Gary Knight.
Gary started his interest in taxidermy at the ripe old age of 12, and now at 45 has been doing it on a professional level for nearly 10 years. Now along with game animals, deer,fox, rabbits,grouse, and birds of prey Gary does a few, umm different animals from swans and song birds that have been found dead, to moose, bison and ummm how to put this, unicorns…….
When in the field always try and remember that even the best Taxidermists can’t make a silk purse from a pig’s ear, care in the field is the start to you getting a great trophy to keep. Blood and mud on the fur/feather doesn’t matter because of the amount of washes and cleaning involved prior to mounting, but unnecessary cuts and loss of feathers and fur is hard to cover.
Despite what you were told on your DSC course, a heart shot animal that has laid dead for 20 minutes will NOT bleed, so cutting the neck in multiple places and wondering why the blood is not pumping only makes a mess of the cape, its best to do a simple field gralloch through an incision in the gut area and just cut around the diaphragm to let the air into the rib cage and to get the clots out (do not cut the brisket area at all!).
When skinning a deer you should only use the knife to find the membrane and then the entire skin can be pushed/rolled off the carcass, leaving a clean skin to work with and a better carcass to give to the dealer, if you are not confident in skinning it is always best to take the entire beast to the taxidermist so you don’t cut it too short or damage it.
When carrying a bird off the field you wish to get mounted, don’t carry it by the neck or string it up as this can displace many of the short necessary neck feathers needed to recreate a perfect mount, neither should it be carried by the feet as this is total disrespect for your quarry, if possible it should be laid carefully on its back and carried in the palm of your hand or placed in the bottom of your game bag. Once home it should be wrapped in tinfoil or ladies stockings and frozen as soon as possible.
Always pick your taxidermist carefully, always look at their work and don’t just rely on a couple of pictures on their websites, having a friend of a friend or the cheapest option may not be the best route to take and will only give you a reminder every time you look at the finished mount that you made a mistake.
For those not familiar with the process involved in mounting a bird/mammal I shall give a brief description, obviously the skinning of the subject has to be done through the smallest hole possible, as less sewing at the end, and care in not pulling fur/feather has to be taken at all times, the original skull, leg and wing bones are left attached and cleaned off thoroughly, the skull will be rebuilt with clay to replace where the muscles once were.
The skins are then washed several times to remove fats and greases or any blood/ mud that may be on the outside of the skin. In the case of thick mammal skins the skin will need to be fleshed to allow the chemicals better penetration and to give less shrinkage when drying, a thinner skin also allows you to put more detail into the mount such as muscle tone or veins under the skin.
To dry the skins I prefer a very controversial method of soaking in petrol as this removes most of the water and gives a final de-grease, obviously this must be done with great caution as setting light to yourself and the workshop could spoil the finished mount.
Once the skins are wrung out and left to air outside for a while I then use a blowgun on the compressor to re-position and fluff the feathers, a final shaking in a bag of potato starch gives the feathers a fuller fluffier look and replaces the small dust particles that birds accumulate through dust bathing.
A safer way to dry them is to wrap them in a towel and remove most of the moisture with kitchen roll and then use a hair dryer on a warm setting ( a hot setting will curl the feathers).
Most bird skins can be cured simply by rubbing a Borax or alum into the cleaned skin but mammals usually require to be tanned properly which involves several stages including pickling, fleshing, tanning and more fleshing and then maybe even an oiling to finish.
To recreate a natural mount the taxidermist must sculpt an exact replica of the body taken out of the animal using either polyurethane foams or a wood wool/tow wrapping. The bones left attached to the skin can then be rebuilt with tow/clay and wired with a thick enough gauge to support the finished mount. The skin can then be stretched over the made form and once you are happy with the fit the wires are pushed through the recreated body and locked off. Important placement of leg/wing wires is vital as once the subject is sewn up they cannot be changed, and it’s no good having lopsided wings set too far down the body!
If you feel when you are sewing up that a little extra padding could be needed then a very small amount of tow can be pushed between the form and skin and positioned with a length of wire.
Once sewn up the mount can be fixed to a branch/board and using the flexible wires you can position the subject into a natural pose, knowing your subjects habits and movements are vital as this makes the difference between the item looking stuffed or professionally mounted.
A bird does not have feathers all over and actually only has groups that over lap, by looking at the patterns you can preen the bird to give it that perfect smooth and flowing look. Trying to add movement by lifting a wing or leg or naturally tilting the head to give an inquisitive look also adds to the finished mount.
Eyes are replaced with glass/acrylic ones that fit the size and colour of the originals removed when cleaning the skull during skinning.
Once happy with the position it can be put to one side to dry for a few weeks and any stubborn feathers not lying correctly can be pinned down with pieces of card/tape or the entire bird loosely wrapped with cotton until fully dried.
This is obviously only a rough guide of the processes and many people use different ideas, but I am self taught and this is what I’ve found best over the years, if you are still interested then please look at my sites which are;
And yes folks here is the infamous unicorn….