In the next few issues we will give you some tips and information on what to look out for when you, or the skinners, are preparing your trophy for a mount or a rug. The first article will discuss the “after-the-shot period”. This is about the field preparation until your trophy  reaches the taxidermist. Africa is a long way away and safaris, and the animals that you hunt on them, are expensive. For many people, it is a once-in-a-lifetime event, and not being able to enjoy your hard-earned trophy back home will be like a punch in the gut. Most outfitters are excellent in handling and preparing trophies with world-class skinners – but rather be safe than sorry.    

Ever since reading that first article on hunting in Africa, you have been dreaming about this moment.  Months, if not years, of research and planning have gone into these last few seconds.  You have talked to countless people, including hunters, outfitters, booking agents and friends and after several months you have booked the trip of a lifetime. Countless hours have been spent on the shooting range and in gun stores to adjust and fine-tune your equipment, and have led to a lot of late nights. You have traveled for over 24 hours to get to the Dark Continent filled with its secrets. It is not what you imagined but in a strange way it is exactly as you imagined it.
For the last several days you have been tracking a specific animal and have only seen glimpses of this monster lurking in the thick, impregnable African bush. He knows you are after him and is using all his experience to put daylight and a lot of miles between the two of you. For the last two hours you have crawled on your stomach over rocks, thorns and sand to get into a better position. The last thirty minutes have been spent sitting in a very uncomfortable position, looking into some of the thickest thorn bush on the planet, waiting for a glimpse or a chance at a shot. You are thirsty, hungry and tired but you are alive with hope and anticipation. This is the best feeling that you have experienced in your life.
Your professional hunter taps you on the arm and whispers, so softly that you almost miss it: “Get ready; he is moving.” You move in behind your rifle and stare into this dark abyss. There is movement and then he materialises out of thin air. “Take him when you are ready,” is the response you were waiting for. You drop the crosshairs to his shoulder and everything happens in slow motion. Your finger tightens around the trigger and the rifle kicks back into your shoulder. All hell breaks loose in the thicket in front of you as you reload and look for a target again. All of a sudden it’s quiet and you are catapulted back to reality with shouts and handshakes. “He is down! What a shot!“ rings in your ears. A few seconds later you are standing next to a dream, next to one of the most beautiful animals you have ever seen – a culmination of years of dreaming, planning and obsessions. You are in a euphoric and emotional state and you are totally immersed in the occasion, reliving the hunt over and over in your head. Pictures are taken and you sit there waiting for the recovery crew in silence, enjoying the moment.  So what now?
Most outfitters that you hunt with in Africa have access to very good skinning facilities with great skinners. In some cases, you will have to skin the trophy in the veld for to logistical reasons – either the animal is shot in mountainous terrain or very far from camp, or the sheer size of the animal won’t allow it to be transported back to camp in one piece. To realise your dream and get your trophy back home, the process after the shot is very important and it is really important that some things are taken care of to prevent damage to your trophy.  Remember, the better you take care of the trophy in the veld, the better it will look on the wall back home. The veld preparation of the trophy will go a long way in determining how the end result will look, and will eliminate a lot of frustration for you and the taxidermist. One of the main complications caused by taxidermy clients is mishandling of specimens in the veld, or  skinners or hunters who make the incorrect cuts on game. Most clients on a safari won’t be part of the skinning process but should be aware about the do’s and don’ts.  Here are a few of them to watch out for.

Rocks are common obsicles. Make sure the rocks doesn’t damage the skin when recovering an animal

General hints after the shot

The biggest issue that ruins a trophy cape or hide is hair loss and decomposition of the skin.    Here are a few tips of things to do when capping a trophy in the veld or back at the skinning shed to prevent it:
  • The most important aspect is: skin as soon as possible and apply salt to prevent hair slip.
  • If you are skinning the trophy in the veld, move your trophy out of direct sunlight as soon as possible. When skinning the trophy in the veld ensure that it is done undercover and out of the sun. Remove the gut as soon as possible, as this will help to cool the carcass.
  • Blood is a big cause of hair slip as it contains a lot of bacteria, and the bullet hole needs to be washed as soon as possible to prevent any more blood dripping down the skin.
  • As far as possible, an animal that is destined for taxidermy, whether it’s for a mount or a tanned skin, should NEVER be dragged. If it’s possible, carry the animal or use or canvas to move the animal around in the veld. Even on the back of the recovery vehicle, ensure the animal is protected. The constant rubbing on the vehicle will result in hair being rubbed off if it is not protected.
  • If you are skinning back at the lodge or skinning shed, ensure your trophy is marked properly. This will prevent confusion, as this might be the last time you see your trophy before it is hanging on your wall a few thousand kilometres away. If possible, hang the carcass immediately as this will ensure the hair is off the ground and away from any blood. At this point it will be good to wash away any blood again, if there is any.
  • It is VERY import at this stage that the skinners know exactly what kind of mount you want. It is always better to skin for a full mount if you are not sure whether you want a full or shoulder mount. The reason for this is that the taxidermist can always cut away unwanted skin but he can never add skin. Skinning methods will be dictated by the trophy you require.
  • When skinning, ensure that all excess meat and fat tissue is removed. This is especially important for zebra, as they have layers of fat under the mane that must be removed. If the skinner is not experienced, the chances are always there that he might miss this 40 mm wide layer of fat under the mane. It’s very difficult to see, especially on freshly skinned animals and can easily be mistaken for a thicker part of the skin. Carefully cut out the fatty layer and rub salt in well as salt cannot penetrate fat.
  • After the skin is removed, wash it again with cool water and let it dry for about half an hour before salting.
  • Apply salt. Some people let the skin soak in a salt-and-water solution for a period, and others apply dry salt, depending on what is available. The point is, get the skin into salt as soon as possible after it has been removed from the carcass and remember, one can never apply too much salt.

An example of excess blood that needs to be removed as quickly as possible after the shot


Example of an extra ordinary plains zebra skin.

Another example of excess blood that needs to be removed as quick as possible



Horns & skulls

If you are not going to mount the animal and maybe just want the horns or skulls, these are some points to look out for or do:
  • Of great importance again is to ensure your trophy is marked or tagged with your details on it.
  • Never cut a skull as this can lead to not enough bone for the taxidermist to work with. He will do the cutting back at the taxidermy.
  • Ensure that as much meat as possible is removed and wash away all blood.
  • The tissue on the outside is not the only tissue to remove. Using a flat-ended stick or pole or a spoon, try to remove as much brain tissue as possible and rinse it out with water.
  • If the skulls belong to, for example, pigs or carnivores, ensure that the jaws are wired to the skull, protecting the tusk or teeth of the animal.
  • Apply salt thoroughly and store in a dry cool place.

Applying salt

 As I mentioned, the salting of the skin is VERY important. You have to ensure that the hair roots are exposed to salt.
  • After the skin or cape has been washed and dripped dried for a period, double-check that all blood and any flesh or fatty tissue is removed. Ensure that no dry patches develop, as this will result in salt not being absorbed or penetrating the skin.
  • When skins are opened or laid on the ground for salting, ensure that there is at least an inch to a 2-inch thick layer of coarse salt covering it. Place the skin, hair facing down, on a bed of salt and rub salt into all edges. Ensure there are no wrinkles or crevasses that didn’t receive salt. This includes eyes, lips and ears. The entire skin should be covered with at least an inch of salt.
  • For storage, the skin or skins – if there are more than one – can be rolled up with the salt.
  • 36 to 48 hours after the first salting the old salt should be removed and replaced with new fresh salt. It is not a requirement that the second salting be as thick as the first one but try to use fresh salt if it is available. The second salting should be applied and then be left on the skin for about 24 hours. On small animals like genet, blue duiker, caracal and klipspringer, it is best to use fine salt instead of the normal coarse salt.
  • After the second salting the skins can be placed in the sun to dry out. A good practice is to make folds in the skin for the tail and ears. This will protect them. If possible, unfold the skins daily to check on the process and continue to dry the skins.
  • When almost dry, fold and ensure that identity tags are still visible. Sprinkle liberally with insecticide powder and store in a cool, dry place. Transport to your taxidermist for further processing.

As the giraffe has one of the thickest skins (sometimes more than one inch thick), salt penetration can be an issue. Ensure the salt penetrates thoroughly by cutting lines on the inside of the skin


The kudu is one of the species that has n higher risk of hair slip. Especially an old bull like this. Special care needs to be taken in the field as well as the skinning shed


Special care of thick skins

The big hairy and dangerous animals that you will hunt will need some different or other treatment.
  • Salt only penetrates hides or skins effectively to about 5–6 mm. To ensure that the hair roots get enough salt to preserve them, the method described above needs to be changed or altered a bit.
  • To ensure that salt gets to the correct depth, the easiest method is to make cuts into the skin of about 2–4 cm apart and to a depth of about two thirds of the skin, taking care not to cut through the skin as this would damage it. The only option then would be to stitch it closed but that would leave a mark that would be seen. Dangerous game (buffalo, elephant, hippo) with thick skins, and giraffe, require this to almost their entire skin and, to a lesser extent, so does some of the thick-skinned antelope like eland and sable, especially around the neck where the skin is very thick.
If for some reason you or the outfitter can’t do all these steps before your trophy is taken to the taxidermist, at least ensure that the basic rules apply, as mentioned. Remove the skin of the animal as soon as possible, remove all excess blood and tissue, apply salt and keep the skin cool. Never transport your trophy in a sealed plastic bag as this will result in the trophy or skin ‘sweating’. Ensure that the skin never stands or lies in water or blood for any extended period of time and drain off excess water and blood at every opportunity. A good practice is to freeze your skin and trophy but that is not always possible in African hunting camps, or practical, due to the size of the animal trophy.
This advice is not set in stone and reflects our view. It is just a general overview of field trophy care and preparation. In the next issue we will look at what happens at the taxidermist once they receive your trophy.

Although the sun is one of your best tools for taking great trophy pictures, it is one of the worst enemies when it comes to preventing bacteria in your trophy. 


(ASM Jul 2018 P.78)