In our first article we talked about the importance of field preparation of your trophies and the “after- the-shot period”. In this article, At the Shop, we will be talking about what happens when your trophies reach the taxidermist. We will give you some tips and information on what to look out for and what questions to ask when you talk to the taxidermist about your once-in-a-lifetime trophy. 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. It is therefore critical that the taxidermist has enough information on what you expect your trophies to look like when they are done.
Trophies arriving – note the identifying tags
The day that you have dreaded has arrived. Your lifelong dream of hunting on the Dark Continent has come to end. For many people this first trip to Africa has opened a Pandora’s Box and will ensure that they will be back visiting the Dark Continent in years to come. You are leaving camp and will be taking the 24-hour plus trip back home. However, before you get on the plane there are some important issues to take care of, namely your wonderful trophies. In some cases, the outfitter will take care of everything for you from here onwards, and you will only see the final product after the taxidermist has completed his magic, when your trophies are hanging on the walls back home. Other outfitters will take you to a taxidermist where you will discuss all the options with them directly.
Some important aspects to remember here:
Copy of your passport
PH register filled out completely, signed by you and the outfitter, listing all the animals harvested on your trip
Hunting licenses for species not exempted on a game farm, like serval and honey badger
Farm hunting exemption permit
Copy of the outfitters and PH licenses
Details of broker that will handle clearing in the designated country
Details of mounts
For me this is a very important piece of information. You will, by this time, have a good idea of where you would like your trophy to hang or stand back home. If you are not seeing the taxidermist yourself, give all the details to your outfitter. Make sure that you inform them of the shape, in terms of the form, you want. Should the animal be looking left or right? Must it have a sneaky kind of look, with the ears backward or forward or just a normal forward-facing alert pose? If some of your trophies are going to be full mounts, stipulate what the animal must be doing – for example, should it be climbing a rock or tree, should it be standing or lying down? Specify whether it will be hanging on a wall or standing on the floor of your trophy room, and what kind of finishes you would like on the base. In other words, should the base be grass, rocks and sand or a combination of all three? I usually send my taxidermist pictures of mounts I have seen that I like. This will help him to capture your trophy in just as you want it. The more information you can give him, the better.
After all the t’s have been crossed and the i’s dotted, what happens then? This is when the work and the magic start. While you are back at work, the taxidermist will bring your harvested animal back to life. This process will let you enjoy your memories in “real life” for years to come. Sitting in your trophy room, you can look at them and basically relive every hair-raising moment of the hunt. It is really important that the hunter gives extra detail and thorough information to the taxidermist on what he wants regarding his mounts. The more detail you provide, the better the taxidermist will be able to make sure your dream animals get mounted correctly and just how you want it.
Let’s go through the process of what happens to a trophy when it arrives at the taxidermist.
Skinning out the head of a warthog
Sewing-up process starts
The final touches being applied
Re Salting capes and boiling of horns
As soon as the skins arrive at the taxidermist the skins and capes will be washed again and a new fresh coat of salt will be applied. The trophies that have been caped completely, meaning the head, ears and lips, will then be placed in a cool, dry place. The capes and skins that have not been completely skinned will then undergo an extra step in the process.
Skinning & removing excess meat
The capes and skins that have not been completely skinned will now get taken care of. The ears and lips will be turned and salt will be added to them, as they would not have been exposed to salt by this stage. Pretty much the same steps will be taken that would have occurred in the hunting camp. It does not normally happen that trophies get to the taxidermist in this way but sometimes one does shoot a trophy only an hour before one needs to leave to go home and there is no time to cape the animal completely. These capes, once completed, will then join the others in the skinning and salt area.
When the day arrives for your trophies to be mounted, the taxidermist will disinfect and rehydrate the capes. This will soften the hardened cape to the state at which it was when it was skinned, and make it easier to handle in the forming process.
Drying and tanning
Tanning is the preservation of the animal skin. Different chemicals are used in the tanning process, depending on the preferences of the taxidermist. The most commonly used chemicals are borax, non-iodized salt or alcohol.
Getting it on the form
Finally, your capes are ready to be formed according to the shape and form you have decided on. The process of fitting the cape on the form is like playing dress-up. Here is where you don’t want the taxidermist to cut any corners in order to save time and money. The skin needs to fit the mannequin 100% so that you will have the same size body of the animal you have shot. If he fits the skin and it is too big for the mannequin, it needs to be built up in proportion and with the correct anatomy, and vice versa with a smaller skin. In other words, it doesn’t help if he only resizes the neck and leaves the shoulders as they are. This will only result in an animal that looks really weird. The cape will be fitted on the desired form that you have decided on and will be painstakingly sewn up by hand. This is a critical part where every stitch will need to be precise. Careless sewing has resulted in poor-looking trophies, where the affected skins of the animals look tight, deformed and eventually resulting in a ruined specimen.
Drying and final touches
After the animal’s skin has been sewn up, the real art of taxidermy comes into practice. This is where a great taxidermist is distinguished from a good taxidermist. Now the eyes, ears and mouth get moulded in clay and the facial expression of the trophy is set. It is said that the eyes are the windows of the soul, and no truer words have ever been spoken. Seventy-five per cent of the outcome of the mount will be determined by the eyes of your trophy. It gives life back to the trophy and expression to the face.
Once this process has been completed the trophy is left to dry, and once dried the last stage is to brush off all the clay and to give colour to the eyes, ears, nose and lips.
There are different techniques used to add the finishing touches, but the two most common techniques are to use an airbrush or to paint by hand. This all depends on the preference of the taxidermist.
At this point you will receive a call or email from the taxidermist that he has completed your trophies. They will then be crated and sent to the freight forwarder and clearing agent for shipping.
In the next edition of ASM and in the final article, we will discuss the shipping and crating process before your trophies get sent home to be displayed in your trophy room.