Bow & Arrow October 1980
Mount It With Pride By Cheri Elliott
For the bowhunter who has bagged
a quality animal, mounting it is a natural tendency.
But who to trust with the mounting? Will the task be done
well? Will it hold up well? Why does it take so long to get the mount back
home and on the wall? These and many more questions plague the bow-
hunter who has his first animal mounted. To find some practical, realistic
answers we went to one of the nations top taxidermists, Bob Snow.
Snow offers a complete line of taxidermy services to both individuals and
How long does it normally take from the time a hunter brings in his animal,
until he receives it back, completed? Well, it runs about eight to ten months.
The biggest chunk of that time period is spent at the tannery. One good,
reputable tannery for taxidermy purposes is New Method Fur Dressing in
San Francisco, California.
Don’t get me wrong. There are a lot of excellent fur dressers in the New
York area, for instance, that cater to the fur industry, but for taxidermy
purposes New Method is really good. There are also some bad tanneries
around. And the problem here is that if a taxidermist uses them, and he gets
skins back from then that are not tanned or not properly taken care of, then the
life expectancy of the mount is much shorter. It won’t last as long.
In some cases I might hold on to a tanned skin for as long as a couple of
years before I use it on a mount. At the tannery they use a lot of acids in the tanning solutions,
and they must get them well neutralized.
When we get the skin back we have to soak it in water before we can
mount it. lf we put that skin in the water and the acid is still working on
it, the skin will just deteriorate. It will fall apart — just as would happen to
your clothes if you should get battery acid on them.
The skins we get back from New Method are clean, and it’s obviously a
really professional tanning, but they run six to seven months behind in
their tanning orders. So once we skin a mount, salt it and dry it we ship it to
the tannery. Then it’s a six month or so delay while we wait to get it back.
Once it’s back, l have to give myself a month to get the thing mounted. It
has to be mounted onto a form, and must be wet at this stage. Then it has
to hang and dry for a week or two. Then the pins and so forth are pulled
out of it, and it’s filled in and finished up.
Keep in mind that all good taxidermists are backlogged. lf you go to one
and he tells you he can have it out in a couple of weeks, it’s time to question
his skills. There are cases where we will send skins in on a rush tanning order, but
then it costs fifty percent extra in tanning fees. And even at that it takes
three to four months to get it back.
What is the “tanning process”? There are different methods used in doing it,
but generally the skins arrive at the tannery salted and dry. They then are put in a vat of a specific chemical formula and soaked for a specific period of time, When pulled out
of the vats, they are put over a fleshing beam, and are fleshed down by hand
to get the meat or tat particles off of them. They are placed on machines
that thin the leather down, Then they are put into a big tumbler and tumbled
until almost dry, oiled with a tanning oil, and put back in the tumbler until thoroughly dried.
lt’s a good process, but it’s also expensive. For a person who wants to do tanning at home,
it is often too time consuming. That’s the reason most of us use a commercial tannery
instead of doing it ourselves. My costs from a tannery on a deer skin might be only $10.
But if I did it myself, I’d probably have to work on it a day and a half, and the cost would
have to go way up. Why does the hair of one animal fall out, but not so on another animal?
Generally there are several things that might have caused hair to fall out.
It could be because the skin was an unprimed skin, or because it was improperly taken care of somewhere along the line. It’s possible that the tannery did it, but the biggest possibility is that somebody before the tannery didn’t properly take care of the skin.
What does “unprimed” mean? The skin of an animal that is not primed has new hair growing out of it. If you skin an animal and you look at it on the inside you might see an unprimed area, Bears, for instance, are the easiest. to recognize. The hair Comes all the way through the skin,
and the roots of it are on the back side of the leather. When the tannery begins to flesh it down, they’ll knock the ends of that hair off. Then there’s nothing to hold the hairs into the skin.
When an animal’s hair grows out to full coat the hair roots are closer to the outside of the skin, and when it is fleshed down it will not bother the roots. What about the other possibilities you
mentioned? It’s possible that the skin was close to spoiling when it got to the tannery, or when it was salted or taken care of and has already started to rot or deteriorate. That skin will be weak. and hair slippage is likely, There is no way to stop it once the hair starts slipping, especially if the skin is already tanned.
Ninety percent of the time if it’s a problem of neglect, it’s on the part of the person who originally got the skin, the hunter. He’s inexperienced and doesn’t know how to take care of it.
He thinks he’s done the right thing, but he really hasn’t. That’s where they go bad, and that’s where you’re apt to have the most problems with them. If a hunter lets the skin lie in the
camp for a day or two, or a few hours even in the hot sun, it starts to deteriorate. He puts salt on it to dry it up, and it looks good to him. But it’s already started to deteriorate, When the tannery starts to process it, they put it through their chemical solution and they wet it, Because it’s already started to deteriorate, in that half-hour or so that it sits there wet, without any
chemicals on it, the hair begins slipping. It’s hard to say exactly, but it could
be caused by sunlight, or if it was not properly neutralized in tanning it also will deteriorate slowly.
Why would a skin crack? Generally this is caused by older methods of tanning. Rather than
having them actually tanned, a lot of people used to pickle their skins in a salt brine solution. When these skins are exposed to temperature changes, they have a tendency to dry out and .
shrink, They may shrink a little bit at a time over a ten year period. As the skin shrinks, it cracks. That`s why tanning is such an important part of the process, and well worth waiting for.
If it`s done properly, then the life of the mount, will be longer.
What is the “life” of a mount? Well, it depends on the care taken
of it and everything, but they should last longer than we do, I’ve seen a lot
of mounts around that have been here fifty years, and they still look good.
Dirt and sunlight are the two biggest enemies of the mount that there is.
So if you can keep your mount halfway clean, and away from grease or whatever,
and dust them off once in a while, perhaps vacuum them or brush them, they
should last a long time.
The ultraviolet light of the sun will actually deteriorate the leather, and fade it as well. A lot of heat is not really good for a mount either. That’s why they store fur coats in cold storage. Mounted animals are essentially the same. You can brighten a mount up and make it look fresh again by allowing your taxidermist to touch up the paint and eyes. It’s a good idea to ask him
how to care for your mount when you go to pick it up.
An even better idea is to go into that taxidermist’s shop before you go hunting. Let him tell you how to care for the animal when you get it, and how to prepare it. lf you do that, you’re certain to make his job a lot easier, and the mount you receive will be one in which you can take deserving pride for years to come!
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