Hair slip is your biggest enemy, but not the only one, as your skin can rot around the lips, ears, and eyes and nose if not properly prepared. Lets start off at the beginning. We are going to cape a deer in this example.
1. Make sure that you leave enough skin for the taxidermist to work with. This means cutting well behind the shoulder when you take your head skin. The best way is to pretend that you will cut your animal in half; this is where it should be skinned back to. Itís preferable to leave too much skin rather than too little. Make an incision right along the centre of the back of the animalís neck. (In the case of a pig, roll the whole skin back without the incision along the back of the neck.) When approx five centimetres from the antlers, cut out to each antler making a Y shaped cut. All right, this is the easy bit as you just skin right up to where the head joins the neck. You may either cut up the back of the front legs and skin them off, or sock them off. Socking is better if not sure exactly where to cut as the taxidermist may then make his cuts where he wants them.
2. Now carefully cut through the neck joint, effectively removing the head and cape.
3. If you are in a very cool climate or can refrigerate the whole head and cape and get it back to your taxidermist within a few hours. This is as far as you need go. Most of us donít have a taxidermist living within two hours of where we hunt and donít have the option of a helicopter ride out. So we will go on to the next step.
4. After carefully making a cut right up the pedical to the base of the antler, a screwdriver or similar is good for levering the skin from around the antlers. If you use your knife, be careful not to cut the hair that grows upwards to the antler.
5. OK, now skin the skin back down the face being careful to cut the ears off right at the butt. Leave the ears at this point and skin down to the eye socket.
6. Now this is an intricate part. A scalpel is really good for this sort of work and very light and easy to carry, plus you can carry spare blades. Use your sharp knife or scalpel and cut against the eye socket while pulling down on the skin, not against the skin at the eye. Keep cutting small cuts across the eye socket until you get to the bottom of the eye. Now there is a pre-orb gland below the eye and the easiest way to get it out is to lever with a screwdriver or similar. (I carry a small spoon; this is also a help when turning the ears) Once you have it skinned down to below the pre-orb glands, (Thatís the indentations below the eyes) now turn the head over, sitting it on the back of the head with the antlers on the ground steadying it.
7. Now comes the lips; Cut carefully, close to the teeth so as to leave a bit of skin on the lips. Work your way slowly around the lips and make sure you cut deep when cutting the nose cartilage off. Always (leave a little more if your not sure) is a good motto. You should now be able to skin through to where you have already skinned and the cape will be able to be removed. You should now have a facemask in your hands.
8. You havenít finished yet and this is where the fiddly bit comes in. Letís do the ears first. After trimming as much meat away as possible, you will see the ear cartilage. Skinning between the cartilage and the skin, you will notice the cartilage is whitish and the skin will look a bluish colour. Using your scalpel or very sharp thin pointy knife, cut against the cartilage rather than the skin. Use your fingers or a small spoon or even a sharpening steel to carefully push up between the skin and the cartilage until you get right up to the tip of the ear and can turn the whole ear inside out. Be very careful how much pressure you use here, as itís easy to tear the skin. If you do make a hole or a cut where you donít want one, donít worry unnecessarily as a good taxidermist can fix a lot of your mistakes. (Donít be too rough though, as taxidermists are not miracle workers)
Right, holding the cape in your free hand
stretch the lips over your finger and start to cut along the inside of the
lips. The idea is to cut a pocket under the lips and be able to just
about turn them inside out; this allows the salt to get into them
properly. The lips and eyes are usually fatty and salt doesnít get into
the fatty bits too well, so you have to help it. You can feel how deep
you are going with the knife if you cut above your finger that is pressing
upwards from the outside of the lip. In the corners of the mouth is a lot
of stuff, looks like tripe. Trim this away and discard, as you donít need
it unless you want your deer mounted roaring. Even then you should trim
considerably and flesh away from the skin allowing for the salt to get in
Now comes the salting; Lay your skin out on a flat area and after cutting any meat or salvage from the skin salt liberally, making sure that you rub the salt well into the edges as this is where hair slip can start. Leave the ears inside out and salt liberally. Do not fill the ears with salt, as often the brine with all of its bacterial contaminants will not be able to run away and actually do more harm than good, as the ears could in fact rot. Pull the skin back so that the bottom jaw is uppermost and salt below the jaw. Then salt the jaw thoroughly rubbing well into the lips. Lay the headpiece down and salt the top of the jaw, salting and rubbing the salt well in to the lips, nose and eyes. If you can leave the skin laying out flat it is best, but if you cannot, then fold carefully folding the flesh to flesh then roll carefully leaving no edges exposed. Place this in a Hessian bag and store in a cool spot. Never and I repeat Never put the skin in a plastic bag unless you are going to freeze it immediately. Plastic or fertilizer bags will make your cape sweat and it will get hair slip and rot. Right, you havenít finished yet.
After 24 hours, unroll and shake the excess salt from your skin. You will notice some brine has most likely run from your bag. Do not reuse any salt that has been on your skin, as this will contain bacteria. Re salt your skin using fresh new salt and fold up, then place in a Hessian bag. Your cape will now keep for weeks if kept in a cool spot. If possible and if wanting to keep for many months, place your cape into a deep freezer. Best salt to use is a fine cooking salt. Course salt often doesnít get into those little tight spots so easily. As a rule of thumb, three X two-kilogram packs of cooking salt should be enough for a double salting of each cape. Donít be stingy on the salt though as too much is always better than not enough. If in doubt use a little more.
List of things to take; a good knife suitable for fleshing.
A small thin bladed knife or scalpel and blades for the tricky bits.
Minimum three two kilo bags of fine cooking salt.
A small screwdriver or spoon.
A Hessian bag.
Patience and a sense of humour.
Right, now get out there and shoot something.
Ted Mitchell Snr
Australian Hunting Net ©2011