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From Fall to Wall: Protecting Your Trophy Bird for the Taxidermist

Follow these tips to ensure your bird is in good condition for a perfect mount.

From Fall to Wall: Protecting Your Trophy Bird for the Taxidermist

Although a mountable bird can be a welcome surpirse on any hunt, a little forethought now will help go a long way in preserving your bird for later. (Photo By: Ryan Rhodes)

Within two weeks, the final-cut Timothy hay would be dry enough to pack into 14x18-inch standard bales and carted off to horse barns all over town. I’d miss that smell of freshly cut grass that carries deep into the cover, especially because Cider, my English setter stood on point.  

Cider had a high head and tail, and I knew there was a ruffed grouse in front of his nose. I took in a breath of Timothy and looked at the stunning orange and red sugar maple leaves wanting to remember this moment for forever. I walked in on his point and a mature grouse flushed straight away for an easy, open shot. Feathers flew. So much so that I knew he’d be good for the table and for twisting up a dozen Partridge and Orange trout flies. In this bird’s condition I wouldn’t be contacting a taxidermist. Maybe next time….

Any game bird, whether upland or waterfowl for the wall is special. Some mount their first of a species, a memorable double they shot, or to commemorate a first point or other significant event shared with their gun dog.

Bird hunter with Bracco Italiano and woodcock
Hunters choose to get a bird mounted for a multitude of reasons. While you never know when that reason may arise, be prepared ahead of time for when it presents itself. (Photo By: Chris Ingram)

The good news is that gamebirds aren’t grizzlies; to drop them, all you need is a few properly placed pieces of shot. The cleaner the kill the better the mount, and that includes a retrieve. Hard-mouthed dogs can man-handle even the most cleanly killed bird which makes the ideal bird for the wall a cleanly killed bird retrieved by a dog with a soft mouth.

Taxidermist Testimony

“Sometimes it’s best not to send the dog on a retrieve,” said Ryan Rhodes of North Rhodes Taxidermy in Searsport, Maine. “The more intact the animal, the better the mount.”

Rhodes is a professional, and he’s been in business for nearly 20 years. “As a kid, I always enjoyed art, nature, animals and being outside,” he said. “I started hunting when I was 20 years old and decided that a career in taxidermy would be a profession that combined all of my interests. When I was 23, I enrolled in The Pennsylvania Institute of Taxidermy, the only full-time accredited taxidermy school in the country. I learned a lot and had the privilege of studying with Kent Stryker, Charles Henry, Dan Bantley and Jason Snowberger who are world-class taxidermists.”

If you want a bird for the wall, here are Rhodes’ recommendations:

1.   Research your taxidermist: As with many businesses, there are both professionals and amateurs, so study their work. If their mounts resonate then you’ll both be in sync. “Some taxidermists are focused on big game, game birds, waterfowl or other animals,” he said. “But my customers want creativity in their mounts, and that comes when a taxidermist is inspired. When I finish with a really big project, like an African big game animal, I’m stoked to work on a ruffed grouse or a Bobwhite quail. We’re creatives, so by working on different animals we stay focused and inspired.”

2.   Don’t send the dog on a retrieve: “You’ll want the bird to be in as good a shape as possible,” he said. “Even soft-mouthed dogs can have an impact on a bird to be mounted. If possible, pick up the bird yourself. It’s not a problem if the wing, beak, or feet are damaged in the shot. I can always source body parts from a supply company.”

3.   Cleanliness is next to Godliness: “Keep the bird in good condition. Wipe off any dirt or mud, tuck his head next to the body, and keep it cool until you get home.” says Rhodes. Then, put the bird in a zip lock bag and freeze it. Contact your taxidermist and arrange for shipping. Definitely don’t gut the bird.”

4.   Pack and Ship Properly: “You want your bird to arrive at the shop cold or cool,” he said. “Warm birds begin to decompose and that makes them harder to mount. Before packing, place the bird in two or three additional Zip Lock bags and store in a cooler. Use dry ice if it’s available, but cold packs or regular ice works, too. Ship on a Monday. Packages shipped late in the week and are delayed sit in warehouses over the weekend and can get warm if not hot. Federal Express (FedEx) or UPS are quick and reliable.”

5.   Contact Information, please: According to Rhodes, “Taxidermy is highly regulated, and we have to take courses to be properly licensed. The United States Fish and Wildlife Service focuses on migratory birds while state agencies handle resident animals. To get started with the work, a taxidermist will need a tag containing a customer’s hunting license number, and a HIP permit number and proof of stamps for migratory birds. Then we can begin.”

Deciding on a Mount

There are frequent conversations between taxidermists and customers. “Most of my customers have an idea of what they want,” Rhodes said. “Sometimes they’ll send a picture of a mount they’ve seen before, while other times we’ll talk about how they want their bird to appear. From there I can determine pricing. I can buy logs, twigs, moss, and grasses from supply companies just as easily as I can source and cure my own natural materials.

ruffed grouse mount by north rhodes taxidermy
Picking out a pose can be one of the most enjoyable aspects of getting a bird mounted. (Photo By: Ryan Rhodes)

“My favorite birds to work on are ruffed grouse and black ducks because they’re common here in Maine. I do love working on pintails because I don’t see many of them, and I like mounting woodcock. They are delicate birds and always represent a challenge. Pheasant and the different quail species are fun, and since I work with a lot of state and tribal agencies, I’ve been able to work on a lot of protected birds. I recently completed a bald eagle that was found dead in the woods. I’ve also mounted owls, blue herons, ospreys, and songbirds.”

Bird hunter with English springer spaniel and ruffed grouse
After snapping a few photos, be sure to keep your bird clean, cool, and dry all the way to the taxidermist. (Photo By: Chris Ingram)

Rhodes is a professional, and that carries over to delivery. “When I finish a mount, I prefer to hand deliver it to a customer,” he said. “That’s easy if they’re in New England because I can make my rounds to a number of different hunters in the six states. If the customer is from outside of the region I rely on dedicated shippers. The packages are handled by one person instead of being tossed around. It’s important that the mounts arrive in pristine condition.”

When preserving your bird, there are a few steps to consider from the bird’s fall to your wall. The end result is a cause for celebration, one that commemorates a special event from the field. You can always improve your ability to protect and preserve your trophy with a little forethought and planning, but these tips should help you for the next time that special moment unfolds in the field.

grouse fans
Hunters also enjoy keeping fans and feathers from birds they have shot. (Photo By: Ryan Rhodes)
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