How to Skin a Deer for Shoulder Mount

by Dave P. Fisher
The first step to a good-looking finished deer head begins with proper caping in the field

The first step to a good-looking finished deer head begins with proper caping in the field

The first step to hanging a well-mounted deer head on the wall takes place in the field. As soon as the deer is down, the preparation for the mount begins. The portion of the deer's skin around the shoulders, neck, and head is referred to as the cape. The deer must be immediately field dressed, but do not cut the skin past the front legs and up into the cape area. To ensure the quality of the skin for mounting, the sooner the cape is removed, salted and cooled, the better.

Cut completely around the deer, beginning 6 inches behind the shoulder. Cut through the skin, maintaining a circle that is the same distance behind each shoulder, across the back, and under the brisket, coming back to the beginning of the cut.

Poke the knife tip under the cut skin on the back and slice the skin up the neck exactly along the spine, stopping 6 inches below the antlers. Cut from here up to the back side of one antler and then make a second cut up to the back side of the opposite antler, forming a Y.

Return to the original cut around the body and begin removing the skin by pulling it away from the body and cutting through the membrane that holds the skin to the muscle. Cut the skin around the upper portion of each front leg, cut the skin free around the legs, and continue skinning past the shoulders.

Skin up the neck by pulling the skin back from the spinal cut and working toward the antlers. Continue skinning completely around the neck; use caution so as not to cut holes through the skin. Free the skin all the way to the antlers on the top and the jaw joints on the bottom.

Slip the blade of the knife between the skin and the antler burrs and cut the skin free from the bottom of the antlers. The skin around and between the antlers sticks tight to the skull and must be carefully cut free. Skin down the sides of the head and cut the ears off flush with the skull, leaving the cartilage on the ear.

Use the tip of the knife to remove the skin from the deer's face; cut slowly with small movements as this is the easiest place to damage the skin. Slice through the membrane over each eye, keeping the eyelids and rims intact with the skin. Dig deep into the flesh under the tear ducts under each eye to remove the ducts intact.

Cut the skin free along the muzzle down to the corners of the mouth. From the outside of the skin, pull the lips back from the jaws and cut against the jaw bones on both sides of the mouth; cut against the bone so as not to cut the lips. Coming to the nose from both sides, cut the nose off where the cartilage meets the bone.

Remove any large chunks of flesh left on the skin and lay the hide out flat, flesh side up, and cover it thoroughly with salt. Rub the salt in, especially around the fleshy areas of the lips and nose. Fold the cape in half and leave it in a cool place for 24 hours to draw out the moisture.

Saw the antlers off the skull by laying the head on its side and sawing through the skull on a line parallel with the antler base, through the eye sockets, halfway down the muzzle, and across the back of the head. Clean all flesh off the portion of skull the antlers are attached to and cover the skull plate with salt.

Take the cape and antlers to a taxidermist as soon as possible. If the cape must be held for a short time, open it up and let it dry slightly, leaving the salt on, and then fold it flesh to flesh and hair to hair and keep it cool.

Items you will need

  • Skinning knife -- 4-inch blade
  • Crosscut or bone saw
  • Noniodized salt -- 3 lbs.

Tips

  • While skinning the body and neck parts of the cape, much of the skin will peel away from the muscle without cutting. Pull the skin up and out away from the body, pulling it toward the head. Along the face, the skin will have to be cut free all the way.
  • Use a small knife with a 4-inch blade to cape with, keep it sharp as a dull knife causes you to push harder, resulting in the skin being cut or you slipping and cutting yourself. Do not use a larger knife, as it is too hard to control when skinning the face.
  • Avoid cutting holes in the cape as they are hard for the taxidermist to completely cover up and he will charge extra for each hole he has to sew.
  • Do not attempt to turn the ears, trim the lips, or clean the cartilage out of the nose unless you are experienced at this. Leave this for the taxidermist to do.

Warnings

  • Be aware of the placement of your free hand as you pull the skin away for cutting; it is easy to miss and cut yourself.
  • Do not cut toward yourself, always move the blade down or away from you to avoid accidentally cutting yourself.

References

  • "Outdoor Life Complete Home Taxidermy;" Tim Kelly; 1987

About the Author

Dave P. Fisher is an internationally published and award-winning Western novelist and short-story writer. His work has appeared in several anthologies and his nonfiction articles in outdoor magazines. An avid outdoorsman, Fisher has more than 40 years of experience as a hunter, trapper, fisherman, taxidermist, professional fly-tyer, horsepacker and guide.

Photo Credits

  • Some deer trophy"s in a stuffer"s workshop image by Eric Isselée from Fotolia.com