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Whether you are preserving a fox from your latest hunting foray or creating a valuable new specimen for a museum collection, small-game taxidermy can be a rewarding skill. Taxidermy is an art more than anything, and you will need to observe photos of live foxes in order to replicate their body positioning and facial expression. However, with patience and practice you can mount a fox that looks as much at home in the forest as your living room.
Foam fox mold
Foam scraping tool
Hypodermic needle with 50cc syringe
Glass fox eyes
Measure the fox carefully when you are ordering your foam mold. It is relatively easy to add or take away girth if you buy the wrong size, but less so for length.
For a lifelike tail, brush the fox’s hair backward as it dries. You may also use a minimal amount of hairspray to keep the tail fluffy.
Use the scalpel and scissors to make an incision along the spine from the base of the neck to the base of the tail. Separate the skin from the flesh using your fingers and/or the scalpel; don’t be afraid to pull on the skin, because mammals have tough hides. Leave the last two bones of each toe, but remove as much flesh as possible in the feet. If there is any blood, use cornmeal to soak it up.
Remove any excess flesh and fat from the skin with the fleshing tool. Wash the skin with dish soap and hot water. This will remove blood and dirt, as well as fat, from the skin. Dry the skin completely using a towel, followed by a hair dryer.
Drill holes in the mounting board for the legs of the foam mold. Do this before fitting the skin to the mold. The legs of the mold have threaded bolts on each foot and should also come with the nuts to secure it.
Sew the mouth shut from the inside of the skin. Begin from the center and work toward either side to avoid a lopsided mouth.
Cut a whole in each footpad for the threaded bolt of the mold to go through.
Fit the skin to the mold. The mold is only a rough start, and you will probably have to shave away foam (using the foam scraper) or add clay to create the right shape for your fox. Cut the wire of the tail to the correct length and wrap it in cotton batting for body. Use the foam scraper to remove the shiny finish on the mold so that the hide paste will adhere better.
Insert the ear liners by turning the ears inside out with your scalpel, then aligning the tip of the liner with the tip of the fox’s ear and turning it right side out again. These liners will ensure that your ears do not wrinkle or fold when they dry.
Mount the skin. Place a ball of modeling clay in each foot, then pull the skin onto the mold and apply hide paste to the thighs, neck and back. Secure the taxidermy on the mounting board and sew the dorsal incision using the leather needle and a cross-stitch pattern.
Inject preservative into the footpads, nose and lips using the hypodermic needle. The alcohol in the preservative will keep these fleshy areas from shrinking as the skin dries.
Adjust the face and tail. The tail has wire inside, so you may bend it into a lifelike position. Generally, foxes carry their tails down with a slight tilt up at the tip. According to accomplished taxidermist Todd Triplett in his book “The Complete Guide to Small Game Taxidermy,” the face is the most important aspect of your taxidermy and will determines if your fox looks lifelike or fake. Glue on the eyes and adjust the eyelids over them. Refer to photographs of live foxes to mimic a realistic expression.
Allow mount to dry; this will take at least a week and often more time. You may pin areas of the skin that you want to dry in a certain way (for example, pinning the ears together to keep them upright is a common trick). Check on the fox mount frequently during this time to make subtle adjustments.
Items you will need
- “The Complete Guide to Small Game Taxidermy”; Todd Triplett; 2003
- Measure the fox carefully when you are ordering your foam mold. It is relatively easy to add or take away girth if you buy the wrong size, but less so for length.
- For a lifelike tail, brush the fox's hair backward as it dries. You may also use a minimal amount of hairspray to keep the tail fluffy.
Erica Krimmel has been writing science-themed articles since 2006. Her work has appeared in "FishRap Live!" and online at the "Natural History of UC Santa Cruz" website. Krimmel graduated from the University of California, Santa Cruz with a Bachelor of Arts in Environmental Studies.