Preserving a trophy

As fall hunting seasons get underway so should preparations for taxidermy

Fall fishing means increased opportunity to hook into a “wall hanger” trophy to last a lifetime. Realism is readily apparent in this walleye mounted by Steve Silseth of S&S Taxidermy of Minot. Submitted Photo

Our fall hunting seasons are underway with more openers yet to come on the calendar. Fall fishing is just getting started. Archers are in the field. Big game rifle seasons are rapidly approaching. All present the possibility of harvesting a trophy of a lifetime.

Now is the time as well to prepare for the preservation of a memorable moment or trophy. If you are thinking your fall hunt or fishing trip could result in making a trip to the taxidermist, there are a few simple preparations to consider. Thinking ahead now will mean that your chosen trophy will be presented to the taxidermist in the best possible condition.

Joce “Frency” Audet, owner of Frenchy’s Taxidermy of Minot, has worked on all types of fish and game. With the archery big game season underway, and daytime temperatures far above the freezing mark, Audet says proper care of a harvested animal headed to the taxidermy shop is very important.

“What I always tell my customers on big game is that anything over 32 degrees is when bacteria eats in and hair starts slipping,” explained Audet. “I always carry a 50 pound bag of salt, only costs about $8, when I’m hunting elk or mule deer. If you want to save the cape, flesh it out and salt it. Salt will kill any bacteria on leather side of the hide.”

Many big game hunts involve more than one hunter. If a member of a hunting party harvests a trophy animal in warm weather and desires to have it mounted by a taxidermist, it may mean heading for home sooner than expected.

“As far as big game when there’s heat there’s not much for options. One guy can take off for home,” said Audet. “Sometimes it’s the only alternative in warm weather when things don’t freeze. Get than animal home and in a freezer until you can get it to a taxidermist.”

In his more than 30 years in the taxidermy business Audet has seen a lot and learned a lot about how to best care for an animal before it reaches his shop.

“If you put a deer in the back of your truck and drive around for a few days to show it off before you get it mounted, that’s an issue,” said Audet. “The exhaust from a vehicle creates heat. That heat rises and goes through the metal and heats up the hide.”

Steve Silseth of S&S Taxidermy of Minot specializes in mounting fish of all species. He is a 9-time North Dakota State Champion fish taxidermist and has also won titles in Minnesota, South Dakota and Montana.

With fall fishing just getting underway it is time to think of the increased chances of hooking into a fish of a lifetime. As water temperatures cool in the fall, fish generally move to shallower water than what the occupied in the summer and feed heavily in preparation for winter. Silseth has some advice for how to best prepare for a trip to the taxidermist.

Silseth says when fishing he always carries a good towel with him and 20 Mule Team borax in a bucket. Both should be used to prepare a trophy fish for taxidermy.

“Wet the towel and lay the fish on it. Coat the whole fish with powdered borax,” said Silseth. “Roll it up and put it in a plastic bag and then in a cooler.”

Silseth said simply tossing a fish on ice “makes them all blotchy” and makes a “night and day difference in a mount when it’s done.” The borax, he says, keeps bacteria from forming and preserves the natural coloration of the fish.

“You can thaw it out a year later and it looks just like the day you caught it,” remarked Silseth.

Silseth explained that winning competition fish mounts display natural colors. Most fish lose their natural coloration quickly if not properly cared for shortly after the catch.

“A walleye will lose the yellow color and the natural browns,” said Silseth. “You can still try and paint those colors on, but nobody is as good at painting markings as when they are natural.”

Audet agrees that preparation of a fish for the taxidermist should begin as quickly as possible.

“Wrap it up in newspaper and a wet towel. That’s the thing to do,” remarked Audet.

He added that before placing a fish destined for mounting in the freezer that it should be “wrapped as tight as you can with about 10 layers of Saran wrap.”

Waterfowl and upland game also make popular mounts for outdoorsmen. Audet has considerable experience in making life-like mounts of ducks, geese and upland game.

“Late season birds are the best. The later you wait the nicer they look,” said Audet. “Ducks, geese, pheasants, grouse are so pretty in December. To get them ready for mounting tuck the head alongside the body, put them in a plastic bag and freeze them. Try not to bend or break any tailfeathers.”


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