Online Reprint of

Home Taxidermy for Pleasure and Profit

A Guide for those who wish to prepare
and mount animals, birds, fish,
reptiles, etc., for home, den,
or office decoration

By Albert B. Farnham, Taxidermist 

Published by
A. R. HARDING, Publisher
Columbus, Ohio

Copyright, 1944
By A. R. Harding Pub. Co.
Publisher's disclaimer: Information provided is dated and is for information purposes only.



Mounting heads, of horned game especially, is a branch of taxidermy which suffers no diminution in popularity. Such work is turned out at the present time in far better shape than it was years ago, but many fine heads still remain that were gathered in days of abundance of buffalo, elk and mountain sheep.


In skinning horned heads never open the skin up the front of the neck; not only are such seams difficult to hide but the skull with antlers cannot be entirely removed from the skin as it should be.


To do this open the skin down the center of the back of the neck from just back of the horns to the shoulders or at least half that distance. A neck of medium length is preferable and many a fine head has been ruined by being cut off just back of the ears.

Connect the upper end of the opening cut with the base of each horn or antler by a short branch making the whole opening of a Y or T shape. Turn the neck skin inside out down over the head, which in case of a deer may rest on the antlers, until the ears are reached, cut these off not too close to the head and the horns are next met with.

Work the skin from around the base of these with a dull knife or a small screwdriver blade. With the same tool pry the thick skin away from the frontal bone. When the eyes are reached have a care not to cut their lids, working closer to the bone than the skin. Use the screwdriver again to scoop up the skin from the so-called tear pits in front of the eyes.

Let all the dark colored skin on the inside of the lips remain attached to them. The skin of the neck is the thickest on the whole animal and must be reduced by shaving. The skin of the whole head and neck should not only be freed from all flesh and muscle but shaved to about one-half its original thickness. For this purpose work on it with a sharp knife or draw shave on a half rounded beam.

Split the lips and remove their fleshy interior, split the nose cartilage and separate it from the outer skin. With some blunt tool pry the skin of the back of the ear from the cartilage and turn the ears wrong side out to their tips. Give the scalp at least 24 hours' pickling or it will be liable to excessive shrinkage on drying.


Many a fine head mounted green, without thinning or pickling, has shrunk and continued to shrink for months, until all stitches gave way and it cracked and shriveled to an inglorious end. If a paper head form is to be used, the top of the skull at the base of the antlers is sawn off and the balance of the skull discarded, the more common method will require the cleaning of the skull with antlers remaining on it. A little boiling will expedite this and by chopping an opening (1½ inches wide in case of a deer) into the lower part of the brain cavity the brain is removed. This opening will also receive the end of a wooden neck standard of plank three inches wide.


A nail through the top of skull will hold it temporarily till the lower jaw bones are placed and the whole held solid by packing the base of skull and jaws in a mass of soft plaster which will harden in a few minutes. This neck standard should be at right angles to the greatest length of the head.

Measuring the neck skin where cut off gives the circumference of an egg-shaped board, representing a cross section of the neck at that point in a vertical line. The neck standard is sawed off at the proper place and angle and made fast to the board by nails and screws. With a very short neck it will be necessary to depress the nose considerably that the antlers may not come in contact with the wall. This should all be calculated before fixing the skull permanently on the neck standard. The standard can be held in the vise and a little measuring will indicate the point of attachment and angle needed to clear the wall.


Now wind excelsior on the neck standard and skull until the skinned head and neck are roughly reproduced. Try the skin on occasionally to guide in this.

Do not put any excelsior on the upper part of the skull and face as no amount of flesh was removed there. Give the cheeks a natural fullness and remember the neck was not round like a stove pipe. By sewing from side to side the shape of the gullet and wind pipe can be molded. When the skin is still not quite filled give the head and neck a coating of potter's (or modelling) clay and then several coats of well pasted paper as directed for covering manikins for large animals.

When this has completely dried out remove skin from pickle, clean and poison it and after placing the ear forms it will be ready to cover the head and neck. I prefer good cardboard forms for the ears though some use only metal. Lead is too clumsy and heavy, copper and wire cloth corrode, pure sheet tin works nicely but is expensive.

The form should receive a couple coats of liquid glue before the skin is put on to stay. Fasten the skin in front of the eyes with a brad and draw into place about the base of the antlers. Use a heavy needle and waxed linen cord for this sewing. Heavy gilling twine doubled will do.

Sew up from first one and then the other antler to the central cut down the back of the neck, tie the threads together and continue sewing down the neck. Get the skin on face and around mouth placed, then draw the neck skin tight and nail to the edge of the board with finishing brads an inch or more long. Any surplus remaining can be trimmed away. A square of rough board, screwed on the end of the neck, will enable it to stand on the bench with nose up while the final touches are put on the anatomy of the head and face.


The split lips filled with a little clay are placed and will usually stay without pinning if the lower lips are tucked under where they belong. Fill the end of the nose and around the nostrils nicely, no live deer ever had a shriveled up nose. Fill under the eyebrows as the skin there was quite thick before paring. Set the eyes, after filling sockets with clay. A little work with a sharp awl will put the lids in place with lashes disposed aright. If the ears have not been permanently fixed, do so now filling out their bases with stuffers and thrusting stout wires into the head to keep them set until dry. A few stitches are taken to hold the skin of both sides of the ears together, when dry they are removed. Brush the hair down and if it persists in rough spots, paste them and then smooth down. When dry the comb and brush will remove the scales of paste readily along with any dirt from the hair. When dry clean the antlers and oil them lightly, brush out the hair and clean all clay from eyes and nose. Connect the eyes and lids with black wax, model the inside of nostrils with cream or pink wax and varnish the end of nose and any bare lip that may show. Pins and brads that will show are drawn out and others cut off level with the skin. The head which has hung drying on the rough board may be removed to a finished shield as complete.

FINISHED HEAD. (Author's work.)

The paper form method has numerous advantages but is not always convenient to procure. It will save the beginner much tedious work and greatly expedite matters for the professional. These forms as supplied by dealers are of the entire head and neck. By cutting off the neck at the proper point, nailing in the neck board and screwing the plate of bone at the base of the antlers to a block in the top of head it is ready to receive the skin. It will require but a short time for the skin to dry on this foundation so the finished head is often ready to return at the end of a week.

For a number of years I have used a modification of this process. In this the form is cast in halves which are joined on a board cut to the outline of the head and neck. This will afford a secure attachment for the antlers and in addition the skin of the neck may be nailed securely each side of the opening cut, making any ripping or opening by shrinkage at that point forever impossible.

These paper forms may be bought or made in various sizes, so by the addition of a small amount of some modelling material any skin is fitted. With a supply of them on hand work can be turned out rapidly during the busy season.


These directions for mounting will apply equally in case of moose, elk or other large game heads, always providing supports adequate for the larger animals. A mounted head with insufficient and wabbly mechanical construction is not a joy forever.

The head of a common sheep or ram is a good one for the beginner, as its coat of wool covers small defects. It is a convenient size to handle and if not entirely successful no great expense has been incurred. On the other hand a fairly mounted ram's head is quite ornamental and suitable, especially on the wall of a country house.



A neatly mounted set of antlers or horns are an ornament anywhere, in the home, office or public room, and in case any one of the out-o'-door fraternity wishes to try setting up a pair, I will give a few simple directions and hints which may be helpful. Some bits of lumber, screws, plaster of paris, plush or leather, tacks, etc., are about all the materials needed; also a one-fourth inch drill bit to make the necessary holes in the frontal bone.

By sawing off the top of the skull down to the eyes we separate the antlers and the frontal bone on which they grow, from the rest of the skull.

Care should be taken to leave the same amount of bone on each side, so the antlers will be the same distance from the wall.

For antlers of small or medium size eastern deer, cut a heart-shaped block about 4×5 inches from a piece of soft ⅞-inch board. The edges of this should be slightly beveled toward one side. This may be cut out in its finished shape with a keyhole saw, or roughed out with a hand saw, and trimmed up with a draw knife or wood rasp.

After drilling two or three holes in the plate of bone attached to the antlers, arrange them evenly on this block and screw fast, using screws which will not protrude from the back of the block. If the bone is uneven or the antlers do not hang right, small pieces of wood may be inserted at one side or the other until the desired effect is had. Now put a half pint of water in some old dish and mix in plaster of paris until it is like very thin putty. With an old knife you can spread this over the bone and round it up nearly to the burr of the antlers.


If the first mixing is not enough, mix a little more, for if too much plaster is put on anywhere it can be easily scraped off before it gets dry. This needs to be put on quickly as the plaster soon "sets" or hardens and in fifteen or twenty minutes it can be scraped and trimmed to a smooth, rounding surface.

For covering this wood and plaster base, plush, soft leather or pantasote is used. Plush or velvet is the easiest to apply for a beginner. A piece about nine inches square will do for our set of small antlers. Lay this on the plaster and turning it over the edge of the block, tack it on the back with carpet tacks, beginning in the center, at top and bottom. Slit in each side to the antler and cut a hole large enough to be a snug fit for the antler below the burr. Draw on and tack, getting the wrinkles out as you proceed, the lower, or front part, first. Lap the upper or back over it neatly at each side, turning the edges under and fastening them with a few stitches.

It is a good plan to drive the tacks only part way at first, then they can be easily drawn and re-arranged. Now cut two strips of the material to go around below the burr of the antlers. Turn the edges of these under, draw them tightly around and fasten the ends together back of the antlers with a few stitches.

They are now ready for fastening on a shield or panel. Cattle horns should have the piece of bone connecting them screwed to a long oval block, then treated similarly. Horns of sheep, cattle and goats frequently come loose from the bony core. A little plaster mixed very thin and poured inside the horn just before replacing them will fasten them on again.

Do not try to polish, paint, gild or otherwise improve the natural appearance of deer antlers. Wash and clean them well and rub in a little linseed oil. Polishing brings out the beauty of horns of cattle and bison, if the operator is lavish of elbow grease.

The process is this: Fasten the horns firmly somewhere and attack first with rasp, then file, scrape with glass, fine sandpaper, finer sandpaper, powdered pumice stone, putty powder. Finish with oiled rag. Old bison horn, weathered on the prairies till they resemble old roots, can be made to look like polished ebony by the above formula. Don't forget to add the elbow grease, though.


Shed antlers are a different and rather difficult proposition. It is a tedious job to drill them and insert heavy irons in their bases so firmly as to prevent turning. Often they are cut off at a bevel, drilled and screwed directly to the shield with brass round headed screws.

By drilling into the base of a shed antler, above the burr, in a diagonal direction it may be bolted to a short piece of 2×4 scantling. Fasten both antlers on this in a natural position in relation to each other, then drill a second hole in each and bolt them fast, using machine bolts and countersinking the heads in the antlers by chiseling.

SHED ELK ANTLERS TO BE MOUNTED. From National Zoological Park Washington, D. C.

The piece of scantling will need to be carved a little in order to get a good bearing for the butt of the antlers. This artificial forehead, as we might call it, is to be fastened to a heart-shaped block by nailing or screwing from the back and covered as directed before.

If the countersunk bolt heads are carefully modelled over with putty or "mache" and colored like the antlers no one will know they are not attached to a 'bony' fide forehead.

Elk antlers will need 5/16 inch bolts, while ¼ inch is sufficient for most deer antlers; indeed screws of that diameter will hold a small pair quite securely.

Sometimes the upper part of the skull is scraped, bleached and fastened entire to the shield with brass screws or bolts.

The base block for large deer antlers should be thicker and larger in proportion. Elk and moose antlers requiring to be fastened with heavy coach or lag-screws to a block cut from two-inch plank.

Africa has a profusion of horned game mostly of the antelope family and of late years many of these horns find their way to the walls in this country.

They are mounted as directed for the deer with the exception that many of them are improved by polishing the tips or even nearly the entire length of the horns. As most of them are corrugated or twisted in great variety this calls for considerable preliminary work with half round and round rasps and files before sandpaper, glass and polishing powders give a finish. If the tips and the higher surfaces of the balance are completely polished, the rest smoothed down somewhat and the entire horns rubbed with a little oil the effect will be good.

A Good Shield Pattern || Back of block

Shields are made in various patterns, woods and sizes, the average pair of deer antlers requiring one ⅞ inch thick and about 8×10 or 10×12 inches. Oak in a dull oil finish always looks well, though walnut, cherry, ash and birch are much used. If near a woodworking shop provided with a jigsaw and moulder they will turn them out in any pattern you may wish. The Ogee moulded edge is to be preferred.

If you have to make it yourself, a simple diamond, square or oval panel with rounded or beveled edge will be sufficiently difficult.

Arrange the antlers in place on the shield and mark lightly around the base, remove them and drill three holes for screws. Countersink for the heads on the back of the shield and so fasten the antlers in place. For light horns a brass screw-eye at the top of shield is used to hang them, but heavy moose and elk antlers require an iron plate in back of shield, let in flush across the top of a perpendicular groove to catch a hook or head of a heavy nail in the wall.


If the antlers are to be used as a rack for hats, guns or rods, two screw-eyes or plates will be necessary to prevent turning.

There are other methods of mounting horns and antlers, but I have found the above to be the most substantial and neat, and not very difficult.



Many sportsmen now preserve the feet of their large game to have them made up in various articles of use and ornament which they can distribute among their friends or use in their own homes. Some of these articles are gun and rod racks, furniture legs and feet, ink wells, match, cigar and ash holders, thermometers, paper weights, umbrella and cane handles.


It goes without saying that for such things as racks, furniture legs, handles and thermometer mounts the leg skin attached to the hoof should be left six or more inches in length while for ink wells, etc., it may be shorter.


In fairly cool weather the feet and lower legs of deer will keep for some days without skinning as they contain but a small amount of flesh. Still it is safest and but the work of a few minutes to split them up the backs, skin down to the toe joints and cut them off there. Dry them with or without salting and they are easily packed up to carry home or send to the taxidermist. If one foot and shank is received in the flesh it will aid in mounting them up as racks, furniture legs, etc., as for such purposes the skin is mounted over a piece of wood of the size and shape of the skinned leg. For preparing feet for racks and handles it is well to supply yourself with a number of natural crooks of about the size of a deer's leg and nearly of a right angle. Sassafras, gum or some soft wood work up easiest. When skinned place in pickle or give foot coating of arsenic and alum—pickle is best. Be sure and leave enough skin attached to hoof; a little experience will teach you this. Now remove foot from bath, rinse well and sew up same as far as the claws; next bore a hole through the claws from inside of claws, where it will not show. Get two wire nails and nail these claws to a board, as shown in A. Now arrange the hoofs as shown in illustration and put a screw into each from underneath, to hold them down (B), or you can nail a cleat across them by nailing to the block on each side of hoof; the idea is to get these parts firmly placed in position. Now finish sewing up the skin and stuff it full of chopped excelsior, shaping the foot as you proceed. Now drive a long nail against back side of foot to keep it from sagging (C). Allow the foot to thoroughly dry.


When dry remove excelsior and cut off surplus skin around top and the foot is ready for an ink well, match safe, ash tray or paper weight, as they all go on the same way. Mix up some plaster of paris in water and run the foot full and place the ink well or other fitting in place and allow the plaster to "set" and the foot is finished. If you wish a pen rest you can now place it in position. In setting up thermometers remove bone to hoof and whittle out a stick shape of bones removed. Coat inside of skin with arsenic and alum and place stick in position and sew up skin. Put on metal cap at top and tack on thermometer. For hooks on racks, work up a stick with crook into the approximate size and shape of the deer's leg with the foot bent at right angles. It had best be a little small so it can have a coating of clay or other modelling material to make the skin fit it perfectly. Sew up as for thermometer. When dry fasten to the rack by inserting in a square or oval hole and wedging at the back.


For furniture legs the feet are turned out in natural position on wooden legs, and fastened by bolting or screwing to small tables, stools, or screens. As handles for canes and umbrellas, treat the same as for hooks and leave the wood long to form a dowel which is glued or inserted in cane or umbrella, a metal band covering the end of the skin. I have referred in this chapter to deer feet, but those of elk, caribou and moose are also used and suitable fittings in nickel and silver plate are supplied in various sizes by dealers.

If you wish the hoofs mottled (they look best that way) file same until you get to the "quick," which is light in color and gives the foot a very attractive appearance. Smooth down with sandpaper or edge of glass. Oil a rag and dip it in powdered pumice stone and rub hoof vigorously a few moments, and you will have a beautiful polish.

The smaller articles are complete as they are or may be mounted, ink wells, etc., on round, and thermometers on long panels of variously finished woods. Many nice articles may thus be made from what is usually considered worthless offal.



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