Beginner Hobbyist’s Guide: Turkey Mounting
This guide is meant for aspiring turkey mounting hobbyists in need of an overview in this specific area of taxidermy. Each step of the process has its own unique set of principles and intricate techniques that could take years of practice to master. However, this should not deter you from experiencing the fun of preserving your own hard earned trophy. Like any professional turkey taxidermist out there, one always needs to start from learning the basics.
Turkey mounting is one of the many areas you can explore in the field of taxidermy as a hobby. More than just hunting, harvesting, and preserving physical evidence of your glorious hunt, turkey mounting is an art. There are several ways to mount a turkey and the list of possibilities goes on as modern taxidermy practices continue to improve. Furthermore, the learning curve required to be successful at the hobby is not an uphill battle.
The process of mounting your turkey from harvest to the actual mounting is simpler than you might think. If you are seriously interested in taking the turkey mounting as a hobby, you are fortunate to live in an age where modern convenience has made the process simple. Learning how to mount your turkeys is a rewarding experience.
Unlike living during Victorian or Edwardian era, access to information about quality mounting techniques is no longer a difficult task. Convenient access to the internet for beginning hobbyists to information can help their outputs achieve commercial quality. Yes, it is feasible to tap into a niche market of turkey enthusiasts but that is another story.
The General Steps of Turkey Mounting:
1. Tools for the Hunt
You would need a bird hunting rifle to catch your first gobbler. While that fact is a no brainer, you have to be meticulous about the guns you use. The pellets that come out of your gun must be tight enough at reasonable distances. You would not want a turkey with several holes especially on specific parts of the body you wanted to preserve. That kind of turkey makes it a difficult specimen to clean or even be worth preserving.
You need to practice your aim and get used to the gun you would be working with. Landing a critical headshot the first time is crucial. The critical hit prevents the gobbler from suffering further. It also prevents it from struggling on the ground. You do not want its feathers soaked in blood, dipped in mud, or ruffled. These events add to the difficulty of cleaning and loss of aesthetic value of the specimen.
Maybe you managed to land a good shot and upon approach to the dying creature, you see it still living and possibly still strong enough to ruin its feathers. You can wait it out, end it with another shot, or cut through its neck.
Turkeys, like other birds, do not possess much blood on them. Having too much blood just adds to their weight and makes it difficult for flight. You can expect your incisions made would be less bloody. A sharp knife would be a good tool to make the process cleaner. Whatever method works for you, just make sure you keep the parts you intend to preserve clean.
The size of the container should be proportionate to the gobbler you expect to nab. At least, just big enough to make sure that no tail feathers get disturbed when you place the whole turkey. Preserving the turkey’s body after death is your next priority. A dead body encourages bacteria and fungi to grow and hasten decomposition.
You could also attempt a field dressing. This process saves you time from separating the meat for food and parts you intend to preserve. However, field dressing requires practice and should not be attempted when unsure, especially when you only have your precious prize to work with. Start developing your field dressing skills with turkeys not intended for mounting until you are confident enough to apply it to your future prizes.
2. Selection of Specimen Parts
There are several ways to mount a turkey but these can depend on what part you intend to mount. Selecting the parts you intend to preserve can influence your decision making during the hunt. As an example, selecting only the spurs for preservation removes your concern for the feathers getting dirtied.
Furthermore, your cleaning efforts will also be influenced by the parts you intend to preserve. Spurs are far easier to clean and handle than feathers. On the other hand, preserving the feathers offers more aesthetic appeal as a trophy than spurs.
Tail feathers, spurs, beard, and capes can be mounted singly or in combination and this all depends on your preference. You could even mount a whole turkey. However, handling each parts entails different caring requirements which are crucial for the mounting process to be a success.
So before you start hunting, best to have an idea on what part you intend to save.
3. Care of Specimen
The level of care needed to mount the specimen can depend on the parts opted to save. The process starts from the moment you took hold of the specimen. Tail feathers require gentle manipulation so as not to disrupt their natural aesthetic appearance.
Examine the turkey’s body and remove anything that could be classified as dirt or debris. Have a toilet paper ready to remove possible poop coming out of the creature’s anus. The turkey’s sphincter will relax upon death and any fecal matter formed will go out. It is important to maintain the specimen in good condition rather than create more reasons to clean it.
Store the specimen in a cool place when not in used. Never leave your cooler open with a dead turkey in it, opportunistic scavengers like dermestid beetles and flies can be attracted the scent of death. Infestations could be difficult to deal with but not impossible to resolve. However, preventing opportunities for infestations to happen is a lot more easier than repairing the damages these pest could do.
Frequent unnecessary handling of the specimen can increase the chances of getting the parts you wanted to save ruined. As a rule, only handle it when it is a necessary part of the mounting process.
4. Preparation and Skinning
This is one of the most laborious parts of the process. Poorly skinned specimens when mounted do not last long on display. Forgetting or missing out pieces of muscle or fat tissue during skinning of the specimen part can invite rapid decomposition. Be meticulous when taking out muscle or fat tissues as small pieces of flesh are enough to ruin the entire specimen.
The best way to avoid paying for frequent restorations on your mounted turkey is having it cleaned, skinned, and dried right the first time.
Make sure you cut out the flesh and bony parts near the bases of the fan just above the anus. Slowly remove muscles and fat until you work your way towards the bases quill feathers. Use a small sharp knife for the intricate work and for better control. Scalpels, a small curved knife, and metal brush are one of the best tools for the job.
Locating the tail bone and getting a feel on how the quills are arranged can guide you where to cut. Taking out the tail bone fast can result to large quills detaching.
The small curved knives and scalpels are for taking out large to medium sized fleshy parts from the specimen. This gives users more control with the force they need to manipulate both specimen and tool. On the other hand, metal wire brushes are used to take out the fleshy parts that your knives or scalpels could not reach.
Locate it on the turkey and pluck it as a single unit gently from the base. Take out the excess skin tissue with a knife. Do this after you placed the body for a few hours in the cooler. Taking out the beard fresh from death can make the bundle fall apart as body temperature has not dissipated.
There are several ways to extract the part from the specimen. You can saw your way through the bones or use plies to take it out. The turkey’s spurs are only thick keratinized sheaths covering its bones. The method of extracting the spurs will depend on how you intend to use the spurs. For spurs taken out by plies, you can fill in the hollow portion with epoxy.
Extracting the whole unit takes much more work due to its size and number of feathers that could be damaged when extraction is done poorly. Make an incision from the breast mid-line and start separate the skin from the inner muscles. The first incision can reach up to the neck and to the bottom. Skin the creature and perform meticulous separation of tissues. Best to see a separate guide for this part due to the associated intricacies involved.
When mounting it as a whole turkey, determine what form the final product would assume. A simple standing position is simpler to accomplish compared to mounting it in a strutting position. Mounting a whole turkey does not necessarily mean having all of its parts intact. There are artificial turkey parts you can customized for the finished product.
5. Dry Preservation
The success of the drying process is proportional to the lifespan of your mount. The presence of moisture encourages growth of microorganisms responsible for decomposition. Borax serves as a drying agent often recommended by taxidermists. It can absorb moisture when in contact with moist areas in your specimen. De-greasing solutions come help remove most unwanted contaminants from the specimen.
De-greasing solutions help ensure you take out all the oils, dissolve tissues, dirt and debris from the specimen part. With a bucket of cold water and dish washing soap, dip and soak the mechanically cleaned portion of the specimen for 15 to 60 minutes. For tail feathers, use a rubber band to keep the rest of the feather in order. Coleman CampFuel is an example of a de-greasing solution you can work with.
Rinse the specimen until the de-greasing solution is removed. The length of soaking and degreasing solutions recommended can vary from experienced turkey taxidermist.
Borax’s chemical name is known as Sodium tetraborate. It is the dehydrated form of boric acid used in various industrial applications. Other than absorbing moisture, it also contains anti-fungal activity and insecticidal properties. You can order this cheap multipurpose cleaner from Amazon from brands like 20 Mule Team Detergent Booster.
If you are working with a specimen that has a lot of dirt and blood, washing it with dish washing soap and water can be done to remedy. Make sure gentle manipulation is observed during the process. You can reposition the tail feathers for straightening. Lastly, blow dry using low heat before applying borax.
Dry your specimen for at least 2 weeks before mounting. Store the specimen in a cold and dry area. Avoid exposing it on high humidity, sunlight, and damp areas as these can contribute to the degradation. Check on the specimen every now and then to see any infestation.
A poorly dried specimen results from a lack of attention to detail. When a small space of fleshy part does not come in contact with a drying agent, bacterial growth can result and a distinct odor could form that attracts unwanted pests.
Once cockroaches, dermestid beetles, or flies start to do their work on your specimen, reparation would be difficult. Worse, restoration will not bring back the old aesthetic appeal. Attracting unwanted pests can happen all throughout the process. It starts from the moment you secured the dead turkey up to post mounting.
Dry the legs in the freezer or cool environment to prevent a white or silver scaling on the surface. Legs dried on hot or humid environments allow separation of scales from tissue beneath prominent.
6. Actual Mounting
The actual mounting process can depend on what turkey part you are working with. Fan mounting is often practiced when working with tail feathers. It is a simple method and popular among most turkey enthusiasts. The method is not as complicated as cape mounting or whole turkey mounting.
For fan mounting, start by locating the base of the quills again. On top of a sheet of cardboard box, fan out the tail feathers. Secure the part with push pins to let it remain assuming a fanning position. Remove the excess Borax with a brush and apply Bondo.
Bondo is a car body putty mixture you can apply at the base of the quills to secure a fanning position. Spread a layer of one fourth to one half inch of Bondo over the base of the quills. Once it hardens, you can remove the push pins. Set it aside for a few days (a week at most).
Commercial mounting boards are available for finishing your fan mounting. Once the bondo hardens at the base of the quills, you drill in a screw and washer over the mounting board. Usually, another piece of plaque is available for commercial mounting boards to hide the screw and washer. A hole for the turkey’s beard often available along with fan mounting boards.
Legs and Spur Display
After drying the legs using Borax for 2 weeks, you can position both legs on top a mounting board. Use superglue to secure it in position. Turkey legs contain less muscle tissue and less fleshy in general. This type of display attracts less infestation and makes it easy to maintain during cleaning.
Coloring the legs with spray paint is usually not advisable, especially for beginners. Trying to match or enhance the color of the real thing can counter-productively make it more artificial in the process. Depending on your preference, non-glossy coatings are usually enough to exemplify natural color of the specimen.
Whole Body Mount
Considered more tedious to accomplish compared to other turkey mounts. However, this one offers a more lively presentation of the achievement compared to the rest. Whole body mounting can be done through the same principles mentioned. You would entertain the use of artificial body parts. Find out more about body mounting from Todd Triplett’s book “The Complete Guide to Turkey Taxidermy: How to Prepare Fans, Beards and Body Mounts”.
Keeping your mount in good condition can make it last for decades. Always keep an eye out for possible infestations and other conditions that can cause degradation:
Display the mount in an area not exposed to direct sunlight.
Direct sunlight over time can contribute to your mount’s feathers being bleached. Living birds require sunlight exposure to produce necessary vitamins for metabolism. This keeps their feathers displaying distinct color pigments and themselves healthy. However, upon death, the process stops and the saturation of colors in the feather will depend on environmental factors.
Further exposure to sunlight only degrades the pigments; this makes the feather prone to sun bleaching from the UV rays.
Storing in a damp area.
Damp areas encourage fungal growth. When accompanied by low temperatures and darkness, mold growth becomes rapid and can ruin your mount. Mold growth in your mouth may be difficult to detect early because the damage it does runs slowly. Fungal growth would usually favor internal areas of the specimen which prolongs its stealthy growth.
By the time you can visually appreciate the impact of mold growth, the damage may already be extensive causing more difficulty for restoration work. Worse, the mount is beyond salvation.
Other Products That Contribute to a Good Mount:
Habitat Bases are not a mandatory requirement when mounting your trophies. But they do add to the overall aesthetic impact of the set, especially when you managed to mount a strutting turkey in a picture perfect background.
Habitat bases for turkey mounts can add diversity to your collection. You could opt for commercial bases usually sold online through Amazon or eBay. You could also create the bases yourself, though the process may also take another set of learning curves. Replicating the scenery may take a bit more of your time and effort but nothing that is worth it comes easy anyway.
The materials needed can come from a collection of wood, stones, and dirt. You may also need to paint plants in the composition. There is no limit to how much you want to invest in recreating that natural scenery.
Artificial Head, Body and Limbs
Whole turkey mounts would be difficult to make without these artificial parts. Preserving turkey heads, as an example, are more difficult to do than just opting for an artificial head. Artificial parts make take out some of the natural feel but these parts save you more time.
Artificial heads and limbs offer the taxidermist more creative options to customize their turkey mounts. These parts are available for personalized coloring and can potentially enhance the entire set. However, coloring the parts to match the natural counterpart is not an easy task. Beginner taxidermist often make the common mistake of coloring the parts too well that it no longer looks natural when viewed together as a whole.
But you can minimize such problems by taking a picture of the turkey during the hunt. This provides you the basis on color choice and other details to try out.
Limitations of Turkey Mounting
Producing better mounts requires years of dedication and practice for the art. The amount of time you invested in refining your turkey taxidermy skills is proportionate to the quality of your output. You may have to skin countless turkeys before you could achieve commercial levels.
As a turkey taxidermist, there are several ways to mount your specimens and imagination is often your limit. This guide only covers the basic principles of turkey mounting. There are many more principles and techniques you have to figure out for yourself. Turkey taxidermy is an applied art that could only be mastered through hands on experience.
Good luck on your first turkey!
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