Caping of Elk Shoulder Mounts-
The first step to a great looking mount is the removal and care of the cape. Here are some tips, common mistakes, and instructions to a standard shoulder mount cape removal and further care prior to delivery to your taxidermist. The best way to make correct cuts is a flat open space with room to move. This is not rarely available however, especially in elk country so take your time when skinning your trophy. USE A SHARP BLADE and never cut from the hair side, always cut from the flesh side so as not to cut the hair fibers in half. Make a cut around the midsection, keeping well back from the back of the shoulders (figure 2A). One of the biggest mistakes is the tendency to cut too far forward on the brisket. Slack and adjustments for shoulder mounts are dictated by the brisket length; leave plenty. The following cuts should be just above or at the first knuckle or knee of the animal (figuare2B). The most effective method is to ‘tube’ the cape up to the back of the head. Stop approximately 2-3 inches from the back of the head where the spine and skull meet and cut the skull from the spine (figure 3). The other optional cut, but not advisable, is a cut directly up the spine-line, up the back of the neck stopping at the skull. This cut is very easy to do improperly, therefore it would be best to refrain from doing this in the field unless absolutely necessary.
Care after skinning-
After skinning the cape, lay it out, hair side down in a cool area out of the sun and let the flesh-side cool. After the heat is gone from the cape, fold the cape over on itself and roll it up, hair side out. Place cape in a cloth bag such as a meat bag; refrain from plastic bags! As soon as possible, unroll the cape and get cool again or get into either a freezer or pack on ice. Salting a cape should be your LAST option. Salting causes problems on ‘green skinned’ capes and should only be performed if your days out from a cooler or ice. Freeze if possible, ensuring the cape is not soaking wet as this will be cause freezer burn much sooner.
Tips and Care your Taxidermist will appreciate!
Keeping a clean cape- sometimes it’s next to impossible, but a clean cape free of debris and large chunks of meat are much appreciated and facilitates prepping the cape for form mounting.
When in doubt, leave more- don’t try and guess where the skin needs to be cut for the minimum amount needed for the form. More is better! Granted, more skin equals more weight for the pack out, but it could save you money if the cape ends up being too short and additional work is needed for patching or moderate/major repairs. Some of the biggest mistakes are in the brisket areas…cut well back from the brisket areas.
Leave the head in- unless you are proficient in removal of the skin over the head DON’T try and attempt this yourself in the field. Eye, nose, lip, ear, and scent gland membranes MUST be retained for adequate and effective mounting. The best practice is to leave the head/skull in the cape and deliver to your taxidermist for final removal of the face/head skin.
1. Cutting too close to the brisket. When gutting, it’s a common mistake to come too far up and cutting into the brisket skin and inadvertently splitting part of the cape. This requires repairs by the taxidermist and potential problems, especially for early season/warm weather elk that carry shorter hair.
2. Not making the round/midsection cut far enough back. Stay well back from the shoulders when cutting around the mid-section for the cape removal. Stay at least 4-6 inches back from the shoulder blades to ensure you have enough skin to cover a shoulder mount form.
3. Improperly cut lines or a dull knife. If you are unable to or decided to make the cut up the back of the neck line, MAKE SURE your animal is squared up and you cut directly up the back of the cape. A ‘wavy’ or cut that goes down one side of the neck presents potential problems and more work for the taxidermist. Best practice is to ‘glove’ the neck and leave the cut up to your taxidermist. Use sharp knives when cutting, a dull knife will make rough cuts and make damage to the skin and hair.
4. Not cooling the cape down. Capes spoil almost as quickly, sometimes SOONER than meat. Cool the cape as soon as possible and keep cold, freezing is best, but if a freezer is not available keep on ice and get to the taxidermist within 24-48 hours.
Elk present a much bigger problem, or rather weight, than a deer or smaller game animal when it comes to packing the head, antlers, and cape out. A cape on a mature bull can weigh as much as 40 lbs. As stated earlier, the best method is taking the head out whole and letting your taxidermist delicately remove the skin from the face. If you have experience or were given instruction on how to properly cut away the cape then you are left with the skull and antlers. Again, I must stress, do not do attempt this unless you have been shown how and have had a chance to try it before attempting it in the field. To further cut down on weight an option to remove the skull cap may be beneficial. Just like the cape, if done incorrectly you may damage the skull cap and make more work, or cost, for your shoulder mount. The best way is to first start with a sharp bone saw, that is long enough! Make your first cut between the horn pedicles/bases and the eye socket; cut at a slight angle towards pedicle direction. Saw far enough down to come about 3/4 way down the back of the eye socket. The second cut is started at the back of the skull. Starts at the back of the head just over the drop-over of the skull and cut forward towards the eye socket. Try and picture an imaginary line that starts from the back of the skull and ends at the lower portion of the eye socket, this line will cut the upper 1/3 of the brain off. This will connect your two cuts and your skull cap will come right off. If you have resistance in removing the cap, DO NOT pull on the horns to 'pop it off'. Revisit your saw cuts and ensure you made contact with all your connecting cuts. Be careful with the antler cap. Skulls of elk are tremendously strong, however the long antlers are now fulcrum point for a weakened skull cap that has been sawed on.
Every Taxidermist has his own method of caping and requests for care of trophies. Therefore, it is best to contact your taxidermist if you have any questions before your hunt.
Joel Swecker– BlackRiver Taxidermy