Bear Caping for Rugs and Full-Mounts
While caping a bear is generally similar with all taxidermists, make sure to check with your taxidermist on his/her preference before adhering to this post/info about skinning your bear trophy. This information is a general ‘how to’.
A good rug and mount begins in the field! The first step is making enough room for the skinning task at hand. Bear never seem to fall in a wide-open field that is conducive to good skinning techniques, so being able to clear brush or debris to give you room is paramount. If you move the animal, try to refrain from dragging on the bare ground. Deer, Elk, Caribou, etc. are ‘hair’ animals; bear, raccoons, cougar, etc. are ‘furs’. However both react negatively to dragging which causes the follicles at the dermis (skin) layer to loose and potentially fall out during the tanning/prepping phases of taxidermy. USE A GOOD KNIFE! As with should mounts, using a dull blade causes excessive damage to the skin and creates jagged cuts that can present problems for your taxidermist. Bears are carnivores and therefore hold a tremendous amount of bacteria in their skin, fat, hair, etc. Using gloves is best, but not always available; however if you cut yourself during the skinning process, thoroughly clean the cut immediately and after your finished as well. Bears also carry more fat than most other animals, therefore they are better insulated and hold heat much longer than deer and elk, therefore get to skinning quickly so as to cool the meat and hide down as soon as possible.
Rug or Mount? Two methods-
You need to decide what you are going to do with your trophy. Rug or Mount? While the method to cut/skin for a rug (flat incision), see picture 1, can be used for a mount if you change your mind later, the cuts for a full-mount (dorsal incision), see diagram 3, cannot be used for a rug mount……it CAN, but it requires a lot of sewing and modification by your taxidermist that is going to be costly to you.
Rug Skinning (Flat Cut)-
Start above the anus. If you cut below it (between the anus and the tail) it will require sewing modifications by your taxidermist/rugger. Bears have a butt, just like humans and if you cut below the anus it will take out the appearance of a normal butt on a bear and your rug will just be flat edge on the bottom of your rug. From the starting point above the anus make a smooth cut up the inside of the leg, keeping towards the outside slightly, to the middle of the pad-point. This works best if someone can hold the paw outstretched and one person makes the cut. The back feet/pads are pointed, make your cut to end at the pad point (see Diagram 1). Do not cut through the pads (Diagram 2). Cut the leg off at the joint/wrists, leaving the feet in the paws and let your taxidermist remove them; BE CAREFUL not to cut/nick the hide. The next step is the middle cut. This works best if the bear is on its back. Cut from the middle of the body directly up to the chest, stay below the throat. The following cuts are made perpendicular from your stopping point, outward to the middle of each paw pad. Stop at the pad and just like the back feet, cut the feet off at the joint/wrist. Now carefully skin around each limb and body to remove the hide. Once removing the skin from the limbs and body you will have slack to glove the neck and will facilitate removal of the head. Keep the head in the hide for the taxidermist to remove. A big-headed boar will be some weight, however unless you are proficient and know how to skin the head out, do not attempt this in the field. Detach/cut the head prior to the where the skull meets the spine (foramen magnum).
Full Mount Skinning (Dorsal Cut)-
Fairly straight forward. The easiest way to accomplish this correctly is get the animal laying on its stomach so as to facilitate centered an even and smooth cut (Diagram 3). Stop about 3 inches BEFORE the tail and about 2-3 inches prior to the back of the skull (easily felt with your hand). ‘Glove’ everything else from here. It helps to start and remove the back legs first which will give you slack for the forward part of the bear. Just like the Flat Cut, cut the paws from the leg at the wrist junction/joint and leave in the paws and also cut the head off prior to the skull/spine junction and leave the head in. The other important reason for this is so the taxidermist can get very accurate measurements for your mount.
Let the hide cool off! Lay it hair side down in a clean area, out of the sun, and let it cool down. DO NOT salt the hide. This is ONLY done if it is the last resort or you are days from a freezer or cooler. This creates more work for a taxidermist and potential additional costs to you. Once the hide is cooled, fold it over on itself, on the flesh side. Roll it up and put in a cloth/game bag for the pack out. Refrain from a plastic bag as it will trap the heat and start the decomposing process much faster. Get the hide into a freezer or on ice as soon as possible. Unroll and get it cool as soon as your trophy is out of the field. As with any hair or fur they spoil quickly if not put on ice quickly, sometimes faster than meat. The best way to avoid this is get it to your taxidermist as soon as possible or put it in the freezer. When you freeze it, roll it up, flesh side to flesh side. It’s okay if the hide is damp, but keep from freezing it when it is soaking wet as this can cause damage through freezer burn.
Common Mistakes and Tips-
Improper Alignment- Most taxidermists are hunters themselves and understand the problems with skinning in the field, however not proper aligning or moving the animal to ensure cuts are made in the proper spots is a very common mistake. Take the time to move debris or the animal around so you can make clean, smooth cuts in the correct locations and avoid wavy incisions.
Trimming- Do not trim off any hide thinking it is damaged or soiled, leave everything that is attached to the hide. While trimming excess fat and meat from the hide is good practice, especially for an extended pack out of the woods, be careful that you don’t trim too much and inadvertently cut the hide.
Keep it clean- Bear fur, unlike ‘haired’ animals, collect and hold debris incredibly well. Sometimes it’s next to impossible due to the ground where the bear fell, but consider packing a tarp to put the animal onto before skinning. Between the blood, weather, and terrain it could cause your taxidermist to silently curse you if the hide is packed full of small fir needles or burs. Present your taxidermist with relatively clean hide/fur and you will be greatly appreciated.
Again, your taxidermist may have further or differing instructions for you and therefore always a good practice to check with them before your hunt. Best of luck!
Joel Swecker- BlackRiver Taxidermy