You’ve done it! You landed a trophy buck and now you want to prepare it for the taxidermist to mount. Some hunters worry about ruining their cape by trying to do it themselves. However, it’s simple to do, if you just follow some simple instructions.
Getting Ready to Cape a Deer
Before you begin the process, you’ll want to make sure you gather everything you need and prepare the area you’re going to work in. It’s imperative you have a really sharp knife with a surgical blade. You will also need a portable saw to cut the skull plate with antler. Otherwise, you have to carry the entire skull.
Three Cuts to a Good Cape
Would you believe us if we told you, it only takes three cuts to make a good cape. It’s true. The key to success here is making every cut perfectly. Before you start to remove the skin, make a circle around the animal starting at its middle rib.
Be generous with the middle because you don’t want to cut your cape short. It’s better to make the cape longer than the taxidermist needs that way he’ll just cut off what he doesn’t need. But, if he doesn’t have enough, you might have a problem.
Go from left to right around the back of the deer. Your first cut should end where the original started. The next cut starts between the deer’s ears. Cut straight down the natural dark line that travels down the animal’s neck. The cut should continue in a straight line and end where your first cut started.
Next, draw a circle around each front leg. You’ll want to make sure you start the cut above the deer’s elbow, but nowhere near the arm pit. If you cut into the deer’s armpit, you’ll ruin your cape.
After you’ve made the cuts mentioned above, you should skin the deer as normal. It’s absolutely imperative that you don’t leave any meat on the deer skin. Meat holds heat. If you leave meat on the cape, it will get warm and the cape will spoil, which will make it impossible to have a taxidermist mount it.
Skinning the Skull
Okay, everything above has been easy so far, and you might be feeling really confident about the next part. But, we have to admit, this part is a bit tricky. For this part, you’ll need to go back to where you originally started your incision at the back of the neck.
Usually, there’s an obvious Y that starts here between the ears and continues towards the antlers. Use this Y as a guide. Start in the middle and make a cut to the base of each antler, so that it creates a Y-shaped cut.
Now, skin around the pedicle of each antler. After this is done, carefully skin the hide off the skull carefully. You’ll want to pay special attention around the eyes, nose, and mouth. Below are some tips to help you with each.
The eyes are hard to work with. Start at the back corner of the eye. This is usually the biggest obstacle in regards to eyes and caping. Do not cut off the back corner of the eye. Instead, use your finger and insert it the back corner of the eye. Doing this allows you to get everything around the eye including the eyelid and lashes. Pull the skin away from the skull while you skin. Make all cuts at the skull and not next to the skin. By cutting at the skull you’ll be able to save the eyelid too. It’s important to make all your cuts while you pull away with your finger inside the eyelid.
Another problem with the eye area is the preorbital gland, the scent gland. This gland is located in the front corner of the deer’s eye. It’s concave and goes into the skull. Before skinning, you’ll need to pop each of these glands out of the deer’s eye. After you remove both scent glands out, you’re ready to concentrate on the deer’s mouth.
Turn the deer towards you so that you’re staring at its nose. Skin down to the corner of the mouth. From here, you’ll want to open the mouth to work on the animal’s lips. When cutting lip to stay with the cap, you’ll want to make sure you have at least 3/4 inch of the lip attached to the cap. Leave the rest of the lip on the animal’s skull. Continue the incision to the opposite side of the mouth where you started. Remember to do this on the bottom and top jaw.
Lastly, you need to start skinning from the animal’s eyes to the nose. Skin along the bottom of the nose to the jaw. On the top of the jaw, you’ll run into the deer’s nose pad. Nose cartilage is located about 11/2 inches up the face from the nose pad to the cartilage. A deer’s nose is much like a humans, so it should be easy for you to find the cartilage.
Make a 90-degree cut down the nose to the top of the jawbone. From there, just peel the skin off. When you’re done with this step, there should be a 90-degree shelf cut out of the animal’s nose. You have to make this cut because if you don’t you’ll end up cutting off the end of the deer’s nose, the black part. If you accidentally cut the black part of a deer’s nose off, the cape is ruined.
How to Handle the Antlers?
After removing the nose from the skull, you’re ready to remove the cape. But, you don’t want to take the entire skull with you. Instead, you just want the top skull plate where the antlers are located. Usually, this just requires you to remove a small chunk of the skull, about 6”. It’s best to tackle this step with a portable saw. Your taxidermist will incorporate the antlers into your mount and cape.
- Cool Cape - As soon as the cape is removed and you’re sure there is no meat left on the cape, you need to concentrate on cooling it. Remember there’s a difference between cooling and drying. You want the cape to cool, but you don’t want it to dry out. For most hunters, the cooling process takes at least 30 minutes but not more than an hour. To let the cape cool, fold it in half. Once cool, roll it up.
- Get the Cape to a Taxidermist Fast - It’s best to get your cape to a taxidermist as soon as possible. If it’s impossible to get the cape to a taxidermist as soon as possible, you do have other options. Wrap it in a plastic bag and put it in the freezer. If it stays frozen, a cape will be good for about a year.
There you have it, simple steps to cape a deer like a pro. You probably know the ins and outs of a deer better than you think you do. If you’ve ever skinned a deer, you have the skills to cape the same animal. Just take your time, pay attention to the cuts you make and you’re cape will turn out great. There’s something satisfying about showing off your mount and letting everyone know, you killed it and caped it yourself.