Louisiana taxidermist provides tips
Taxidermist Steve German air brushes the bill of a whitefronted
goose for a customer. (Submitted Photo/Courtesy of John K. Flores)
There is no lower position a man can get than when his belly is on the ground. But, this was where a friend, Ronnie Lee, and I found ourselves some years ago while hunting a particular pronghorn antelope in New Mexico.
Western hunting differs significantly from Louisiana hunting.
From the coastal marshes to the piney woods to the bottomland hardwood swamps, few hunters spot and stalk whitetail deer in the Sportsman’s Paradise.
And suffice it to say, the highest percentage of hunters prefer and hunt from elevated stands. The rest hunt with dogs.
By contrast, western hunters spend a lot of time wearing out boot leather spotting and stalking.
The thing about the position I was in, subconsciously I knew everything in that high-plains desert environment would stick you, stab you or bite you.
The day prior, while scouting, I tossed pebbles at a tarantula hoping to scare it away. The fact I was once a baseball pitcher helped as my accuracy deterred the arachnid from getting any closer, ultimately giving up the route it was taking.
What would make a man drag his stomach across shale rock, cholla cactus needles and sand, except he is a hunter? And at the end of his miserable quest a trophy.
In this case, my quarry was indeed a trophy. We had stalked the animal for nearly a mile and crawled the last quarter of it trying to hide behind any piece of scrub brush. If I could have gotten lower than a cow patty, I’d have used them for cover.
At a distance of 300 yards, there was nothing between the antelope and us. Ronnie Lee came along to help glass and spot and never once complained when our arms and elbows ached from the strain of holding our torsos up and the beating they took from scraping the ground.
Setting up the feet of my bipod, it was now or never. And the now or never would be the longest shot I had ever taken with a rifle.
The thing about trophies is everyone who has ever taken one invariably will have it mounted. There are common mistakes that hunters make when preparing their mounts to take to the taxidermist.
One of the biggest mistakes hunters make annually is not providing enough cape to properly mount the animal on a mold.
Steve German and his son, Josh, own Steve German’s Taxidermy Art in Lake Charles.
German said, “We can fix a lot of things, but we can’t fix capes that are too short. The worse thing people do is get crazy with a knife — last year we had to replace 28 capes for people who don’t know how to skin a deer. I’ve hunted Africa four times. When you skin an animal in Africa, you hang them from their back legs and the very first cut they make is the ring around the center of the animal. You’ve got plenty of cape then. And the same thing would apply to whitetail deer, because if you’re going to mount him, you’re not skinning him to eat.”
German suggests people to ring around the front leg at the joint and skin down to where the first incision around the middle of the animal was made. Once the cuts on the front legs have been made, accordingly, then hunters should sock skin the deer to the back of its head.
Transporting the deer from skinning shed to taxidermist is also important, particularly if it involves driving for a long period of time.
“We get a lot of stuff from west Texas, where people have driven nine hours with their (animal’s) head in a plastic bag,” German said. “That is the worst thing you can do — is put them in plastic bags. Because, they sit there in their juices — and blood is protein. And protein breaks down real fast and rots really fast. The best thing you can use is a grass sack or cheese cloth that way the blood and stuff is absorbed and it’s not in a sealed bag in the back of a pickup truck.”
German says waterfowl hunters thinking about having a duck or goose mounted should keep a plastic bag in their hunting jacket. The water should be shaken out the duck by holding by the foot before placing it in the bag. Next place the bird’s bill under its wing and force all of the air out of it.
Ducks have lots of fat, and German has a method that removes fat, saying, “We have machines that take the fat off the skin, and we wash them in warm water and Dawn Dishwashing liquid. That gets the majority of oil out. Then afterwards, we soak them in gasoline to get the rest of the oil out. Following this de-oiling process, the ducks hide and feathers are soaked in gasoline, and when dry then tossed into a tumbler with corn cob grit and/or hardwood sawdust.”
A tour through German’s studio will reveal he just doesn’t mount game animals but creates art.
German said, “The main reason we built our showroom is so we could show people what we could do. I got real tired of the ‘stick it on the wall,’ type of taxidermy. You can look and see what I like to do.”
Squeezing the trigger of my rifle, I didn’t feel the kick of the little .243 Winchester. And through the scope I saw the antelope slump — take one step — and not another.
The buck sported 16 and 14 inch horns with a beautiful heart shape, large palms and heavy bases. Two days later, the buck was at the taxidermist shop. The buck just missed the record book due to deductions from the tip of one horn being broken off. It’s a minor thing I pay no attention to when almost daily I look up at the majestic animal and remember the hunt of a lifetime.