Woods to Wall: Choosing a Whitetail Mount
There's more than one way to display a trophy whitetail and honor the memory of a successful hunt.
You’ve likely heard that Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg only eats meat from animals he kills. “It’s a good way to stay connected to nature,” he says. Mark even mounted a bison he’d shot, serving as a reminder of the experience.
Although the billionaire entrepreneur is a member of the hunting brotherhood, it’s doubtful he thought twice about the cost of mounting that woolly trophy. Few of us have the same comfort level when it comes to lightening our billfolds.
As noted in Part 1, even the cost of a whitetail shoulder mount is enough to make some hunters consider their options before making the investment. Inflation doesn’t discriminate, either. Taxidermy prices keep rising, just as everything else does. And the more animals you harvest, the sooner your what-to-do dialogue leads to the inevitable question: “Where am I going to put another mount?”
There’s only so much wall space in the average domicile, and taking down your family portrait to display last year’s buck is likely to spark a dispute. To avoid family feuds, do the math ahead of time. Think about how you’d prefer to display your trophies, and consider how your wall space might shrink over time.
Shoulder Mount Pros
You just can’t argue that Mother Nature created a beautiful specimen in the white-tailed deer. For well over a century, hunters have hoped to eternalize that beauty by adding whitetail taxidermy to their homes. A qualified taxidermist utilizing top-quality forms can turn your trophy into a work of art that even Mother Nature would check twice for a nostril exhale.
For many, a classic shoulder mount is standard protocol for any trophy buck. It’s regal, timeless and provides a lifelike memory of the hunt. There’s a warm sense of appeal that comes from a wall full of shoulder mounts neatly arranged and well balanced.
An expensive shoulder mount seems even more appropriate when you’ve harvested the trophy of a lifetime. If you’ve recently punched your tag on a buck that’s extra special, consider investing in a quality mount. Ask around for recommendations of reputable taxidermists.
Turn to the Internet to find taxidermists in your area, and check out their websites to see photos of animals they’ve worked on. Don’t hesitate to pick up the phone and give one a call, either. It pays to do your homework.
When I shot my first (and only) buck that measured over 200 inches, there was no discussion in our household about a shoulder mount for the DIY memory. My wife, Sharon, fully embraces my hunting craze, just as I embrace her life delights.
That buck now takes up a prominent place to the right of our fireplace. He complements a row of other mounts from my most memorable hunts. I revisit those hunts mentally every evening.
Shoulder Mount Cons
When I first started hunting feverishly back in the days of the hair bands, I could get a quality whitetail shoulder mount for $150. Those days are over. And frankly, price is now the biggest negative to having a buck mounted.
While I can neither confirm nor deny, I always hear from a few of my hunting buddies that you can still get a mount for $250. However, I’d seriously question the realism of the finished product.
Expect to shell out $500-800 for a shoulder mount completed by a skilled taxidermist. Expect to vet several taxidermists to find one who consistently produces refined art.
When you do find a professional, don’t back away because of price. You’re preserving a memory that could be on your wall for decades. Likely, your mounts will become heirlooms that will be passed down through generations of family. Price is a discussion point but shouldn’t be a deal breaker.
What no one debates is that a shoulder mount takes up a lot of wall space. It’s important to keep that in mind, too. If you’re a deer-hunting addict, you won’t be satisfied with just one shoulder mount. As your hunting career continues, you’ll want to add a whole herd of bucks to the wall gang.
Ponder the dimensions of the average shoulder mount. A respectable trophy buck with a wall pedestal form will be approximately 3-4 feet tall and 2-3 feet wide. If you plan on having several mounts in a row, expect to space them 1-2 feet apart. If you mount four whitetails in 10 years, that’s an entire wall gone, and definitely a home decorating project up for debate.
Lastly, a very small percentage of humans are unsettled by lifelike animals in the home place. While it’s unlikely the hunter would have this phobia, it’s not uncommon for a spouse or child to be displeased with mounted game. Hopefully you won’t have this kind of trouble to sort out, but it’s important to be respectful of everyone’s perspective in making a decision on your trophy.
European Mount Pros
Take a big, deep breath. There’s an affordable, attractive and space-saving alternative for mounting trophy deer. Enter the European skull mount.
For some whitetail hunters, skull mounts have become the preferred mounting solution. Properly done, they look fantastic and take up far less space in your domicile. If you’re on the fence about how to preserve your trophy buck, I’d suggest you consider this affordable option.
European mounts might seem a fairly new trend to North American hunters, but they’re ageless. You can see examples of European skulls from hundreds of years ago reflected in period artwork. As documented by early artisans and photographers, Native Americans also used skulls, preferably bison, in ceremonies and adornment.
You can easily be a do-it-yourselfer and turn your own buck into skull décor for pennies on the dollar. The sidebar at left explains how you can use little more than a power washer to turn a caped skull into interior elegance in minutes.
If you don’t have a stomach for blasting brains from a skull cavity with your power washer, reach out to a local taxidermist. Some boil skulls, while others pressure wash and a handful use dermestid beetles. A colony of these ravenous skin-eating insects can whistle-clean a deer skull in just a few days. The antlers are unaffected.
A quick Internet search is likely to reveal plenty of taxidermists offering European mounting services for a price range of $125-250. Often the price includes a decorative plaque.
European mounts look nice on the wall when done right. A whitened skull on a dark background will add an Old World look to any home. And best of all, skull mounts take less than half the room of traditional shoulder mounts. For me, that just means more bone on the wall!
European Mount Cons
Some folks can’t fathom the idea of displaying skulls in their homes. I’ve heard that it’s a “Halloweeny” look. While both animal and human skulls have served as art since recorded history and before, they’ve also been barred from many households.
If you decide to handle your skull mount solo, don’t fail to clean out all cartilage and tissue from the nasal passage, or brain from the interior cavity. If you leave any behind, you’ll be at risk of an insect infestation. Having bugs crawl out from the skull’s interior and drop on the new Berber carpet in the family room isn’t cool. It also can smell if not finished properly, and I’m not talking about the kind of stench you cover up with Febreze.
Finally, if your kids are a bit rambunctious with Nerf basketballs or other indoor play, your touch of European elegance might not last. One bump could knock a delicate skull to the ground. I’ve been there, and believe me, it’s a long night of using super glue to piece the bone puzzle back together.
So that’s my rundown of mounting pros and cons. I’m sure some won’t apply to you, and you likely have come up with a few extras. Despite this healthy debate, only you and your family can decide how to display an antler remembrance in your home.