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A customer at Foster's Bighorn Bar in Rio Vista, Calif., takes a cell phone picture of some of the 300 taxidermy animal heads on display.

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Taxidermy Methods: Deer

Mounting a deer is a complex process that takes years to perfect. W­e can't give y­ou a complete "how-to" here. Entire books are written on the subject. But we can provide an overview of what takes place.

The first step in mounting a deer is to take precise measurements of the body. A buck hide stretched over a mold that's 3 inches too short will result in a sagging mess. The skinning, or fleshing, of the deer comes next. The goal here is to preserve as much of the original product, or cape, as possible. So the fewer cuts and tears the taxidermist can get away with will make it easier to sew up later. If a hunter isn't able to get the deer to a taxidermist within a few days of the kill, then he needs to skin it himself. An experienced hunter will be able to do so without a hitch, but a novice may end up mangling the hide and making it tougher for the taxidermist. As we mentioned before, many taxidermists skip the skinning and tanning step and send the animal out to a professional tannery to make the mounting process more efficient and because tanning requires so much square footage.

Once the meat is removed from the skin, the hide is salted for preservation. Salt pulls the moisture from the skin and tightens up the hair follicles. The inside of the ears, the nose, the muzzle and between the toes are all crucial to salt well because of the excess of moisture in these areas. While the skin dries out, the mold is prepared. Older methods of creating molds include wire frames and paper mache, but polyurethane foam is the medium of choice these days. The molds are incredibly accurate and detailed, with muscles and veins carved into place. Clay is used for the tricky areas around the eyes.

The antlers and skull are then removed. The real skull is discarded, and the antlers are then attached to the foam skull using screws after the skin is stretched over the glue-covered body mold. The trick is to get everything lined up and to ensure that the skin is nice and tight. After sewing the skin shut around the mold, glass eyes are inserted into the sockets and the deer is mounted onto a wooden plaque, usually from the shoulder to the antlers.