MOUNTING YOUR TROPHY ANTLERS, By Dale Helgeson
We all love our taxidermists. But sometimes we either don’t have the money, or our trophy doesn’t quite make the grade. We still cherish the animal that gave us its delicious meat and its headgear. So instead of just casting it away in a box and only remembering it from the photos of that hunt, why not mount them yourself so you have a more physical remembrance of that animal?
Also, displaying your trophy on a wood plaque is not only for the benefit of yourself but the respect for that animal’s life and spirit.
Simple woods when stained make some of the most attractive master pieces. Pine and oak are extremely beautiful when stained bringing out some beautiful grain designs. Other woods such as walnut, willow, cherry and many more are gorgeous as well. I go to the lumber yard and ask for what they have available in their 1”X6” planks to 1”X20” planks, depending on what you are going to mount and the size of antlers or horns you are mounting. You can go thicker or wider dependent on what you like and what is available, but I would not go any thinner then a 1”X6”. Take a look at what they have and choose by not only the quality of the wood but the designs and shades of the grain. Willow has some amazing shades and designs and can be very cheap if it can be found.
After choosing your plank and taking it home take a piece of paper large enough to cover the final size of plaque you want to make. On this paper you will sketch out your particular design. You can use the traditional diamond that is sold in stores, a circle, a flat top diamond, a square that is rotated on its points, an arrow head, the shape of the animals head such as a whitetail deer. This is your creation, so be creative. You want it to match the animal and what you think will look best for the mount. Look around your house for ideas or go outside. If you have to go to a taxidermist for ideas they may be able to help you and suggest something, or design something for you for free or possibly a small price, depends on what you ask of them. Then cut your boards with the amount of space you will need. For mounting just the antlers and horns of deer and antelope an 8 inch piece of board should work or you can go larger. For elk and moose a 10 to 15 inch board should work.
After cutting the pieces of wood cut your design out if it. If the wood size is larger then your drawing go to some where that can blow it up to the size you want, possibly office max, or someplace with an overhead projector, and place it over the piece of wood. Now trace the outline with a pencil. After you are done you can now begin the task of forming your design out of the wood with a scroll saw or a jig saw. Follow your outline staying just outside of your design. Next what I like to do is round the edges, you do not have to do this. I use a router for this. After this I sand everything down the back, the front, the sides, and the rounded edges. Now it is time for the stain or varnish. Light woods should have a darker stain to them to help bring out their grains but a light one also works. Choose according to your likes and the coloration of your antlers as well. Darker antlers should have a light to medium stain, and light antlers should have a medium to darker stain. Experiment for the best look on the back of the board. Apply as many coats as directed and allow it to set the amount of time indicated.
After the board is dry it is time to mount the antlers.
I pre drill two holes through the skull plate into the piece of wood where I want the antlers to be attached. I usually place the antlers about a 1/3 of the way from the top of the board or in the middle. If you place them low on the board it gives them the effect that they are sliding down the board. You can also use stainless steel plumbers tape to attach the antlers. Place the skull cap where you would like them to be and lightly trace around it with a pencil.
Remove the skull and place the plumbers tape on the top part of the outline, right on the outline or slightly above it. Push the tape so it is flat against the board (place the tail of the tape so it will go under the skull when fully attached on the top). Place the antlers back on the outline, adjust as needed so they are square, and wrap the tape up over the skull and fold it flat against the board tape tail sticking out. Screw the tape in place and cut of any excess, finally anchoring the skull. To cover the antlers, screws and plumbers tape I use leather that is from an elk, with the hair removed, to place over the antlers, felt, velvet, or silk can also be used as well as stained leathers. You can make this in any shape as well such as the heart shape that is traditional or a square. I have used brass tacks and nails to anchor it down.
I anchor the antlers first with the screws then I place the leather over the top with some stuffing underneath it so it does not show the outline of the skull. You want to make sure when placing the leather on that it goes under the bur of the antler, where the antler attaches to the skull, then I tack it on. I use a wood burning tool to write when and by whom it was taken.
You now have a memorabilia of a magnificent animal. You can look upon it and remember exactly how it felt when first seeing them and how it all played out. Something that some people might want to do when staining is place a picture on the board near the bottom and put a gloss over the picture to give the mount even more meaning!