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Art Lander’s Outdoors: How to take care of those mounted fish, game bird and deer trophies

If you have hunted and/or fished for long you’ve probably visited a taxidermist a time or two, maybe more.

Mounted fish, game birds and deer are reminders of happy times in the woods and on the waters, shared with friends and family. Mounts adorn the walls of our dens at home, vacation cabins, or empty bedrooms where fishing and hunting gear is stored.

Mounted Wildlife (Photo by Art Lander, Jr.)

Good taxidermy is not cheap so it makes sense to take care of these mementos, so they will last a lifetime. Here’s some do’s and don’ts to keep your mounted fish, game birds and deer looking like they did the day you brought them home from the taxidermist:

• Place your mounts away from direct sunlight. Over time, UV rays will damage taxidermy, causing mounts to fade and possibly crack.

• Designate a wall or tabletop where mounts can be grouped together out of the way, high enough off the floor to avoid being accidentally bumped. For maximum viewing enjoyment position a table and chairs opposite of your “trophies” where you can be seated while relaxing in your outdoors cave.

• Avoid placing mounts close to a direct source of heat, a furnace vent, wood stove or fireplace, or near where food is baked or grilled.

• Don’t hang your mounts in areas with high or low humidity, or significant shifts in temperature and humidity, such as an unheated or uncooled garage, or a screened-in porch.

Periodic Cleaning

Periodic cleaning of your taxidermy mounts is necessary to keep them looking good over time.

Mounted fish require very delicate cleaning to remain in tip-top condition. The fish’s skin, fins, and head are draped over a plastic form, then coated with a liquid sealant and a glossy finish. The fins tend to be very delicate and can snap or crack if not handled carefully.

Deer antlers mounted on plaques (Photo by Art Lander, Jr.)

Avoid commercial cleaners. They may be too harsh and can dissolve or damage the outer coatings of your mounted fish.

A multi-purpose dusting spray, that does not contain wax, such as Endust, is ideal for removing dust. Spray some on a clean cotton cloth and wipe down the mounted fish. Lightly spray the tip of a cotton swab and use it to clean the delicate fins and gills.

A canister of compressed air, made for cleaning computer keyboards, works great for removing dust from inside the fish’s mouth and gills, and on the backside of the mount that faces the wall.

Colorful game birds, such as wild turkeys and waterfowl, make attractive mounts. This includes flying ducks and geese, strutting gobblers or mounts of turkey tail feather fans and beards, mounted on wooden plaques.

There are several options for cleaning feathers.

The key to cleaning a game bird mount without damaging it is to work slowly and lightly. Take the mount off the wall and place it on a table.

Art Lander Jr. is outdoors editor for the Northern Kentucky Tribune. He is a native Kentuckian, a graduate of Western Kentucky University and a life-long hunter, angler, gardener and nature enthusiast. He has worked as a newspaper columnist, magazine journalist and author and is a former staff writer for Kentucky Afield Magazine, editor of the annual Kentucky Hunting & Trapping Guide and Kentucky Spring Hunting Guide, and co-writer of the Kentucky Afield Outdoors newspaper column.

A Swiffer duster is one cleaning option. It is made of millions of tiny polyester fibers and uses electrostatic forces (static cling) to pick up tiny pieces of dust. Move the duster over the mount, from the base of the feathers to their tips.

A second option is water. A lightly dampened soft cloth is used to wipe down the feathers, followed by a minute or so of air from a blow dryer at a distance, being careful not to ruffle the feathers.

Two other options for removing dust are compressed air, or a soft paintbrush, with light strokes.

In Kentucky, deer are the most mounted game animal.

Shoulder mounts of deer hung on a wall will get dusty, with cobwebs, if not cleaned regularly.

Use a Swiffer duster to clean the mount. The soft, pliable dusters are ideal for cleaning the lay of the hair, around the mount’s nose, delicate chin whiskers, eyelashes, ears and in between the tines of the antlers.

A second option for the mount’s hair and antlers is to lightly dampen a soft cotton cloth with a household cleaner and wipe off the dust and cobwebs.

Clean the deer eyes with a cotton swab dampened with glass cleaner, being careful not to touch any painted surfaces around the eye.

For deer antlers mounted on a plaque, periodically paint the skull cap with white acrylic paint, wipe the dust off the antlers, and touch up the plaque with stain.

Reproduction Fish Mounts

Anglers have an alternative to having their trophy fish mounted, if they practice catch and release, and don’t want to kill their catch. A reproduction fish made from gel coat fiberglass looks so realistic only your taxidermist will know it’s not the fish you caught.

Take several photos of the fish and make a couple of quick measurements, its length and girth width, before the fish is released alive. This information will help your taxidermist create a reproduction that’s a copy of your trophy fish, in size and coloration.

A mounted largemouth bass (Photo courtesy Marine Creations Taxidermy)

Reproduction fish mounts are very lifelike. You can see the growth rings on the scales. If there’s a weakness, it’s the lack of detail in the fish’s gills and mouthparts.

The reproduction fish is made from a mixture of silicone and graphite. Every detail will be faithfully reproduced on the blank and the taxidermist will paint your fish reproduction mount based on your photo.

Another reason for having a reproduction made is there are potential problems with some fish species when they are mounted by conventional methods. Large trout don’t mount well because their skin is too thick and oily. If the oil can’t be neutralized, the mount will decay over time.

Reproduction fish mounts cost more than conventional mounts but are of much better quality. They will last longer and look better for a longer time.

Fish and wildlife mounts are an important part of our celebration of the outdoors and praise for the wonders of nature.

Every time we look at them we are reminded of happy days afield, when waterfowl were flying the backwater, that big buck appeared through the fog, or you set the hook on a fish of a lifetime.

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