My friend Mike, the only GOOD taxidermist in Zambia often looks at me as if I am half crazy when I bring a barrage of clients to him with skins and horns in tow. I often think he's not sure what to do with me there as well as the clients as I know he wants to catch up on hunting talk but also has a job to do. In this it is always an amusing trip out to his place, I catch up with his latest creations while he gets the hunting lowdown from me.
My relationship with Taxidermists has always been a fractious one mainly because many of them are prima donnas, no skin is ever good enough and often certain shortcomings are blamed on the quality of the skins or horns they receive not really their inability.
Seriously, in my career as a PH, and not only with my skins, more often than not there is always a complaint about something, be it that there's a nick in the skin near the nose or the salt used was too strong or the horns have been over boiled.
What I like about Mike is this, he is open to work out a solution to any problem that arises with the PH's and the outfitters who bring him the business. Although he does complain when skins are blatantly bad, most of the time he's the kind of guy who looks at how it can be fixed, rather than sitting back and throwing out complaints all the time.
As a PH this is what I like to deal with - I know that sometimes a skin is just plain bad even if it comes from my skinning shed I admit it openly BUT in cases like this I need a solution to satisfy my client, not a year long argument with someone who is trying to drive home a point to a client
I guess what I'm getting at here is there should be more dialogue and less finger pointing - I know that many PH's look at the trophy handling as one of the minor aspects of a hunt, once they have their tip it's goodbye Charlie! So hopefully and thankfully I did get some feedback which will be constructive to hunters.
HERE's SOME TAXIDERMIST ADVICE
Thanks to Terry Mason from WoodnWater Taxidermy, Alabama, 205-755-1714 - email: [email protected]
I am responding to your column on Taxidermy.
I have been in the taxidermy business for about 11 years now, from my experience in receiving trophy's from Africa to mount for my customers there are several issues that come to mind.
1. Due to the numerous trophies that the outfitters receive/ have to handle all at once, there sometimes is a mix up on the labeling on whose trophies is whose. Especially with the horn sheathes- now you have 3 items belonging to one animal.
2. The skinners cutting holes in the capes while skinning.
3. Properly salting/fleshing to prevent hair slippage.
Allot of these problems can be prevented by the outfitters/PH's, supervising and properly training the skinners on how to handle these issues. Basically quality control to prevent any problems and this will help with repeat booking with their hunters/customers.
Also utilizing a reputable dip packer to clean the skulls and capes.
Another issue that I have had problems with is tanning- I am not trying to discredit any tanneries in Africa but the capes that I have received that were tanned in country were not shaved properly and do not have the stretch or pliability to ensure a quality mount (allot of shrinkage). But they do not seem to have the same quality of tanning that the US tanneries are capable of producing. Same with having taxidermy work done in country- the US seems to have a better selection of forms and poses to choose from. If you have trophies mounted in Africa- once the hunter receives the mounts he is pretty much stuck with whatever he receives when he gets them- whereas if he were to use a taxidermist stateside, he could meet with the taxidermist and or talk with him while his trophies are being mounted to work out any issues that arise.
Not only is it the Outfitter/Ph responsibility but also the hunter's to take pictures of the trophies and make sure they are tagged properly while he is in camp to help with any problems that may arise.
Choosing the right outfitter/PH and dip pack and taxidermist will help eliminate a lot of the problems.
I encourage my customers to do their homework prior to going on a hunt, and to educate themselves. Prior to the hunt from a taxidermists standpoint the hunter needs to think about how he wants to mount the animal prior to going on the hunt of a lifetime- especially before the animal is skinned!!
Education is the key! From the hunter, outfitter/PH and especially the skinners.
Here are some photos of some skins I've received. There's a couple of Barry's oribi. When I received the skins the ears of the oribi were in this condition. It appears that the skin has been folded and the ears folded in the process causing them to shatter. It's a bloody mess and I don't know what I'm going to do with them.
There's also a photo of a hartebeest cape from Namibia. The whole shipment of seven skins were terrible. The ears had been mostly turned but the nose, eye lids and lips hadn't been split and the capes hadn't been fleshed. I managed to do OK with all but the warthog cape which is a mess. The impala and springbok mounts were from this shipment and the nyala is my own mount I thought I just send to you.
There's always problems with African skins and there's taxidermists here who won't touch them. The salt used in Africa is of a poor quality and the skins are over dried. Horns are usually boiled until the horns are damaged (remember how I took the horns off my sitatunga by rotting them off).
Thanks to Mark Walker out New Zealand, email: [email protected]
AND SOME COMMENTS FROM HUNTERS
I am neither a PH nor a taxidermist; however, I felt compelled to write with respect to taxidermy work in South Africa. My son, Kevin, and I went on safari in June of 2007 with Blaauwkrantz, in South Africa. Being this our first to Africa we decided to utilize Karoo Taxidermy. We visited the taxidermists factory before we signed a contract to make sure of the quality and care taken in their work. Not being in a big hurry to have 18 trophies mounted, we allowed Karoo to take time. We received the crate last month; a large crate I might add. Having used a local taxidermist here in Tucson we were very aware of high-quality work. However, the costs v. quality came into play with our decision. Overall, all 18 pieces were well taken care of, including the work. The only problem we had were two Impalas (Father/Son floor pedestal mount). At the very top where the cape is cut back behind the horns was not done very well. You can see the actual diamond cut in the sewing process. I noticed the flaw but most people I am associated with would not. That's very good odds; two out of eighteen. I planned keeping my expectations within reason prior to traveling to the Dark Continent. We all have heard the stories Good v. Bad taxidermy work. That's something you need to take in consideration before you make a decision.
As you mentioned we do need to be careful making plans. In our case the costs associated with 18 mounts in Africa v. the U.S. was substantial. One must take in consideration this and beware there may be less quality work with some species. We are planning on returning in 2010 to Namibia. But of course we will not be hunting like in an arcade shoot. Choosing very carefully what we would like to harvest. ( Total of eight to ten)Anyone who goes over for the first time needs to look at how many and what you plan on doing with them in advance. Otherwise you will be over whelmed. Again, most likely we will utilize someone we trust in Windhoek, NA.
Thanks to David Stone, Fire Marshal, Tuscon, Arizona
Have a look at the forum at
There's a lot of information on there and guys are posting about problems with African skins regularly.
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