Trophy Care

Almost every outdoorsman has some type of animal hanging on their wall. Maybe it is the first deer he harvested or the biggest turkey he has taken. Maybe it’s the monster buck that was chased for years and finally tagged. Often hunters wait months or years to get their mounts back from the taxidermist. They bring it home and hang it in their living room, den, or someplace where they can always look at it and remember the day they harvested it.

antelopeWhen we bring our mounts home, they usually look like they did when they were tagged. The antlers are shining in all of their glory and the eyes and nose often look real. The problem is as the years pass by our favorite mounts begin to lose their luster. They start to collect dust. They begin to look like they have spent a decade in a smoky bar room. Typically this does not happen because the taxidermist did a bad job but simply because hunters didn’t know how to take care of their mount after bringing it home.

First and foremost, never hang your mount over a fireplace, wood stove, or any other heating unit. When most hunters consider where they want to put their big buck they think it would look great over the fireplace. We remember that is where granddad always put his. Dry heat is the worst thing for a mount. Heat is a big no-no. “Heat dries out the hide of a mounted animal, which causes it to shrink and causes the hair to become dry and brittle, making the animal appear older than it actually is. Keeping your mount away from excessive dry heat will help it look good for a long time.

Keep your mounts away from direct sunlight. The ultra violet rays of the sun have the same effect on mounted animals that they do on everything else. Have you ever noticed that a painted wall fades after a few years of being in direct sunlight? The UV rays can fade the hide of your buck and its’ rack making it appear old and

dingy. UV rays can make the hide brittle and can make it shrink much like dry heat if it is placed in the sun for years. When choosing a place to hang your mount, choose a location that is out of direct sunlight.  Never hang your mount in a moist damp area like a basement. If your basement isn’t damp, it should be fine. Moisture can create mold and all kinds of problems for a mount that should remain dry at all times.

The accumulation of grime, dust and smoke is the beginning of deterioration. Mounted trophies should be dusted frequently and regularly.

When you hang your new mount on the wall, realize it isn’t maintenance free. The easiest way to keep your mount looking great is to regularly dust it. Dust will collect on deer hair, turkey feathers, and any type of mount. The dust makes a mount look old. It makes the nose and eyes of a deer appear dull. Next to the antlers, people notice the eyes and nose of mounts first.

Mounts and Rugs:
Mounted heads can be dusted with a clean soft cloth, by vacuuming with a soft brush attachment or air blown using compressed air in a can or an air compressor following the direction of the hair as it lies naturally. Never brush, wipe, or blow air against the natural direction of the hair, as this action can cause the hair to break off or pull out damaging the hair and create tufts of hair to stand up which doesn’t look good.

rugMounts having an open mouth – African Lion, Leopard, Hyena, Crocodile, Hippo, Cougar (Mountain Lion), Wolf, Fox, Bear, etc. – also need attention to this detail in order to keep your mount fresh in appearance.  Most open mouths are treated with a final coat of either lacquer or acrylic gloss to impart a “wet” look to the mouth.  While this is common practice, often times mouths are made to look a little too wet for my taste.

Regardless, in order to maintain the wet look, the open mouths of mounts need to be dusted as well.  The best way is to use a can of compressed air … the type sold in office supply, computer, or even home improvement stores will do.  Just be aware to not shake the can while using it.  The freezing air that will shoot out can dull the shiny, wet finish in the mouth.

You simply want to direct the air to the deep recesses of the open mouth, starting at the back of the mouth and working your way forward.  This will blow any dust out of the mouth.  If it still looks a little dull in there, the use of a clean, new makeup brush can further dislodge any dust particles that have not been blown away with the air only.  If needed, the canned air can also be used to blow out the nostrils of a mount. I cannot recommend using the reverse airflow of a vacuum cleaner, as the air from this is very widely dispersed, and not concentrated as when using canned air.  The air from a vacuum cleaner is also pretty warm and that will not do much good to the finish of the mount.

The dampness of the mouth and the outer lips of the mount can also be treated with a very light application of the Pledge spray polish.  Apply it lightly to a clean detailing towel, and go over the lips … and even the nose pad.

 If you want your trophies to last without drying out and cracking NEVER wash your trophies with soap and water. Washing should only be done by a professional Taxidermist, as this procedure requires that only the hair be washed without getting the hide wet. This process takes special technique and training.

Over the course of time, the glass eyes of your trophy mounts can become dull looking … one may say “dull and listless.”  This is due to several factors:  the ordinary dust in the home along with the accumulative effects of smoke in the air from cooking and if you are so inclined, nicotine from the effects of second hand smoke. It is the same buildup smokers experience on the inside of their automobile windshields.

eyeThe glass eye can easily be brightened up with a tiny amount Windex ® applied to a Q-tip or a flat Artist’s Brush, after which it is carefully wiped over the glass eyes until they appear bright and clear again.  Be careful not to use too much cleaner on the brush, as you don’t want the fluid running down into the lower eyelids, wetting them.  You also want to avoid getting a cleaner like Windex ® on any of the finished fleshy parts, such as the eyelids.  The ammonia contained therein can dry the oils in the animal’s hide causing cracks to appear over time.

Using the double-end cosmetic swab, gently rub the eye clean and dry. The nice feature on these swabs is the pointed end.  While it is small and pointy enough to get into the front corners of the eye, it is soft enough not to damage either the glass eyes, or the eye finishing!  Notice too, how shiny and reflective the glass eye is at this stage!

Antler cleaningAntlers:
Be sure to dust them well.  Spray of Scott’s Liquid Gold furniture polish on a detailing towel. Another product that works great is the Swiffer ® dusting cloths.  Just be aware of any parts of antlers that can “catch” the material.  It will pull off little strands, and they are just annoying to hand pick from the antlers.

This will keep the antlers from drying out and help them retain their natural color and soft sheen.

Cape BufalloHorns:
African and other horned species such as Pronghorn Antelope are notorious for having little “grabby” surfaces. This is especially so with the horns of Wildebeest and Cape Buffalo. They are best dusted with the vacuum cleaner’s dust brush attachment.  After removing all heavy dust, go over the horns, especially the areas of the bosses, and a little further up the horns where the texture is “ragged”, using a nylon cleaning brush like those sold in hardware stores or home improvement centers. They are inexpensive and are good to have for cleaning your trophies.

SheepNEVER USE ANY OIL OF ANY KIND ON AFRICAN OR SHEEP HORNS!  The oil will blacken the horns of African mammals, and unnaturally darken the horns of sheep, in some cases giving them a splotchy appearance. Oil of any kind should never come in contact with African and or sheep horns.

A clean white towel, dampened with water is all you will ever need following a good dusting with the vacuum cleaner. NEVER USE OIL ON AFRICAN OR SHEEP HORNS!  PERIOD!


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(North American Pronghorn horns you can apply WD-40 with a cloth to keep them from drying out while keeping their natural look).





One of the newest problems with preserving game animals is insects. Moths, beetles, and other insects love to eat mounts. Some burrow into the mounts; others eat all of the hair. I have a squirrel that looks like he spent a few minutes under a lawn mower. The only hair he has left on his body is on his tail. These insects can turn your favorite high dollar mount into a mangy, bald piece of foam in no time. To prevent this from happening to your favorite mount, regularly inspect your mounts for insects. Look into the mouth, ears, and other cavities where insects could hide. Then check the hair for insects or evidence of them such as moth cocoons.

Moth Proofing:
Regular moth proofing spray, available in aerosol cans, which is safe for clothing is sold in most hardware stores, can be used for this job. Spray a very light mist all over the mount and comb into the hair. On furred animals such as fox, the fur can be fluffed up to a natural appearance, by using the blower side of a vacuum or a hair dryer. . Do not drag your feet once you find insects on a mount! If you do, you may end up losing every mount you have.

Fish Mounts:
Fish mounts require little care other than frequent dusting and occasional wiping with a water dampened cloth.

Bird Mounts
Birds should be kept clean by frequent dusting. They should NEVER be washed in any way, unless, done by a person trained in the technique. If the bird skin was properly degreased and washed before mounting, it should not be necessary to do anything to it other than keep it well dusted, eyes polished and the bare skin of the legs, feet and beak lightly refreshed with a thinned coat of satin varnish.

There are 4 comments .


I really appreciate this post. I’ve been looking all over for this! Thank goodness I found it on Bing. You have made my day! Thx again!

Reply »
Charles de Ribeau —

I did get insects in my trophy room. I discovered it the night before leaving on a 3 week vacation. I set off 2 bug bombs and sealed the room. Now, I keep a moth trap in the room to warn me if new ones show up (I know, it’s not perfect.). In addition, at least once a year, I put 3 No Pest strips in the room and seal the room for at least 2 weeks. It seems to be working.

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