A month has now passed, because I have been very, very busy! Taxidermy has grown from a hobby to being a small business that occupies most of my free time. It seems as if I rarely mount anything for myself anymore! Any small animal I mount goes straight to good 'ole EBAY! Here is an overview of what I have been doing:
And here is a recent picture I thought I'd put up. It's me with my latest squirrel mount. It is a very unusual grey squirrel because it has all-white paws! It is now up for auction on Ebay. :)
I can't believe it... it's only my second day with my rifle, and I shot a squirrel!!
I spent most of the afternoon today shooting targets. I printed myself out all sorts of targets, from typical bullseyes to actual photos of animals (squirrels and rabbits) and pasted them on boxes. I even stuck my squirrel target up in a tree, and it looked just like a real squirrel! I shot targets for about 2 hours, and then decided to head over to the woods and take a look around, just to see if I could spot a squirrel. Well, about five minutes into the woods I spotted one. A nice big one. He saw me, and I chased him from tree to tree for about ten minutes until he paused, about 20 yards away. I loaded my rifle and tried to make a shot standing up, but I admit, I just can't take shots standing up (too much shaking), and I missed. I thought that would scare him away for good, but amazingly, he just sat there, still as a statue. The noise of the shot must have scared him stiff. This gave me to time to reload, crouch down, and steady my rifle with my knee. At this point I was shaking like a leaf and breathing so hard, I could hardly aim. But I did my best, and pulled the trigger..
I could tell I had hit him. For an eternally long one second he clung to the tree, and then fell. An instant kill! Here it is:
I skinned him (he'll make a nice mount!), and then fried the meat for dinner! None of my family would eat it (except for my dad, who tried a little piece), but oh well.. more for me! It tasted pretty much like chicken. A little tougher than chicken, though, and it's all dark meat.
I must say, I'm quite happy with my new rifle!
Now, this isn't directly related to taxidermy, but I am very excited because today I went and bought a "birthday present for myself"... an air rifle!! I managed to persuade my parents to let me have one. I think it will be an invaluable resource for my taxidermy. Now I can harvest as many squirrels as necessary (and stop buying them from people), not to mention just having alot of fun target shooting.
I got a Crosman RM277. It's a nice spring-piston rifle, and came with a 4 x 32 scope. It shoots a powerful 825 fps. I shot a few pellets through it this afternoon, but I haven't sighted the scope in yet. I can't wait to get it sighted in so I can start shooting!
Here it is:
Fifth deer mount is now completed! (I mounted it a couple weeks ago)
A full sneak, OPEN MOUTH deer! I am very proud of it, especially considering the fact that I cast the roof of the mouth and the tongue all by myself! (The teeth are real). I made a mold using alginate, and cast the pieces using bondo thinned with fiberglass resin. The bondo made a very nice pink base coat, resulting in very little painting of the tongue. The painting of the roof of the mouth was done using my handy dandy airbrush. Surprisingly, mounting the deer with an open mouth was not more difficult than mounting one with a closed mouth (in some ways it was easier, if you can believe that!). It was the casting of the mouth pieces that took alot of time.. I worked quite a few hours on those! I think from now on I will just buy pre-casted jawsets!
Here is the picture of the deer, newly mounted:
And a close-up photo of the open mouth, albeit a bit dark:
Now let us take a look at some behind-the-scenes photos. Here is a picture I took showing how I tucked the upper lip skin around the mouth. This is a good picture to show you what the cast roof of the mouth looks like, since you can't see it in the other photos.
And here is me, working on the deer...
To say the least, I was very happy with how this deer turned out! Now I'm ready to conquer anything... so, how about a lifesize african bushbuck?!? Yes, that is the latest specimen I have aquired. Mr. Ken Darville (a very nice guy!) sent me the lifesize skin, tanned. It's going to be a big job for sure, since I've never done a large lifesize mammal before (and I must say an african animal isn't where I planned to start, since they are very tricky). But, oh well! I'm just going to take it slow and do my best. :)
As an ending note, I just thought I'd mention that tomorrow is my birthday -- Sweet sixteen! :)
I have spent the last week fleshing and salting deer capes. Thanks to some new friends of mine, the Christens, I now have my very first matched cape and antlers. Up until now, I've always had to mix capes with the antlers that they didn't really have in real life. But Mr. Christen shot a deer and gave me the cape and the antlers (thank you!). :)
It is a nice little 6-point, with a 15" neck. I am going to mount it next, in a sneak position.
I also have an 18" cape to mount. It is cut quite short, but I'll just make a neck mount out of it.
I mounted my fourth deer last night, using the antlers I stained earlier that day. All in all, everything turned out pretty well, but boy oh boy, did I ever I encountered some problems while mounting that I'd never had before!
I could tell the moment I put the cape on the mannikin that something was unusual. The skin seemed to bunch up at the neck, which I have never had happen before. I figured it would probably go away, though, as I began sewing and moving the skin around into position. However, I sewed the incision up, moved the skin around, and it only got worse! These were some MAJOR bunches, and I couldn't see where they were going to go. I was in a sweat and near the point of panicing. For a moment, I had the thought to take it off the mannikin, wash off the hide paste, and try again later. But I quickly decided against that, since I had already worked so long on it, and not to mention I had just used up my last bit of expensive EpoGrip hide paste. Luckily, I remembered my handy dandy hide puller and began pulling those bunches down the neck and wherever else they would go. I ended up with only a couple bunches at the mid shoulder, which you can't even see. You can only feel them with your hands, but I'm not so sure that this isn't accurate after all. I've seen alot of pictures of deer with large wrinkles in that very spot, so perhaps I've created something anatomically correct without even meaning to!
Still, I know those bunches shouldn't have been there -- I've never had that problem with anything else I've mounted. I think it must be the form.. I used a Gene Smith semi sneak (from Wasco) and I could tell it looked different in the face and neck from other forms that I've used.
Now, besides that, it turned out fairly well. I used earliners without ear butts, so I had to reconstruct the butts out of ear base, and that was a new experience. I don't think I got them quite anatomically correct, and it was a chore trying to shape them, so I think I'll stick with the earliners with butts from now on.
As for the eyes, that is the really good point of the mount. They are the best eyes I have ever sculpted, and I am really happy about that.
One word of advice is: never work on something when you're tired. I began working on this deer at 10PM at night, and didn't get to a stopping point until 2AM. Working for four hours straight that late into the night can really do things to your mind. Right before I went to bed, I thought that deer looked liked it belonged in a trash can. But after waking up in the morning and adjusting a few things, I must say I think it looks fairly good.
Here is a picture of the mount. I will post up a better one when I finish it, as in this picture the mount is still partially wet and no finishing paints have been applied:
I am getting ready to mount another deer, which will be my fourth. I'm on a roll now! It will be a relatively small one (16.5" neck). I recieved the antlers for it today. It's a very cute, small 8-point rack. However, the rack was completely sun bleached and white as could be! At first I didn't know what to do. But after researching a little, I came up with and answer and the finished product turned out quite nice. I simply stained the antlers with some regular wood stain. First I put on a base coat of "Puritan Pine", let that dry for a minute and then buffed it off. Then I put on a coat of darker "Early American" to bring out the pattern in the antlers. After that I gave it a thin coat of laquer spray.. just enough to seal the stain and give it a very slightly shiny look. Here is a picture of it. The right side is finished, and the left hasn't been stained yet:
It looks like some of my mounts are going to become famous!
I have sold two mounted mice, in a sleeping position, to be used in a Walgreens Pharmacy commercial! The man who brought them from me says there will be a couple of commercials that revolve around "a place called perfect." They will say something like "In a perfect world dogs, cats and mice would sleep side by side." The dog and cat will be real, but the mouse will be my very own mounted mouse! Cool, eh? The commercials will begin airing on TV at Christmas time. If you have Walgreens in your area, chances are you will see it!
I mounted a deer today! I FINALLY got through fleshing and shaving that cape, and I tanned it with Rittel's EZ-Tan. I mounted it on a Research Mannikins wall pedestal (the size was 7 1/8 x 18 3/4"). I backed the "pedestal" part of it with some nice tan leather. I think it turned out pretty well if I might say so myself! Definitely an improvement over my other deer. Here is a picture of it:
Deer capes have come my way!
I received a package today from Mr. Cain, a very nice taxidermist not too far away from me. In the package he sent me two raw deer capes, and antlers to go with them! He also sent me a raw bear skull to clean off and a few squirrels.
I can't wait to mount the capes. One is a very nice looking 15" cape. I think it will look wonderful on a nice McKenzie form. The set of antlers that came with it are just adorable. They look a bit palmated. The other cape is a 18" cape. It has a very nice looking face, but cut way too short for a shoulder mount. I'll have to order a neck form for it. The antlers that came with it are a nice wide 7 point rack. Now is the time to test out the tannery!
I sure have been blessed. I am taking this time to say thank you to Mr. Cain and everyone else that has helped me in taxidermy (you know who you are), be it by sending me free specimens, or simply giving a piece of helpful advice. It has helped me so much!
I believe I am becoming 'deer-obsessed'! It's happened to many taxidermists, I hear. I've got a ton of things to mount in my freezer -- birds, fish, etc. -- but what do I continually think about, work on, and try to obtain? Deer capes! They're really all I can think about right now. I suppose it's a good thing, with deer season coming up. By the time the season's over, I'll probably be plumb sick of deer... or maybe not! I wonder if I'll ever get around to those birds and stuff in my freezer. I think something has become quite clear to me: I am meant to be a "deer and mammal" taxidermist. I can't see myself ever getting much into birds, and certainly not fish. But I suppose things can change...
I sure do hate it. It is the hardest work of all in taxidermy, and I can't stand it. For the last three nights I have worked hours on a deer cape. Fleshing... shaving... cutting... slicing little slivers of meat and skin. It never seems to end or go anywhere. When I first start working on the cape, my spirits are high and I think "I'm really gonna finish this thing", but after a couple hours, I start getting tired, and cutting holes (in both the cape and myself!). Today I finally decided I am simply going to have to do one of two things. Either send my capes off to a tannery, or buy myself a fleshing machine. Both options have their advantages and disadvantages.
The advantage of a tannery is that, obviously, there is less work on my part. All I have to do is get the red meat off, split and turn, salt, and let the cape dry hard. Then it's off to the tannery, and the next time I'll see it, it will be tanned and ready to mount. That sounds WONDERFUL! The disadvantages are.. (1) It costs around $32 to have a cape tanned. That's more than it would cost to do it at home, but then again, TIME is money! (2) Quite simply, the cape is in the hands of someone else... some other flesher. They could be experienced, but then again they may not, and my cape could come back with big holes. I've seen this happen. (3). Turn around time. If you're getting a dry tan it could be months before you get your cape back. I take a liking to the wet tans, though, and those can be recieved back in 2-4 weeks.
Now for home tanning. The advantages are that it is cheaper to tan at home, you don't have to wait for your capes to come back, and *you* are in charge of your cape, so the only cuts or damages the cape could get would be because of you. The disadvantages are... (1) All the work involved with home tanning. Even with a fleshing machine, it's going to take you a few hours to turn out a nicely tanned cape. (2) To do it right, you'll need a flesher. Cheapest good flesher out there is the Dakota IV for $399. Still a bit expensive for me, and that's the CHEAPEST flesher. However, it doesn't sound so expensive when you think of it this way: At $32 a cape, if you send it to a tannery, that comes out to roughly $100 per 3 capes. At that rate, after sending out only 12 deer capes, you could have paid for a fleshing machine. And that flesher is sure to shave alot more than twelve capes.
So as you can see, I am quite in a state of decision right now. Do I want to pick a tannery and send my capes out, or give up the $399 for a flesher? I am leaning towards the tannery. I have a $75 gift certificate to East Coast Tannery that I won at the NCTA show. I gave them a call and talked to one of the guys there (Joe), and he is very nice. Their turnarounds on wet tans are as little as 1 1/2 weeks! I'm going to give them a try.
Well, that's it for now... (that was a boring entry, wasn't it?)... now I've got to get back to fleshing...
Lately I have been experimenting with something I never thought I would do.. making my own foam mannikins! Now is the time to move on from wrapping excelsior bodies!
The specimen I chose to practice molding was - (what else?) - a rat. Would you like to know how I did it? Here's how:
After I skinned a rat, I took the carcass and posed it the way I wanted. In this case, a semi-standing position. I put it in the freezer and froze it thoroughly. Then I got a small box and filled it with damp sand. When I took the carcass out of the freezer, I pressed it into the sand until it was covered exactly halfway. Then I sprayed the entire carcass, sand, and box sides with "Pam" cooking spray. Some people use plaster for making molds, but I find this to be quite brittle, not to mention the mold has to cure WEEKS before it can be used! So I decided to make a more permanent mold. I mixed up a batch of Bondo, thinning it slightly with some fiberglass resin. I quickly poured it all over the carcass, and the surrounding sand, making sure everything was covered relatively thick. When the bondo had set up (in less than ten minutes), I removed it from the sand, washed it off, and placed the carcass back into the mold. Now I sprayed the carcass and the mold with some more cooking spray, and poured some more bondo over that side. When this had hardened, I popped the two sides apart (perhaps "popped" is too easy a word.. more like "pried"!), and VOILA! A perfect fiberglass mold! The two pieces fit together perfectly. Here is a picture of the mold:
Now, here comes the fun part... time to make the forms! I greased up the inside of the mold with petroleum jelly. Then I mixed up a small amount of urethane foam from Wasco. Just a small amount.. this stuff expands like crazy! I poured some into one half of the mold, about halfway full. Then I pressed the two pieces of the mold together, and held them tight. In about 30 sections, the foam began to expand and squish out of a few small holes I had made in the mold. The small holes are very important. Without them, the expanding foam has no where to go and the mold would probably blow up. After a few minutes, the foam had stopped expanding and had hardened up. I pulled the pieces apart, and removed the foam from the mold. And there it was.. a real foam rat form. The first ones in the world, I bet! I made two of them, and here is the picture:
To make a smooth, detailed form that shows all the muscles, like a real commercial form, this is just the first step. The next step would be to cover the foam form you had just made with non-hardening clay and sculpt the muscular detail into the clay. Then you would basically follow the same steps I have just outlined (make a mold out of bondo, etc.). This time you will be using your sculpted form instead of a carcass, though. And now the mold will turn out much more detailed. It is difficult to capture much muscular detail when molding a carcass.. things tend to come out smooth and undetailed.