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Getting A Good Whitetail Deer Mount

by Justin Zarr 17. March 2011 15:15
Justin Zarr

A few weeks ago I wrote a Blog about how much I was starting to like European Skull Mounts.  Although that still holds true, there's still something that's undeniably cool about a really good whitetail shoulder mount.  However, for as much as a good mount can enhance your trophy forever - a bad mount can all but ruin your trophy just as quickly.

When it comes to whitetail mounts I will admit, I'm a bit of a "mount snob".  I am pretty quick to judge nearly all whitetail mounts that I see, either good or bad.  In my opinion if you're going to pay good money to get a buck mounted, you fully intend on keeping that mount for the rest of your life so you should want it to look good and hold up over time.  In order to get that high quality you need to find a good taxidermist, and often times be willing to pay a little more money.  Just like anything in life when it comes to taxidermy, you get what you pay for.

The main areas I look for in a quality whitetail mount are the eyes (and more specifically the pre-orbital glands in front of the eyes), the nose, the placement of the ears and the mouth.  In my option these are the four hardest details to get right.  These are the things that separate a good mount from a bad mount.  Let me show you some examples.

The eyes of a whitetail deer mount are probably the one thing I see that are most commonly done badly.  Everyone knows what I'm talking about - the deer mount that looks like it got ran over my a steam roller and the eyes are bugging out of the deer's head.  Every time I see one of these I think to myself "Did the person who mounted this deer really think that looks good?"  On a good whiteail mount the eyes will be properly set into the face, and the pre-orbital gland will be a noticable "divit" directly in front of it.  Additionally, the taxidermist will commonly apply some sort of epoxy and paint this area as well.

A good whitetail deer mount starts is the eyes.  Having them set into the face at the right angle and paying attention to the pre-orbital gland is extremely important and can make or break your trophy's appearance.

The next item I notice on a lot of bad mounts is the mouth.  I don't know about you but the last time I checked deer didn't walk around the woods with a smile on their face.  So the case of the "Smiling Deer" is another disaster when it comes to getting a good mount.  I have a few photos of some smiling deer mounts, but none of them belong to me so I won't post them here.   I'm sure most of you know what I'm talking about and if you don't, rest assured when you see one you will!

The nose is another important piece of the good mount puzzle.  Most commonly the nose of the mount is formed using an epoxy and then the "Wrinkles" are pressed into it using a roller.  In some cases the taxidermist will actually form the wrinkles individually, but that is usually only done for taxidermy competitionis where every detail counts.  In the case of a bad mount, the nose is usually mis-shaped, appears flat, or in some cases looks like it's ready to peel off the mount entirely.  The nose is also one of the first areas to start showing the age of the mount, so making sure your taxidermist is using the highest quality supplies is very important.

The amount of detail put into the nose also plays a vital role in how well your whitetail mount will end up looking.

I shot this buck in 1999 and now over a decade later the nose is holding up great - proof that using high quality materials truly does matter.

Here's a great example of what I would consider a bad mount.   Notice how the eyes are bugging out of the deer's head, the pre-orbital glands are not in the proper place, and the nose is not only flat looking, but is also starting to crack and show serious signs of aging.

Finally, the ear placement and quality can also make or break your mount.  I've seen several mounts where the ears appear to be located 1/4 of the way down the deer's neck, and in some cases seen them so thin that the insides are nothing but the plastic form and some paint.

Aside from the quality of the workmanship your taxidermist offers, there are several other factors that go into getting a good quality whitetail mount.  The most important in my option are picking the right pose and the right ear alignment for your buck.  Of course both of these are personal preferences, but selecting ones that accent the qualities of your deer will produce a better product in the end.

The newest addition to my family of whitetail mounts and another fine example of quality taxidermy work done by my long-time taxidermist, friend, and great storyteller Mr. Dale Schwab.

For big mature bucks with swollen necks, I like a mount that really shows off the deer's size.  Something with an offset shoulder can really help accentuate the size of the deer (provided your taxidermist ordered the right size form that is).  Additionally, making sure the deer is facing the proper direction for when he'll be on your wall is important as well.  Having a buck in the corner staring straight into the adjacent wall is never a good way to display your trophy.

As for the ear alignment, if your buck has a narrow rack it's often good to position the ears in a somewhat laid back position.  This will help make the rack stand off the buck's head and appear wider.  If your buck does have a nice wide rack, putting the ears out wide will help draw attention to his width.

Selecting the right form and ear alignment for your whitetail deer mount can greatly increase it's visual appeal, and provide you with a mount that you will be happy with for the rest of your life.

All in all when it comes to getting a good whitetail mount you need to shop around, compare the work of your local taxidermists and get recommendations from friends or customers whose work you've been able to inspect.  Going through a little bit of trouble to find a good taxidermist and paying a little extra is well worth it in the end.

How To: Skinning Your Own Trophy!

by Jessica Edd 14. February 2011 05:30
Jessica Edd

After a short hiatus from the site due to work, the holidays and my grandfather’s passing, I’m finally back. Hopefully I was missed by most, if not all of you as I know I definitely missed the whole crew and their fans. As you may have noticed, I euroed Justin’s and Todd’s antelope for them this year and while I was skinning Justin’s head (that sounds terrible, but I am in fact speaking of his antelope head!), I took a lot of pictures in the hopes of teaching others how to do it. It’s pretty easy and hopefully this will help you next season. 

Learning to skin your own animal can be very beneficial to you when you kill that monster buck. You take the time to know all of your gear, your hunt area, and the animal you’re hunting, why not know how to process it so you can get it mounted; and so your taxidermist doesn’t want kill you. If you have the option to freeze the entire head with the hide still attached, you should, but if you kill a 200” deer or even a small elk, you’re not going to get the antlers in a freezer and by the time you get it to someone to skin it, the hide may start to slip. To test whether or not the hide is slipping, simply pull on the hair. If it pulls out, it’s no good. Antelope are some of the worst animals for slipping because their hair is hollow but also because it’s usually so hot when they’re harvested in August and September. Keeping the hide cold is key to keeping the hair from slipping. 

If you opt to skin your trophy yourself, start by making a “Y” cut up the back of the head, branching out to each antler/horn. There are a variety of cuts you can make between the horns but the “Y” seems to be the most common and easiest to sew. 

Antler bases can be tricky to remove the skin from and a horn base like what is found on an antelope can be somewhat confusing. Because the horn itself is made from hair, the transition between the hair on the hide and what’s turning into the horn can be hard to find. The base of an antelope horn, however, is soft around the edges and turns very hard as it moves up the horn. You can cut through soft base of the horn, detaching the skin, while turning your knife against the bone in order to detach the skin from the skull. If you’re working on an antlered animal, run your knife along the underside base of the antler, cutting the skin, but not the hair. Again, you will want to turn your knife along the bone in order to cut the skin away from the skull. 

Skinning around the rest of the skull is pretty much the same as skinning anything else; until you get to the eyes. The setting of antelope eyes are much closer to the base of the horns than on a deer or elk so once you get passed the horns, you’ve got to start skinning the eyes right away. This is usually the part where your taxidermist will start cussing you for skinning your animal yourself. Most taxidermists use the inner eye lid to tuck into the form so you want to try to save as much as you can. Sticking your index finger into the animal’s eye and pulling the hide away from the skull while you’re cutting will stretch the skin enough that you will essentially pull the inner eyelid out far enough to start cutting. You will want to cut as close to the eye orbit of the skull as you can, giving you as much eyelid as possible and hopefully giving you a discount from your taxidermist for saving him (or her) the hassle of doing it themselves.

To begin skinning the mouth, pull the lips open, giving you access to where the lip attaches to the gum. You’ll soon start to see the cartilage from the inside of the nose but you can cut right through it leaving about 1.5-2” of cartilage. At this point you can continue skinning the skull until the hide is free from the skull.

Now that you’ve got your hide separate from the skull, you can fold it up, (skin to skin) and throw it in the freezer or even the fridge if you’re taking it to your taxidermist within a few days. Be sure to wrap the hide tightly in a plastic bag in order to avoid air contacting the skin. If the hide is frozen it can get freezer burned easily if there is too much air moving over the hide. 

I hope this assists some of you in skinning your own animals and I urge all of you to try it at least once. Try skinning a doe or a small buck your first time so you can get the hang of it if you’re nervous about wrecking your trophy kill. If you have any questions about processing hides or taxidermy work, please feel free to email me at and I will be glad to help. I’m definitely not an expert but I know a thing or two and would love to answer any questions. Good luck and have fun!


Categories: Blog | Bowhunting Blogs

European Skull Mounts; The Shoulder Mount Alternative

by Justin Zarr 1. February 2011 13:53
Justin Zarr

For many bowhunters the pinnacle of their successes in the field often end up as a nice shoulder mount on the wall in their den (or in the living room in some lucky cases).  Up until just recently I never gave a second thought to what I would do with my trophies when they were picked up from the butcher shop.  They were put in the back of the truck and delivered to the local taxidermist - along with a hefty deposit check!  Several months later after agonizing over which pose I wanted my new trophy to assume for the remainder of his days, I would write that second painful check and then ride home alongside my new mount.

After some spirited talks with the wife about where the new addition to our family would reside (and I ask, what's so wrong with the bedroom anyways?) I would pick out a spot in the den, office, basement, or garage and proudly display the result of my hard work.  Eventually friends, family and my hunting buddies would come over to stand around and discuss the finer points of my new mount.  In most cases the talks would always center around the fact that I thought he was bigger when I first saw him..  But alas, I digress!  As my walls have begun to fill up and my attempts to convert the bedroom into a new trophy room have failed, I have begun to discover the elgance (and affordability) of a nice European skull mount.

My first Euro mount came about after harvesting a nice mid-October Illinois whitetail.  Unfortunately due to a single-lung shot I was unable to recover the buck right away.  By the time I luckily stumbled upon the buck the next day, laying in a creek not 40 yards from my truck, the meat and cape had both been ruined.  Although it's not the optimal outcome I was glad to have recovered the animal.  Not wanting to go through the hassle of finding and purchasing another cape for the buck, I decided to get a Euro mount done.

Roughly a month later I got a call from my taxidermist that my buck was ready to be picked up.  In comparison to the standard 12 month wait on a shoulder mount this was some quick turnaround!  I picked up my skull a few days later and was amazed to see just how good it looked.  It had been professionally cleaned and looked great.  A friend of my dad's made me a nice wood plaque to display the skull on, and shortly thereafter it was hung up above the computer I'm sitting at right now.  And to be honest, even though it's probably the smallest rack of any buck I have in my office, its the one I look at the most.  I'm not sure what it is, but the beauty of the mount is quite intriguing.

From the creek...... the wall.

My 2nd European mount was done on the antelope I harvested this past summer in Wyoming while hunting with Table Mountain Outfitters.  Although it was my first antelope and a very memorable hunt, the buck didn't meet P&Y minimum requirements so I decided to get another skull mount.  My reasoning for this is that at just 30 years old I plan on shooting a whole bunch of animals before I hang up my bow including a few more speed goats.  After all, that was a fun hunt!  Knowing that, and hoping to score on a bigger buck one day I opted for the Euro mount. staff member Jessica Edd actually handled the mount for me and much like my whitetail from the year before, it turned out great!  I haven't gotten a plaque for it yet, but it still looks great on the wall by itself.

From the field..... the wall.  Thanks again to Jessica Edd for the great job!

Having been fortunate enough to harvest two nice whitetails with my bow this fall I opted to only get a shoulder mount on one, while getting a Euro mount on the other.  This decision was partially monetary (hey, saving almost $400 in taxidermy bills is never a bad thing) and partially because I want to continue to fill out my European mount collection as I get older.   I should have my newest addition to the family back from the taxi before too long, and I'll make sure to post an update when he arrives!

If you're looking for an economical alternative to a shoulder mount for your next harvest, I'd seriously consider a European Mount.  I was skeptical how much I would like them at first, but the more I look at them the more I like them.  Perhaps you'll feel the same way!

My First Official Pope & Young Whitetail

by Justin Zarr 3. June 2009 14:28
Justin Zarr

Growing up and cutting my teeth bowhunting here in Illinois I never quite realized just how spoiled we are when it comes to big whitetails.  My first few seasons in the field and throughout high school I saw more P&Y caliber whitetails, and screwed up more chances at them, than many hunters may have in their hunting careers.  It wasn't until I hit my early twenties that I started taking my bowhunting a little bit more seriously, and consequently started to experience some more success.  I have been fortunate enough at my ripe young age of 28 to have successfully harvested 3 whitetails with my bow that gross over 130", and while this may not be a grand accomplishment in the vast hunting community, I am fairly proud of these bucks.

In the fall of 2007 I was fortunate enough to harvest a nice 3 1/2 year old whitetail while participating in the Campbell Outdoor Challenge TV show in Southern Illinois.  After rough scoring the buck shortly after he was shot, I had a good feeling that he would net high enough to be entered in the Pope & Young Record Book.  Being a die-hard bowhunter and believing very much in with the Pope & Young organization stands for, I decided to have my buck officially scored several weeks ago. 

My 2007 Southern Illinois whitetail.

Local P&Y scorer, and former P&Y Vice President, Brian Scarnegie was kind enough to do the honors for me.  After the tale of the tape was added up, and then deducted, my buck ended up net scoring 127 0/8 inches even - just barely squeaking past the 125" minimum requirement.  So once my check and paperwork go through, I too will have my name in the famed P&Y record book.  I have to admit, it's a pretty cool feeling.

For those if you interested in learning more about Pope & Young, or to find official score sheets or a P&Y scorer in your area you can find all the information you need on their website at

The official score sheet.

Speaking of this particular buck, shortly after he was officially scored he was also mounted and is now at home on my wall where I can admire him.  My local taxidermist, Dale Schwab, does a wonderful job and has been mounting animals for my family and friends since I was a little kid.  This particular mount is done on a McKenzie "Ben Mears" Semi-Upright Offset Series mannikin and I think it looks great.  Dale does a wonderful job on the eye and nose detail, which to me makes the world of difference when it comes to a good mount.  Hopefully I won't get skunked again this fall and have another trophy whitetail for Dale to mount come November!


If you're looking for an outfitter in Illinois that will take great care of you and has some AWESOME whitetails check out Campbell Illinois Whitetails at  These guys have some of the very best ground in Illinois and offer what I feel is a very good chance at harvesting a P&Y caliber buck.  My buck was taken in 2007, and on our return trip this past fall I was lucky enough to film my hunting partner Mr. Mike Willand shoot a beautiful mid-130's buck on the 2nd day of our hunt.  Two P&Y bucks in two years, it's hard to argue with that kind of success!

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