There is something fascinating about antlers. Those ivory colored protrusions of bone steal countless hours of effort and sleep from hunters every year, while also propping up a sprawling modern hunting industry.
It is tough to say where this fascination comes from, but artifacts and cave drawings make it clear that our ancestors held a similar preoccupation with antlers.
In our modern era, antlers and deer mounts are a ubiquitous symbol for the outdoors and the outdoor lifestyle that appeals to hunters and non-hunters alike. Cracker Barrel restaurants across the country aren’t just appealing to hunters by featuring a shoulder mount as the centerpiece of their fireplace decor.
They are marketing to the seemingly universal feelings of appreciation and nostalgia that are often associated with antlers.
With this very human fascination with antlers and their displays in mind, it is no wonder why the first questions a hunter gets after putting a good buck on the ground is often, “Are you going to get him mounted?” The question seems both entirely natural and trivial at the same time, given the work that immediately follows a filled tag.
However, it is a question that should require a little forethought and planning to answer. So, whether you have a cape in the freezer ready to be sent to the taxidermist, or you are still hunting for a “wall hanger,” here are a few things to consider.
Mount Memories, Not Inches
Taking down a big buck is always cause for excitement, and there is no doubt that the size of a buck’s antlers is an incentive to get a deer mounted. However, the memories attached to the antlers should hold just as much sway in this decision as the size of the rack itself.
It is easy to get caught up in expectations of others in the sport of hunting, but few of us got into hunting simply to shoot big bucks. As we matured as hunters we built memories over time, hunting and exploring with family and friends.
Any deer that ignites those memories or represents a special experience for you is worth the wall space. Don’t let outside pressures tell you that a small buck isn’t worth a shoulder mount, or a big buck has to end up on the wall.
After years of trying, a friend of mine bagged his first buck, a handsome young 8 point. He did so while hunting out of his Grandfather’s stand, using his grandfather’s weapon. “It wasn’t the biggest buck,” he explained, “but that’s not what was important.” That buck is certainly wall worthy and is now sitting at the taxidermist.
Conversely, the first deer I ever sent to the taxidermist was done so not because of the rich memories of the hunt, but simply because it was my largest buck. Since then, I have put a few more on the wall that are much more meaningful because of who I shared those moments with.
When I look at a mount on my wall, I want to experience all those emotions again and to be able to share each story with others. After all, you’re mounting the memories of the hunt just as much as you are mounting inches of bone.
As long as you are determining for yourself what constitutes a mount-worthy buck, you will be happy every time you look at your trophy wall.
Does it Fit?
Of course, every animal you take deserves to be remembered in some way, but not every house has the limitless wall space, nor would every household value taxidermy the same. The practical question of, “Where will it go?” is certainly a primary consideration in your taxidermy decisions.
I am fortunate to have a little bit of wall space to display my mounts and, more importantly, a wife that appreciates the character that a few deer mounts and shed antlers can bring to our interior decor.
Not everyone is in that position – and that’s okay. If you drop $400-700 on a mount, only to shove it in the closet or attic, it’s tough to conclude that the expense of a shoulder mount was worth it.
If space is the issue, several companies sell space-condensing mount hanging systems that allow you to fit more shoulder mounts in tight spaces. If location in the home is the issue, remember, a mount is meant to be enjoyed.
If you will get just as much enjoyment with placing your mount in the basement or garage than you would above the mantle, start searching for a taxidermist. If not, then you may want to consider an alternative to a shoulder mount.
What is Your Budget?
The final decision to get a buck mounted can often come down to the budget. I would love to have an Instagrammable wall full of quality shoulder mounts. Who wouldn’t? However, I know my small hunting budget reality means that will not be a wish come true anytime soon.
For some, coming up with the extra money for a shoulder mount will not be a deterrent. For most hunters, however, spending the money on a mount may mean that there is less cash to devote to other aspects of our hunting passion.
It is certainly worth considering what you are giving up in order to pay a taxidermy bill. Put it this way, I don’t want the cost of a shoulder mount to leave me without the ability to purchase something that I need for future successful hunts such as rain gear, new boots, etc.
If a shoulder mount just isn’t in the cards, there are some other great options to memorialize your hunt. One of my favorites is the budget friendly European mount, also known as a skull mount.
These look great and save considerable space on the wall. A quick search on YouTube and you can find a multitude of videos explaining how you can DIY your own mount for little or no money.
Additionally, a classic antler plaque mount is another space and cost effective method to display your antlers. There’s also a lot of great looking mounting options from a company called, Skull Hooker. They deliver some really classy options for mounting a euro mount, on the wall, table, or stand.
Also, there is nothing wrong with keeping a bucket or bushel basket of antlers from past hunts in your garage or basement. One of my fondest Thanksgiving memories was the year when I found my Grandfather’s bucket of antlers in his basement.
The memory of each deer, from the 3-inch spike, to the nice 8-point that had part of its antler shot off, was alive again for that evening as he went through the story of each hunt with me.
I have yet to find a fancy enough frame to make any leftover deer tag look as nice on the wall as a shoulder mount. So obviously, priority number one is putting your energy toward putting a good buck on the ground.
That said, it’s okay to dream a little and to be prepared for when you do finally walk up on a buck you deem worthy of the wall.