It doesn’t matter whether it’s a 10-point buck or a 10-pound largemouth, a trophy mounted on your wall brings back the most wonderful of memories. But let that trophy get shabby, either through inattention or ignorance, and you are doing a huge disservice to both the game and yourself.
There are few people who know as much about keeping a trophy in perfect shape as Don Swope, owner of U.S 31 Bait and Tackle. Swope has been a professional taxidermist for nearly three decades and has artistically preserved nearly every type of fish and game species, from animals as big as a buffalo to as small as a crayfish. He has won nearly every type of state award in the Master’s Division of certified taxidermists.
When it comes to taking care of your own trophies, he says heat and sunlight can be a mount’s worst enemies.
“They are both prime causes in drying out a trophy’s hair making it so brittle it breaks off at the slightest disturbance,” he explained. “It has a similar effect on skin or fish mounts, combining to dry out the skin and causing it to crack.”
This is bad news for anyone who plans to hang their trophy in the traditional spot — over the fireplace.
Swope says it’s better to find an inner wall where there is good air circulation and out of the sun’s direct rays.
When that mount of a lifetime gets dusty, Swope advises using a vacuum with a brush attachment to clean it. You can also lightly wipe it down with a soft, clean cloth. Whatever you choose, it’s critical you stroke only in the direction of the fur, hair or scales.
Once you have found the perfect place in your house or office to display the animal, the less you disturb it the better, but if you have to then only grab it by the antlers or muzzle. Always try to avoid contact with the longer hairs, which can break easily. This is especially true with hollow-haired animals such as deer.
There are also a couple ways to protect the nose of big-game animals. The easiest is to apply a very thin coat of petroleum jelly on it. You also can spray a light coat of furniture polish on a soft cloth and gently wipe it. Both will provide the realistic wet look. Use a Q-Tip sprayed with glass cleaner to keep the sparkle in those artificial eyes.
One of the biggest problems Swope sees is improper storage of fish and game before getting it to a taxidermist. For some, it may be a time thing while others may store them until they save money for the down payment.
If you can’t get your trophy to a taxidermist immediately, Swope offers some tips.
“For game animals and bird species always keep it dry as possible,” he explained. “Don’t spray water on it and if it’s already wet, towel dry it then place it in a plastic bag and get it into the freezer as soon as possible.”
For fish, the opposite holds true. “Wrap it in a sopping wet towel then put it in a plastic bag before putting it in the freezer,” he added. “I don’t suggest wrapping the fish in newspaper as some may think. Paper sucks moisture from the fish and can leave news print on the scales.”
Swope also recommends placing aluminum foil over all the fins as a way to help protect them.
For “catch-and-release” anglers, another option to remember a fish of a lifetime is having a fiberglass reproduction made. For this, Swope needs two measurements which include total length (from lip to tail) and girth at its widest point.
“I also like a close-up picture of the fish,” he added. “The same fish species taken from different waters can have a variation of color and I want to make it as realistic and authentic as possible, this is why a picture is important.”
I couldn’t help but ask if anyone had ever asked him to preserve something out of the ordinary.
“Oh yeah,” Swope said shaking his head. “I have preserved two small dogs, but that was only because their owners were close family friends,” he said with a tight-lipped smile. “But to be honest, I’ll never do it again and just want to stick with wild game.”
Deer Season Sees Small Decline
According to a recent report released by the Indiana Department of Natural Resources, Hoosier deer hunters bagged fewer deer in 2011 than the year before, but the 129,018 total was still the fourth-best season on record.
The total represented a 3.7 percent drop from the all-time record harvest of 134,004 set in 2010. So far, in our state’s 60-year history of modern deer hunting, hunters have taken nearly 2.99 million deer.
“It becomes somewhat predictable the harvest would fall in line close to where it has the past couple years,” said Chad Stewart, deer management biologist for the DNR. “It appears in some areas the deer population is in fact down, but those areas aren’t many. Overall, the herd is thriving.”
In 2011, the statewide harvest was still almost 5,500 deer above the 10-year average.
It is typical for Stewart to receive many complaints, both during and after deer season, from hunters who did not see the numbers they typically saw.
“The decline of Indiana’s deer herd is greatly exaggerated,” he explained. “Local populations in some areas may be down, but the state’s herd is overall abundant and healthy.”
Weather could have been a factor in the lower overall harvest. The Indiana State Climate Office reported above normal temperatures for 21 days last November, making it the ninth-warmest November on record since 1895. It was also the third-wettest November in history. Hunters also had to deal with many days of strong winds. Not only can these factors limit deer movement, they also can have an impact on hunters taking to the field.
In 2011 hunters purchased 276,398 deer licenses, the most since the DNR began its computerized point-of-sale licensing system. It was a 3 percent increase from the previous year.
“Indiana seems to be somewhat of an exception to the norm in that our hunters continue to come out and participate in hunting,” said Stewart. “Whether it is the tradition that is ingrained in Indiana hunters or benefits seen from an emphasis on recruiting and retaining hunters is hard to say, but something is working and that’s positive.”
• John Martino is the Tribune’s outdoors columnist. He may be reached by email at email@example.com.