Your first hunt in Africa will be an unforgettable experience. And so will be your second, and third… Well mounted trophies will not only support these memories, but help share them with your family and friends. What type of mount will work best, and how to choose the right taxidermy studio that will do justice to your trophy and not ruin your bank account? In the end of the day, only you can answer these questions. Here are a few tips how to make the right taxidermy choices.
The best advice anyone can give you is to think about your trophies before you actually harvest them – before you leave for your hunting trip, in fact. As soon as you’ve settled on the species you plan to hunt, make the decisions on the two main questions: how you want them fixed, and where to do that. The “where” part, in many aspects, depends on the “how” part, and the “how” part depends mostly on your budget and available space. Seriously, unless you want your residence to look like a biology museum repository, an average house can hardly fit more than five shoulder mounts. Let’s take a quick look on the basic options:
Full-Sized Mounts, Pedestal Mounts and Groups.
This is what most of us would like to have. Some modern taxidermy studios turn it into a form of art. You can get not only realistic full-sized animals, but the whole animal groups – like a leopard springing on an antelope – that look totally stunning. The fantasy of the taxidermists and their clients is limitless. They can mount a mountain goat perched on a tiny cliff, to be set up way under the ceiling, or stuff only the front half of the antelope, making it as if it is just appearing out of the jungle. Pedestal mounts, in taxidermy lingo, are mounts where a front part of an animal is fixed on a stand, often made to resemble an object of the animal’s natural environment, and are often very impressive.
However, there’s price to pay. Full and pedestal mount prices run into thousands of dollars, and that, along with their formidable size, makes them, let’s say, not for everyone.
Skull Mounts, Euro Mounts, Shield Mounts
By contrast, this is the most affordable option. To clean the skull of any tissue that may rot, and fix it to a wooden plaque, is not that expensive, and easy enough to be a DIY project. For all its affordability, even European kings were not above this type of trophy mount – in their “hunting castles” you can see walls covered with literally hundreds of deer skull mounts, and some of them have been there for centuries! If properly prepared, these mounts require minimum of care. While everything that has skin in it must be periodically inspected and treated for insect damage, the most you need to do with a Euro mount is dust it. The downside is that not everybody finds the sight of an animal’s skull pleasing, so make sure other people who live in your house are OK with that. As an alternative, you can do a kind of Euro mount called the “shield” mount, where only the topmost part of the skull is preserved and fixed to the plaque, but this would be a bit more expensive.
Shoulder Mounts, or Cape Mounts.
There you get an animal’s head and neck, and sometimes the breast, mounted so as to be hung on the wall. It’s called a Cape mount because originally they used this way to fix trophies that came from South Africa. The point was to save space for full mounts, but still give the viewers an idea of how these exotic creatures look like in real life. Given that it was in the time when you couldn’t just google “Blue Gnu, images”, this was an important consideration. This is perhaps the best compromise between life-likeness of the animal, size and cost, and still the most popular option.
As a matter of fact, the world of trophy mounting is almost infinite. Skin is a no less memorable trophy than antlers or horns, and a rug’s value goes beyond sentimental and ornamental – think stepping onto a zebra skin as you get out of bed on a cold winter morning! Teeth of a boar or hippo make a compact and impressive trophy mount when fixed to an ornate plaque. Many people like buckets made of elephant legs. Surf the taxidermy studios web sites for inspiration.
In Africa or at Home?
The price of your safari normally counts basic preparation of your trophies – to last for the trip and to meet the government’s rules for prevention of spreading diseases. Then the trophies are sent to you or the taxidermy studio that would make them into mounts, ready to last a lifetime of admiration. The next choice you’ll have to make is whether they go to the taxidermist in the country of residence (known as “dip and ship”, or “dip and post”), or to a taxidermy studio in Africa.
Which is better? Opinions differ. A recent survey (the same one that provided data for our blog post on the cost of an African hunt) suggests that the hunters are split about 50-50 between doing their taxidermy on the spot or at home. And there are good reasons to choose either option.
The main advantage of doing your trophies in Africa is that the taxidermists have more experience with African fauna. The artisans who’re going to work on your trophy may have literally been born among these animals, and this will help them give your mounts the most natural postures and views.
The advantage of your local taxidermy studio, on the other hand, is that you have more control over the process. When you’re dealing with an African outfit, in the words of Carsten Skakkebaek of the First Class Trophy, what you get is a black box. If the taxidermists made any mistake with your trophy, by the time you receive the crate it’s often too late to do anything about it. With a local taxidermist, you have more options to see how your mounts are progressing, and if any conflicts arise (as they will in any business transaction), they’re much easier to sort out when you’re next door, not on another continent.
A lot depends also on which African country you’re talking about. Generally, the more developed the country, and especially its hunting industry, the higher are both prices and customer satisfaction. South Africa seems to be taking the lead, as in many other aspects, with Namibia taxidermists a very close country. As you move to states like Zimbabwe and Zambia, however, the prices become more and more affordable, and customer complaints more and more common.
Which Taxidermy Business to Choose?
It’s hard to recommend a specific name, but we at BookYourHunt.com are confident in the talent of our partners, Artistic Visions Wildlife Studio, First Class Trophy, or Wildlife Galleries, confirmed by both our experience and that of dozens of our clients. But there are other great companies and individuals in this business, that might work better for your specific situation. However, there are good taxidermists and bad taxidermists in all countries, so whatever company sounds like the real thing, be sure to check their reputation by searching for them in the Internet, on social media and hunting forums. Doing your homework may prevent big disappointments.
The ultimate guide is your gut feeling (or “the inner aesthetical perception”, as an art critic would put it). You look at samples of taxidermy from one studio or another, and go “Hey, I like the way it looks”, or “Nah, something ain’t right about it”. It’s important to have a chance to see the work of the taxidermists you’re considering in real life, not on photos or videos. That’s what outdoor shows are for!
How Much Will You Pay For Taxidermy?
That’s perhaps the most difficult question to answer. Many taxidermists’ prices are not openly advertised, and you’ll have to ask for a quote. This is the best course of action even if the taxidermy price lists are there for downloading, because your specific requirements, set of animals to work on, and other details, may make a big difference to the bottom line either way.
When comparing prices, remember that in most cases you get what you paid for. Like one hunter told us, “your memories of the hunt will improve over time, but a bad mount will always be a bad mount”. In the world of creative mounts, full mounts, and pedestal mounts, cost shouldn’t be your first or even second consideration. A few dollars saved will not recuperate the sour feel from the thought that your majestic animal could’ve looked so much better. Likewise, for a hunter on a budget, one great shoulder mount trophy will probably be a better memory and house decoration than five indifferent ones.
The survey we already mentioned claims an average African hunter spent about $2,800 on trophy handling and shipping. As a ballpark figure, here’s a table with the costs of taxidermy for five most popular African trophies, done in various ways, from price lists of our partners (Wildlife Gallery taxidermy price lists are available only on request). For comparison, there’s an African price list, which is an averaged aggregate from the offers of various taxidermists.
How About Shipping?
Don’t forget about shipping. The price of an African company may appear better than the quote of your local taxidermists, but once you add the cost of freight, the picture may change. With ready trophies, you have the choice of air or sea freight. Most hunters are concerned that humidity and salt in the air, associated with sea transport, may damage the trophies. Many taxidermists, however, claim that with proper packaging there’s nothing to fear, and the only thing that works against this option is that it takes considerably more time. Obviously, the bigger your mount, the greater the cost of shipping: Euro (skull) mounts cost about the same to ship in prepared and ready states; with full mounts the difference can be tremendous.
Shipping your trophies brings us to the question what is the fastest way to get your trophies done? Here the local taxidermists usually have an advantage. Most African studios promise short delivery times, but, unfortunately, few keep the promise. Often as many as a year and a half pass between the lucky shot and the arrival of the crate, especially if you choose to ship your trophies by sea.
Care for Trophies Begins In Camp
No matter how you choose your taxidermy studio, it’s important to have your trophies properly handled from the start. The work on your high-quality trophy mount begins early – in fact, before you press the trigger. You should avoid head and neck shots, and while they say “there’s no such thing as too much gun”, some caliber-bullet combinations make bigger and uglier exit holes than others. Try to avoid dragging the animal destined for your best mount, and see that it is skinned as soon as possible and processed with due care in camp. In most cases, it’s the PH’s responsibility to control the process, but it never hurts to pay attention too. Being perceived as a clueless person that gets on the skinner’s nerves by poking about is probably as bad as total indifference, but a bit of genuine interest in what and how people do usually improves motivation of the crew.
The Bottom Line
The bottom line is that we can’t give you a definite answer how to handle your trophies. There are too many personal variables that determine what decision would work best for you, not any Tom, Dick and Harry. The easiest way, perhaps, is to take advantage of the all-inclusive trophy handling services that some of our partners provide. They take full responsibility for the whole process, from picking up the trophies at the outfitter’s to delivering them to your door. They use the modern advances in telecommunication to help you keep track of what’s going on with your trophy at all times, so it doesn’t really matter where exactly the artisans who work on it are located. But even with these hi-tech global companies, the only person who can make the right decisions is you.
After all, it’s your trophies, and your memories. Taxidermists are only there to help you preserve them. And BookYourHunt.com is there to help you get the trophies. Start looking for your next adventure now!