The planets actually aligned — and because of all the hard work you put into selecting that primo stand location, cultivating the perfect food plot and sighting in your rifle — you drop the buck of a lifetime dead in its tracks.

The big deer is a true wall-hanger, and you can already picture it in that place of honor you’ve been saving above the mantle in your living room.

So what steps do you need to take — or what mistakes should you avoid — in preparing the deer for its date with your taxidermist?

Wade Wolkart of with Wade’s Taxidermy in Denham Springs, La., shared a few tips to help ensure you get a mount you’ll be proud of for years to come:


1) Get the deer skinned out and cooled down as fast as possible — “The biggest mistake people make is they kill these animals, and they’re so proud of them they parade them all over creation showing them off, and they end up going bad riding around in the back of their truck ­— and when they get to the taxidermist they’re no good,” Wolkart said. “So the biggest thing is get them skinned out and either on ice right away or in a freezer. 

“If they put them on ice, what they should do is put them on ice but put the cape and the head in a bag by itself and then pack ice around the bag. That way the cape is not floating in all that melting ice, which has all that bacteria-filled water and everything else in it.”

If bacteria take hold and decomposition begins, the animal’s hair begins to fall out — and there’s nothing that can be done to reverse that process.

“Once that happens, there is no saving it. It’s done — that’s why this is so critical,” Wolkart said. “As soon as that heart stops beating in an animal, bacteria is a real risk factor. Once the animal takes its last breath, that’s when field care comes into play, and it’s so important to get it taken care of properly. 

“The clock starts kicking when the buck goes down.”

The amount of time you have varies, depending on the air temperature, Wolkart said.

“It’s very weather-sensitive,” he explained. “If you kill it during bow season, you better get it cooled down in an hour or two, at the most. If it’s good and cold during the rut and it’s 40 degrees or below, you have more time.

“But in warmer temperatures, you have to be more efficient and get it done as quick as possible.”


2. If you can’t get to your taxidermist right away, put the head and cape in the freezer. — Don’t make the mistake of keeping the head and cape in an ice chest for too long, Wokart said.

Although it’s on ice, bacteria can — and will —  grow.

“Even though it’s on ice, don’t parade around town for a week showing off the buck, pulling it in and out of the ice chest,” Wolkart said. “Even if you’re putting fresh ice on it, as long as it’s above-freezing, bacteria can grow.

“So get it to a taxidermist or a freezer, whichever is most convenient, as quick as possible.”


3. Correct freezer prep is critical. Place the head and cape in a plastic bag, and tie the bag in a knot between the antlers.

“Tie the bag up good so the cold freezer air doesn’t get to the critical areas like the tips of the ears, the nose or the lips, because those will freezer burn even in a short period of time if that cold air can get to them,” Wolkart said. “Put it in the freezer and freeze that sucker solid. It can stay like that for a long, long time. 

“I get them in here after eight or nine months (after) they’ve been in peoples’ freezers, and I just thaw them out and get to work on them.”


4. Cape the deer out properly, taking everything from the middle of the rib cage to the nose — This is definitely a case where less is not more.

If you’re not sure what to do when caping the buck, ask someone — or just bring the whole deer to the taxidermist. 

“My general rule of thumb is if there’s too much, I can throw it away,” Wolkart said. “So err on the side of caution and bring me more than you think I’ll need.”

When skinning a deer that will be mounted, he tells everyone to keep everything from the middle of the rib cage all the way to the nose. 

“That’s what I need, and that will take care of 95 percent of your mannequins that you’re going to put that deer on,” Wolkart said. “Most people that are not familiar with it take a bunch of rib cage and back skin; then they cut the brisket too short up in front of the legs, and I end up with a brisket that won’t work on anything and I have to throw the cape away.

“If you’re not sure, ring it at the kneecaps and bring everything to me. Keep it all as intact as possible, especially the chest and the shoulders. All that armpit skin that you don’t see on the deer — you see some of it on the mannequin, so that armpit area is often cut out because they don’t think we need it.

“In reality, we need more than people realize.”