Caping a big game Mammal

Introduction

Be it a deer, goat, feral pig, Cape buffalo. The basic cuts remain the same for a shoulder mount.

The most difficult part of the hunt should be over, but all too often it seems that the work has just begun. How do you actually go about skinning an animal?               

Removing the cape

The removal of the trophy headskin is hard to understand at first as the work is much more demanding and requires considerable skill. With some practice the procedure becomes easier each time. The idea is to remove the cape so that the skin may later be used as a mask to pull over the built up replica of the dead animal. The opening cuts are made to the back of the animal as shown in the diagram below on a stag.

Where to make cuts

It is wise to make the main cut down the spine to a point well past the shoulder blades, as once the skin is cut off, more cannot easily be added - although surplus may be removed. If one remembers simply to take half the skin you cannot go wrong. The main incision along the spine is ended about 50mm short of the antler coronets, and a ‘V’ cut is made to reach the base behind each of these. At this stage, the skin is worked away from the shoulder and the neck until the base of the head is reached.

Ears

The ears are freed by cutting below them close to the bone, running the knife along the skull so that the shiny bulbous core of the cartilage is not severed. The skin is never cut but levered away from the pedicles, working the tip of a screwdriver upwards under the coronet - not downwards (which usually hacks the tube of skin). The ‘V’ flap between the coronets is undercut and pushed over the skull while the knife tip is worked forward under the skin until the eyebrows are encountered.

Eyes and Preorbital Glands

This is the most difficult part of the operation. The best treatment of the eyes is by inserting the index finger between the eyeball and the bone at the back corner of the eye. The tip of the knife is used to nick a line around the raised bone rim, and then the knife separates the inner eye skin from the bone wall so that it comes away as a cylinder of slippery, almost transparent skin. Be careful not to cut the corner of the eyelid, or sever the preorbital gland at the front corner of the eye.

This gland is found in all deer species and must be removed in its entirety or hair will slip and the trophy will be marred. The best way to remove the preorbital gland is to lever it out of its cavity using a screwdriver, rather than cutting around it. Then snick the muscle at the bottom edge of the cavity and the preobital gland is now freed.

Mouth

Cut down around the snout until the mouth is reached. My technique is to cut around the gum line inside the mouth, working the knife under the chin until the skin on the bottom of the jaw is completely freed. Now turn your attention to the top jaw, cutting around the gum line on the inside of the mouth, as per the bottom jaw. Once completed now focus on cutting from the inside where you left off from the snout, cutting through the cartilage of the nose, taking particular care to see the knife does not come through the skin too close to the nostrils. The skin can now be pulled off intact and laid out, hair side down, to cool.

At this stage, all excess flesh and fat must be removed from the cape, the lip skin split from the inside so that salt will penetrate the meat of the lips, and the ears inverted to the tips.

Splitting the lips

The inside lip skin needs to be separated from the outer lip skin to the edge being careful not to go too close to the hair butts. A razor sharp knife is needed for this precise job.

Inverting the Ears

Inverting the ears is a difficult operation and is difficult to describe. It is necessary to separate the back ear skin from the smooth gristly cartilage attached to the front of the ear. This is so that salt may reach the otherwise impervious ear skin. Remove all the muscle from the around the base of the ear. Work the knife tip between the back skin and the front cartilage of the ear ‘til the tip is reached. Alternatively, this tedious job can be performed better with ear pliers. The ear is then inverted.

The cape is now well salted with fine household salt (not coarse salt), rubbed carefully into all the creases and folds of the skin. The skin then needs to be folded ‘flesh to flesh,’ rolled up and placed in a hessian bag and hung overnight to allow the moisture to drip from it. No longer than 24 hours later the salt needs to be scraped and shaken from the cape and the cape re-salted, ready for the taxidermist.

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