How to Cape a Deer

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You’ve taken down the deer of your dreams, and you want to commemorate that phenomenal hunting experience by turning it into a trophy.  But taxidermists often want the head to be capped before you present it to them. What’s the best way of capping your deer?

Here is how to cape a deer and ensure your taxidermist gets the best out of your trophy:

Handle with Care 

The process of creating a fantastic deer mount starts as soon as the shot animal hits the ground. The decisions you make from this point to when you deliver the deer to the taxidermist will shape your trophy’s quality.  

If the deer is treated poorly in the field, it’ll be harder for the taxidermist to sculpt a quality trophy. The number one tip is, “you’re better off leaving more than less.” The taxidermist can trim extra tissue or hide, but they can’t add any. 

Besides, if your deer is treated poorly, your taxidermist may not be able to salvage it. This means he’ll have to find another cape, which means it’ll take a while before you get your trophy.

When moving the deer from the woods, don’t tie a rope on its neck. If you have to use a rope, wrap it around the antlers. And if you need to tow him for some distance, you should put your jacket or some kind of protective material under the shoulders. The point is, avoid dragging the hide on the ground so that it remains intact.

Initial Capping

Here is how to cap a deer so that it’s in the best shape when it gets to the taxidermist:

Use Sharp knives

Before you make your first incision, ensure your knife is sharp. A blunt knife can mess-up the cape and thus degrade the quality of your trophy. Here, find are some of the best capping knives.

First Cut

To start the capping process, you should first cut the torso. Slit the hide right at the middle point of the deer’s ribs and then encircle the chest – you cut should end where it started.

The Legs

Once you’ve made the torso incision, you should shift to the front legs. Slit the hide just above the front legs’ knees. Your incision should encircle the leg. 

Connect the Cuts

Not that you’ve made circular slits around the front legs and the torso, it’s time to connect the cuts. Make an incision at the back of the front legs. Starting from where you made the cut around the leg, walk your way up to where you cut the torso. Make a similar cut on the other front leg.

Skin it

From here, you should now carefully peel the hide from the body tissue. Work your way up to the head. 

At this point, you should not make any more incisions on the cape. The general advice is that you should make another cut on the cape – from head to neck. But unless your taxidermist instructs you to make this neck-to-head cut, don’t do it. Modern taxidermists prefer not to have this cut. 

Not cutting the head will make the skinning process trickier. But, if you hang the deer upside down during this process, it’ll be easier for you to peel the skin as you’ll have better access. 

Make a Neck Cut

Once you’ve caped your deer up to jaw and ears, it’s now time to separate the head from the torso. You’ll make this cut at the point where the neck and head are exposed. At 3 inches below the head-neck junction, make a cut that encircles neck muscles (no hide cuts at this point), and that goes deep into the spine. 

Separate the Spine

With the spine exposed, it’s time to sever the head from the rest of the body. So, while holding the antlers’ bases, pull and twist until the neck separates from the spine (with the hide attached). Alternatively, you can cut the spine using a bone saw. Just ensure you don’t cut the cape while trying to severe the spine. 

Decision Time

You likely won’t need to do much after the cutting off the head. Most hunters wrap the cape and take it to the taxidermist. But if you can’t take it immediately, you should wrap it up carefully and then put it in your freezer. Ensure that the ears and nose don’t touch anything that’s already frozen (so, you should also wrap them up). 

If you want to be a bit more adventurous and peel the hide off the skull, you should first get a sharp blade. In this case, a scalpel will be ideal. 

Skull Capping 

The Y Cut

Capping the skin on the skull is the trickiest part. Start by making a 3-inch cut, starting from the backside of the antler toward the neck. Repeat the process on the opposite antler. The two cuts should merge and form a V-shape. 

Now starting from the foot of the V-shape, make another 4-inch cut that runs straight down the back of the deer’s neck. You’ll be left with a Y-shaped cut. 

Once you made the Y cut, you shouldn’t make any other cuts on the hide. From here on, you’ll simply peel the hide from meat tissue and cartilage. 

Around the Antlers

Slowly peel the cape from the deer’s skull. Starting from the antler bases, work your way down in each direction so that you have enough space for the next process.

Down the Skull

Once you’ve created room around the antler bases, work your way down to the forepart of the skull. Peel the hide beside the bases of the ears and work your way to the back. You should, however, never nick the cape. You simply need to peel the skin on the skull, starting the Y-cut, and broaden your capping across the deer’s head. 

The Ears

Cut through the tissue in the ear. Severe the ear canal as well. The ear will then go limp. Repeat this procedure on the other ear. 

The eyes

This is one of the harder parts of the capping process. Begin by carefully peeling the hide around the eyes. Work carefully and slowly without slicing through the cape. One of the useful tricks I’ve found is that I keep the off-hand fingers on the eyes so that I sense how close my blade is.  

Be extra cautious when capping through the tear ducts and eye corners. It’s super-easy to mess these spots. The eyes are quite tricky. Once you’re done with them, your work is as good as done.

Down the Face

Once you’ve caped the ears and eyes area, you should proceed to the deer’s jaws and the bridge of its nose. Work your way downwards till you get to the nose itself.

The Bottom Jaw

Up to this point, the jaw has been in a normal position. But for you to effectively cape the bottom jaw, you should flip it so that the nostrils point upwards. Open the deer’s mouth. Starting from the bottom jaw, carefully make incisions at the jawline where the jawbone and the gums meet. 

Leave as much tissue and meat as you can on the cape. You’re better off giving your taxidermist extra work than chopping off too much tissue from the cape. Peel the hide and tissue till you get to the top of the deer’s neck. Caping around the lips is a tricky hurdle. So slowly and carefully make precise cuts

The Nose

Like you did in the previous step, carefully make an incision where the bone and gums meet. Severe the cartilage in the nose, and leave as much of the nasal tissue and cartilage on the cape. As you work upwards, follow the bone that’s on the deer’s bridge of the nose. Always angle your blade toward the bone, and keep it off the cape. 

Remaining Cuts 

By now, much of the cape should be peeled off the skull. You only check all around the cape and carefully sever any remaining connective tissue. Generally, it’s the deer’s neck and the jaw’s base that’ll need additional caping. Once the cape is detached, pull the skull out through the Y cut you made initially. Caping is now complete. 

Take Out the Skull Plate

Once you’ve freed the cape, detach the antlers from the skull plate. To do this, make two cuts – at the back and the front of the antler bases – and then remove them. Your cuts should be angled downwards toward the underside of the antlers’ bases. The antlers should come off with the skull plate attached. You should then remove any tissue and meat on the skull plate and clean it thoroughly. 

For you to create an excellent deer mount, you need to make good decisions and incisions right from the hunting field. Even best taxidermists can’t get the much out of a poorly caped deer; this is why the above capping process is vital. 

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