Tis the time of year - and I know a lot of folks will be heading into bear country. As a forum sponsor and a taxidermist I hope to be able to help folks get their bears to their taxidermists (whether me or someone else) in the best possible condition. If you want a free dvd of bear skinning, I have one available that can be mailed or picked up. All you need to do is send me a self addressed $1.50 postage paid 5x7 envelope - and I will send you a dvd. My business mailing address is:
Alaska Wildlife Rugs and Taxidermy
990 Check St, Suite C
Wasilla, AK 99654
When skinning a bear it helps to know exactly what your plans are for the hide. Generally there are four options for mounts – shoulder (or shoulder pedestal), half lifesize, lifesize, and rug. If you are unsure of how you will want your bear mounted, it is best to follow the procedure for a lifesize mount.
Lifesize and half lifesize mounts require ALL external skin – including anus and genitals – please don’t cut them off - pretty please! Lifesize and half lifesizealso require foot pads, which rugs and shoulder mounts (obviously) do not. ALL types of mounts require inner eyelids, inner lip, nose/septum, and ear butts (The part of the ear that goes into the head – that is about 1/2inch in diameter where it is cut off).
Half lifesize mounts are typically upright bear, charging bear, or standing as if walking on all fours, with only the front feet on the mount. If you are going to do a half lifesize, do yourself a favor and bring the entire skin to the taxidermist. Have the entire skin tanned and let your taxi cut off what he or she doesn’t need. A couple of reasons for this…remember once you cut a hide and leave part of it in the field, you can never change your mind on your mount. You are stuck either with a half lifesize or a shoulder mount if that is all you bring out with you. And some half lifesize mounts require nearly the whole hide so having the whole hide is really best. LOL.
Shoulder mounts are just like a deer or caribou shoulder mount. If you know (for sure) you are going to have a shoulder mount, you do not have to bring the whole hide back. When you skin the bear make a complete and straight cut perpendicular to the bear’s body all the way around the chest, about eight inches behind the back of the front leg/shoulder (midway between shoulder and front of the back leg; remember you can never bring back too much hide, but having too little can be a costly fix). Then make a ring cut around the front leg about 4 inches below the elbow. make a cut through the point of the elbow and straight across the ribs/parallel to the spine - and meet up with the cut you previously made around the body. Then you can tube skin the rest of the hide up to the head. At this point it is easiest to cut off the head from the spine and let your taxidermist skin the head out. If you will be in the field for a long while, you will have to skin the head yourself. That is a lesson for another day.
Skinning for a rug and skinning for a lifesize mount are very similar – with a couple of differences. First of all, for a rug you want your cuts to be as symmetrical as possible, because for rugs, you will get most of your hide back and/or save your taxidermist a lot of sewing if you have a symmetrical hide to start with. Start with the front legs – Holding the leg as straight as possible, cut from the back edge of the pad to the elbow. Stay just to the inside of the point of the elbow. Then you will change the angle of your cut slightly so that you are cutting a line straight across the chest (not up toward the neck, or down toward the groin). Repeat with the opposite leg so that both sides meet at the same location.
Now move to the back legs. Cut from the center of the heel to an inch or so below the anus. You want this cut to run along the back of the leg – move your knife just ‘barely’ to the inside of the leg after you reach the bend where the knee is. Repeat with the other leg.
Now you can make your ventral cut which is a straight line from about 8 inches below the chin to the anus and through to the tip of the tail. Try to be as centered as possible. Remember if you are 4 inches off one side or the other, the stretched rug will be 4 inches off center – which translates to about 8 inches of lopsidedness. LOL…..(and which any good taxi would fix, btw) For a rug, you CAN and SHOULD cut right down the center of the genitals. BUT if you think you are going to do a lifesize or are considering a lifesize, go to one side or the other of the genitals by about 1-2 inches.
From these five cuts you can begin skinning the hide away from the body. It is easiest to cut the feet off at the ankle joints and skin them later, or have your taxidermist do that part. If you find you need to skin the feet there are essentially two options – one for lifesize/half lifesize and one for rug. For a rug you can completely remove the foot pad. This is done by making a cut around the very edge of the pad. For a lifesize you can skin around the edge and top of the pad where the toes are, making the pad like a flap or a ‘door’ that is attached by one side. Generally, I recommend leaving the foot pads on – they are easy for the taxidermist to remove after the hide is tanned, if they will not be needed.
Remember that no matter what – if you skin for a rug or a lifesize and leave the pads on – your options for the type of mount you do are not limited. You can do shoulder, pedestal, lifesize, and half lifesize with a ventrally skinned bear.
Some taxidermists like dorsally cut animals for lifesize or half lifesize mounts (definitely do NOT do a dorsal cut for a rug). This is achieved by making a cut from the back of the neck to a few inches from the tail and working the skin down the body and down the legs. Relief cuts are made along the back of the legs just long enough to get the feet out. Talk to your taxidermist about doing a dorsal cut before you go into the field. There is a time and place for that type of skinning, but it depends entirely on the pose you choose for your mount.
If you are unsure about how to make a particular cut you should call your taxidermist. We all have our own preferred ways to have animals skinned for mounts. The saying that there is more than one way to skin a cat is really true!
Please make sure you know and follow the salvage regulations and requirements for the area/unit and species you are hunting before leaving any part of the hide in the field. In some instances you are required to salvage (remove from the field) the ENTIRE hide and claws.
The attached pictures show green lines for approximate correct location for the rear leg cut, vs the yellow line with the red 'x' through it... which is NOT correct.