How to care for your trophy in the field in Alaska
It has finally happened. The animal you’ve dreamed about taking is lying on the ground. Now what? If you’re not prepared, you could ruin that taxidermy trophy of a lifetime. Whether it’s a 70-inch bull moose, your child’s first black bear, or a King Eider on St. Paul Island, knowing how to care for that animal before it gets to the taxidermist matters. It can be the difference between a quality mount to enjoy for a lifetime or a disappointing story of it going to waste.
by Garry Greenwalt
We’ve talked to some top taxidermists across Alaska including Samantha Ball of Naturally Wild Taxidermy, Grant Gullicks of Wild Reflections, Jesse Dahlberg of Dahlberg’s Taxidermy, Dave Gum of Caribou Ridge Taxidermy, and Matt Potter of Potter’s Taxidermy for their insight on field care for your trophy so you’ll be able to honor that animal and relive those memories long after the hunt is over.
Common Big-Game Field-Care Mistakes to Avoid
All of our experts agree that the biggest mistakes they see year in and year out are a simple lack of knowledge of proper skinning techniques and field care. These mistakes are easy to avoid with some simple preseason preparation.
How to Deal with Warm Weather and Remote Locations
Remote locations and warm weather can present some serious challenges for hunters trying to preserve trophies in the field. All of our taxidermists agree that knowing how to split lips and noses, turn ears and proper application of salt is crucial.
Proper Big-Game Skinning Techniques
It is imperative that you learn proper skinning techniques and the associated cuts. If you are new to the game or not entirely comfortable with it, go visit a taxidermy shop for guidance. Pack a how-to skinning guide with you in the field for quick reference. Watch some videos. These are essential skills for any hunter to have.
Small Mammal Field Care
Coyote-sized or smaller animals should not be skinned unless by a taxidermist. Don’t gut the animal, either. Small mammals, especially carnivores, will spoil quickly because of their thin hide and bacteria. Call your taxidermist to schedule a time to drop off any small game animal. As soon as the carcass cools completely, put it in a plastic bag and freeze it.
How to Take Care of Birds in the Field
Birds are relatively easy to take care of in the field, but there are still some common mistakes that you need to avoid and steps to take to ensure you get a quality trophy back.
The Best Knives for Field Care
Our experts’ answers on the best knives were pretty unanimous.
How to Preserve Velvet
Velvet-covered antlers can be a nightmare to deal with. They are delicate and preserving the thin tissue is time sensitive. Follow the advice below to give you the best chance at preserving the velvet, but keep in the mind there is always the synthetic option.
General Taxidermy Advice
We asked each of our top taxidermists for one last piece of advice they’d give our readers before heading out into the field.
How-to Videos and Other Reference Materials
Meet Alaska’s Top Taxidermists
Special thanks to Hunt Alaska’s Top Taxidermists for their tips and advice to produce the best-looking trophy for your memories.
Jesse Dahlberg, Dahlberg’s Taxidermy, Wasilla, AK – WEBSITE
Born and raised in Minnesota, Jesse Dahlberg joined the service in ‘92, retiring 20 years later in 2012. Taxidermy started out as a hobby for Jesse then turned into a profession in 2009. Jesse started Dahlberg’s Taxidermy in April of 2009 out of a three-car garage but it soon grew and moved to Wasilla where he operates out of a 3500 square foot facility attached to his house for security purposes. Having his shop attached to the house is nice for security but it is hard for Jesse to stop working sometimes until 11 PM most days, or even 1 to 2 AM some days. Jesse employs two people full time that flesh, turn, salt, etc. He is self taught and says he does the best he can and strives to get better each day. Take a look at Jesse’s work. “The best he can” is pretty darned excellent.
Dave Gum, Caribou Ridge Taxidermy, North Pole, AK – WEBSITE
I was born in Fairfax, Virginia. I joined the Air Force when I was 19, and was a Military Working Dog Handler. I have always loved hunting, and have wanted to be a taxidermist since I was a young teenager. I moved to Alaska in 2007 and once I got here I never wanted to leave! After serving in the Military, I spent a year In Afghanistan working as a Kennel Master on a civilian contract. I then put everything I had into my dream and opened my business in 2013. I love taxidermy and everything involved with it. Everyday is different and I enjoy the the time the hunters walk in my shop. I love listening to their hunting stories and seeing the animals they bring in, all the way to handing over the finished product and seeing the smile on the customer’s face when they pick up their mount.
Matt Potter, Potter’s Taxidermy, Soldotna, AK – WEBSITE
Matt started his taxidermy career at the ripe old age of 14, mounting a chukar from a neighbor’s game farm. After graduating high school he attended Mountain Valley Taxidermy School in Phoenix, Arizona, graduating in 1982. After working for a number of different studios in California and Nevada, he took a five-year break from the industry. Matt picked it back up about 15 years ago in Soldotna doing mostly bird and mammals on a part-time basis. Matt has competed and placed at the national level multiple times. 2018 will mark his first season operating his business in a full-time capacity.
Grant Gullicks, Wild Reflections, Chugiak, AK – WEBSITE
From a young age, Grant was passionate about the outdoors, fishing and hunting with his father at every opportunity and enjoying all that the Midwest has to offer. That passion for the outdoors and animals ultimately fostered an interest in taxidermy for Grant. He began working in taxidermy while still in high school. He expanded on that training during his college years by studying habitat recreation, animal physiology and anatomy, all while using his taxidermy skills to pay his way. Beginning his career at such a young age offered him opportunities to work and train with some of the top taxidermists in the industry, including the world-famous Animal Artistry studio in Reno, Nevada.
Grant’s passion for the outdoors still runs deep and the pull to Alaska could not be ignored. For the last eight years he has called the Anchorage area home, establishing his custom studio, Wild Reflections, with a reputation for truly exceptional and unique mounts of Alaskan species. His passion for perfection and realism is evident in every piece that leaves his studio, but sheep are his favorite subjects. He brings eighteen years of reputable experience, artistic vision and the ability to create a one of a kind piece that will capture the memory of your hunt perfectly.
Samantha Ball, Naturally Wild Taxidermy, Wasilla, AK – WEBSITE
I grew up hunting and fishing, and spending most weekends at our various hunting camps in the Adirondacks (upstate New York). I was very artistic from a young age and always curious about taxidermy. I learned preservation techniques and dabbled in small taxidermy projects while living in New York. I moved to Alaska 10 years ago and worked various jobs to save up enough money to start Naturally Wild Taxidermy. I attended The Artistic School of Taxidermy in Idaho where I specialized in Alaska Lifesize, shoulder mounts, birds, and fish. I have owned and operated the business full time for three years. Business continues to grow every year and we are excited to expand services to include African animals starting this year!