With the fall hunting seasons now here, or soon to be, some of us are thinking meat – others, Boone and Crockett. Full freezers aside, let’s talk trophies.

With the fall hunting seasons now here, or soon to be, some of us are thinking meat – others, Boone and Crockett. Full freezers aside, let’s talk trophies.
If you’re an experienced hunter, chances are you’ve gone the taxidermy route already. If so you might just want to skip to the part about the hazards of arsenic in mounts that you inherited from grandpa.
Hazards? Arsenic? On second thought, maybe we should put that angle up top. Ya think?
It’s true, some mounts from a couple decades ago could have traces of arsenic that potentially could cause you harm. How much, I can’t say because I’m a conservationist, not a chemist, pharmacist or doctor. I don’t even play one on TV. But common sense tells me if the word “arsenic” is involved in the sentence, I’d want to stand back a little.
In any case, mounts that are older than just “a couple decades,” surely have varying amounts of the poisonous stuff involved with them.
“You really have to be careful,” warned Steve Gowen of Buck Hollow Taxidermy in Harrisonville. “Even myself, I have to use caution when you’re dealing with old mounts … especially when you’re going to refurbish an old mount. The best thing I would suggest is to take it to some (taxidermy) shop … or just leave it on the wall and admire it.
“Arsenic is something that taxidermists favored way back when ’cause it was a good bug-proofer. Today, it’s nothing to be disturbed.”
In fact, the Kansas City Museum had to call in experts recently to move some mounts because of issues of fragility and the possible use of arsenic “way back when.”
If you’re curious as to the practice of arsenic in preservation, it began during the Victorian age. In one recipe, laid down by the 18th-century French taxidermist Becoeur, arsenic was mixed with white soap, camphor and salt of tartar and lime to form a preservative known as arsenical soap. This not only preserved skin and prevented the decay of remaining flesh, but also was also effective against some insect attacks.
However, this material was highly dangerous to use and many taxidermists opted for something safer. Borax, which is nontoxic, is the most widely used preservative today. It is, however, not as effective for the prevention of insect attack as arsenic was and is.
Arsenic, interestingly enough, was a mainstay of embalmers in the pre- and post-Civil War days. It was outlawed in 1910, in fact, when too many of embalmers themselves were dying in the course of their work.
OK, let’s wash our hands of this arsenic business and go on to some “healthier” taxidermy issues.
What to do if you take that once-in-a-lifetime buck this fall? Here are a couple suggestions from Gowen about field prep:
n If a hunter knows he will be trophy hunting, he should BEFORE HAND contact his or a recommended taxidermist to get some preliminary information about how to skin out (or cape) the animal properly. There are some dos and don’ts in the field.
n Get some advice about how to drag the animal out of the woods, especially elk and moose.
n Get advice from your taxidermist about certain cuts on the skin, which aren’t difficult.
A word of advice here, some of this information can come from a taxidermist or certainly from any one of a number of Web sites.
n Warm weather preservation. This is critical when there is unseasonably warm weather.  Non-idolized salt is recommended, but only after a list of things you should do to the skin BEFORE applying salt (again check the Internet or your taxidermist).
Another important consideration (and again most experienced hunters already are aware of this) is expectation on when you can get your mount back from the taxidermist. There are a number of excellent taxidermists in our area, including Gowen and Craig Jones of Independence. And both will tell you it is not a quick process. If a taxidermist tells you he can have your big buck back by Christmas, he’s probably not the one to take your trophy to.
The bottom line is that a deer may take as long as a year to get back. The larger animals like elk and moose may be as long as two years.
“Do your homework and study up on who’s who in the business and you’ll be better off in the long run,” Gowen said.
And one final note that I’ve mentioned in past columns, but it bears repeating. All mounts require regular care because, short of arsenic, bugs are out there waiting to chomp.
“It’s just like a car,” Gowen said, “if you don’t change the oil every now and then. If you don’t you’re going to end up with a hefty bill.”
And don’t look for a Cash for Creatures bailout.