I scanned the dark timber, searching for the light-tipped tail feathers that I had seen only moments earlier. The taunting fan had last appeared at 60 yards, along with a thunderous gobble that left little doubt that this was a mature tom. Then it vanished.
I waited and watched, knowing he was in stealth mode, trying to decide if the hen decoy was to his liking. Then I caught movement out of the corner of my eye as he entered the clearing. He had made up his mind that this was the girl for him and was giving it all he had. Chest puffed out, tail feathers spread, beard dragging, spitting, and drumming. Despite the lack of reaction from the foam female, he wasn’t letting up.
He strutted his way down the end of my gun barrel, and I squeezed the trigger.
Heading home, I knew the mounted tail, beard, and spurs would bring back memories of this hunt long after the turkey was consumed.
For the most part, taxidermy work should be left to the professionals. They are truly artists at what they do and require special equipment and processes. But mounting a turkey tail, beard, and spurs can be a quick, easy, and rewarding end to a hunt — and anybody can do it. You just need to follow a few steps and use one item available at your local grocery store.
The quality of a finished turkey mount begins in the field. Avoiding broken tail feathers is much easier than fixing them. A bird facing you in full strut looks like a bigger target, but this can be a lower-success shot and will likely result in damage to the fan and pellets in the meat. Wait for the bird to naturally drop his tail and stretch his neck, or cluck a few times to arouse his curiosity and aim for the spot where the neck skin stops and the feathers begin. Before leaving the field, gently smooth the tail feathers in place and wrap the bird in an orange bag or vest (both for safety and to prevent damage).
Once home, the easiest part of the bird to preserve is the beard. Remove it by pulling on the beard and cutting the base where it attaches to the body, leaving enough skin attached to hold together. Liberally apply borax (available in the laundry section of most grocery stores) to the fleshy part of the beard. Then pour some borax into a small container and place the skin of the beard in it overnight.
The next step is to remove the tail. Hold the fan closed. Feel for the triangle-shaped base beneath the skin that connects the tail feathers to the body. Cut in front of this to separate the tail from the rest of the turkey. Err on the side of caution. It is better to leave too much skin on than not enough. Cutting extra off later is easy, gluing feathers back in is time consuming.
Lay the removed tail section on a hard, flat surface. With the edge of a knife, scrape any meat from the base of the quills without removing the connective tissue between them. When all the excess is removed, apply generous amounts of borax to the entire base. Rub it vigorously into every nook and cranny to increase the longevity of the mount and prevent rot and insects.
Now the tail must be held in shape to dry. Spread the fan out to a full strut so that the bottom feathers are parallel, or you might prefer a half strut. Whatever position you choose will be permanent, as moving them after they are dry is not possible. Place the fan onto a large sheet of cardboard and put a small pin, nail, or staple in front of each bottom feather to secure it. Carefully arrange and smooth out each tail feather. Cover the tail with another piece of cardboard and tape the two pieces together. Put in a location where it will not be disturbed. Drying should be complete in about seven days.
Once the more fragile beard and tail are taken care of, the spurs can be removed from the bird. Start by removing the leg at the knee joint to make it easier to work with. Then, cut through the leg with a hacksaw on each side of the spur, making the base as wide as you prefer. This will leave the spur attached to a hollow section of the leg bone. Remove the skin and any fleshy material from the outside and inside of the bone. The spur can be coated with polyurethane for a shinier finish or left natural. Run a string or thin strap of leather through the hollow bones.
Displaying Your Work
After the tail’s drying period, remove it from the cardboard and the beard from the container of borax. Brush off any excess preservative. If you are mounting them in a wooden display panel (available at sporting goods stores), simply slide the fan into the slot on the panel. Most of them will also have a hole on the bottom for the beard. Coat the end of the beard with epoxy or hot glue and insert it into the hole in the panel.
There are many other ways to display the tail, beard, and spurs and that is the beauty of mounting your own. Whatever design you choose, each time you pass by that natural work of art hanging on the den wall, you will not only be reminded of the hunt, but also of the joy you had in preserving the memory.
Also In This Issue
This Issue’s Staff
Managing Editor – Nichole LeClair Terrill
Art Director – Cliff White
Staff Writer – Bonnie Chasteen
Staff Writer – Jim Low
Photographer – Noppadol Paothong
Photographer – David Stonner
Designer – Stephanie Thurber
Artist – Mark Raithel
Circulation – Laura Scheuler