Taxidermy is more than a decoration or a trophy; it is a memento of a hunt frozen in time. Often, when we look at our mounts, we can relive the hunt and instantly recall moments before and after, too. There seems to be a misconception, though, between what is good taxidermy and what is bad taxidermy. First and foremost, if you are happy with your mount and the price you paid for it, then that is what matters most. There is a difference, however, between a bird that looks pretty and one that looks lifelike.
There are various tips for ensuring your turkey remains in good condition post hunt, but if you’re trying to get your bird mounted with undeniable lifelikeness, there are some nuance practices that you will want to discuss with your taxidermist.
One of the most notable characteristics that sets an average mount from one that looks so real you can almost hear it gobbling, is whether or not the breast is shingled. When you see a gobbler strutting in the wild, his feathers on and around his breast are bristling; when you get this feature on your taxidermy, it is called shingling, a practice not all taxidermists offer.
“The process is very involved and time consuming,” said John Beard, taxidermy veteran, NWTF Grand National Taxidermy Champion and owner of Birds Only Taxidermy. “Without going into too much detail, shingling is the separation of chest tracks, scalpers and wing feathers.”
When you see a turkey mount without shingling, the breast and surrounding feathers look smooth and glossy. Beard calls these birds “pretty” but not authentic.
“Smooth-breasted birds have been introduced to the hunting community by taxidermists in the past,” Beard said. “It’s become so common because it’s easy for taxidermists to pull off. Not all taxidermists can shingle a bird properly, so they don’t offer it. The fact is we as an industry are not perfect at it yet.”
Beard and Shane Smith, Turkey Taxidermy World Champion, offer taxidermy classes to educate and teach aspiring taxidermists and longtime taxidermists alike the shingling process and other best practices.
“My inspiration is seeing people succeed in our art,” Beard said. “For years, turkey taxidermy has been hard for a lot of people, me included. What Shane and I are teaching now is changing our industry for the best. We have taken out all the old-school techniques and made it fun and easy. With Shane’s bird products that are now offered through McKenzie Taxidermy Supply, we can finally enjoy turkey taxidermy.”
The shingling process that Beard and Smith emphasize in the classes and for their customer takes almost double the time to complete, and some taxidermists don’t offer this service, as it is challenging and requires ample skill and previous experience.
“The process usually takes me an extra six to eight hours,” Beard said. “I charge $400 extra for a shingled bird.”
Many people are happy without getting their bird shingled – it’s cheaper and still looks visually appealing. Some hunters, though, are surprised to learn their taxidermist doesn’t off shingling as an option. Getting your bird remounted with shingling is possible, but it won’t be quick or cheap.
“The remount process requires a new cape,” Beard said. “Essentially it’s a total remount using the same spurs and beard off the old mount. This is a popular option for those who are not happy with their current mount.
“Long story short, do your homework on your taxidermist. Ask for the shingled option if it’s something you desire. If pretty is what you want, go for it. Ultimately, this is your mount, your money and your new piece of furniture that you will be enjoying for a lifetime.”