How To: Fit a Skin to a Form

Since I am often asked how one knows they have selected the perfect sized form for a mount,  I thought this might be a good time to share some thoughts on this subject, so here goes…

One of the things I have noticed about deer is how much their body size (I usually refer to this as “frame” size), really big-racked bucks with quite small frames, and vice versa.  The body size of a deer  seems to depend more on the time of year (rut sequence), the region of the country he comes from (subspecies), and well, just the deer itself (age and genes).  There is the early season, pre-rut, rut, post-rut, and the late season run-down, and the same deer can vary considerably in body mass depending on when he was killed within this range.  And a deer from Saskatchewan won’t look anything like a deer from Georgia.   The body size can vary depending on whether he is a young deer, middle-aged, or mature.  And then of course, there is just the individual deer.  Some deer in the same area are bigger or smaller than other deer, just because they are (like people).

Having said all that, how then, can one figure all this out?  Perhaps many of you have a system of your own, but here is what works best for me.   I personally fit the skin to the body size that works, then do whatever is needed to the head to make it work (thus the 6 head alteration how-to’s).

I do believe that most taxidermists go by head size, rather than body size.  If the the deer has an 8″ head, then the desire would be to buy an 8″ form.   Most often this will work.   But let me give you the example of a big-antlered deer I shot a few years back.  He is what I would clarify as a midwest deer so that alone would indicate a 6900 form might be a good frame size choice.  But I also knew that he was run-down from the rut (taken in December) and had a pretty small-looking body.  In this case, since I shot the deer, I was able to measure him so I knew that he had a long-looking, narrow, 8″ face and a 22″ maximum neck.  But there was no way this deer could fit on a big-framed 8″ form.  I decided to try a 7 1/4″ x 22″ form and the body fit perfectly! The brisket and arm pits lined up beautifully and the neck was snug but acceptable.  The only problem was that I had way too much skin in the face… head alteration #5 to the rescue!  My criteria is that the neck fit and that the armpit cowlicks line up down low and in place.  When all that happens the head will probably work, but if not, the head can easily be fixed.   Not much, however, can easily be done to get the brisket in place when the form frame is too large and the skin won’t reach!

So here are 4 steps that should help.  First of all, think about all the information that you have.  I like to consider the area in which the deer was taken and the time of year,  as well as any measurements I may have been able to get from the specific deer, and even hero pictures can be of value.  Keep all of this in mind.  If a deer came from Georgia for instance, at least I would know I would want a 6300 form (the small-framed version of the 6900) and not a big-framed 6900.

Secondly, nothing beats trying a skin on a form. I always recommend that you keep around several of the most popular forms that you use, just to try skins on, so you know what to order.  And once you order, always try the skin on the purchased form before you mount,  just to be sure.

Here is a really big tip (so it gets its own paragraph) that goes along with trying a skin on a form.  A skin does not slide very nicely over a form but tends to “stick’ to it, especially if you have already ruffed the form for mounting.  This is particularly true with a short cut cape.  Sooooo… here is the fix.   I simply place a 30 gallon trash bag over the form before I pull the cape on!  The bag will act like paste and allow the skin to easily slide over the form and you will be able to quickly tell if the form will work.  This is particularly helpful on a sharp- turned form like an 8900 wall pedestal form.  If the skin won’t fit on the form over a plastic bag, it just won’t fit!    Please note:  The plastic bag is only intended as an aid in trying on the skin to make sure it fits.  Remove the plastic bag before mounting.

Third, learn how to measure a skin.  I take a tanned skin (after rehydration) and stretch it in every direction possible to loosen it up.  Then lay the skin out on the floor and measure the neck below the ears, as shown in the drawing below.  This should represent the “B” measurement on a McKenzie form.

Then, turn the cape over on its side, hair side out.  Pat the skin out flat with both eyes lined up and measure from the inside corner of the eye to the nose (see below); this should closely represent the eye to nose “A” measurement.

Now if you use short cut capes, lay the cape on its side, hair side out, and measure the head in the same way as above. But to measure the neck, simply insert a ruler into the open hole behind the ears…

  … and multiply the measurement by 2:

In this example, you would need a 20″ (10″ x 2) form.

Then lastly, number four, learn by experience.  The above is a standard system, so learn to adjust as you see fit.  If you measure a bunch of skins, then try them on the determined forms and your neck measurement, for example, always seems to get you a form that is a little small, learn to add an inch to your standard neck measurement.  Or two inches or whatever.  If the head on the form always seems to be a little big for your skins, learn to subtract a quarter inch from your nose to eye measurement, etc, etc.   Keep track of the measurements you took from the cape and what size form you actually used, and create a system that works for you.

And remember that as long as the neck and shoulders fit, you can go back to the six head alterations previously shown in this blog to make the head work to perfection.  The good news is that when the neck and shoulders fit, the head probably will too.  But on those rare occasions that the head does not, at least now you know what to do.


Credit:    Many thanks to my talented granddaughter Jackie Smith for the contribution of her drawings.






How To: Shorten a Deer Head

A few years ago I was down in Texas collecting whitetail reference and we came across a very interesting deer.  He had a decent sized body, big neck, big head and a very nice set of antlers.  They figured him to be in the 4 1/2 to 5 1/2 year range. For overall fit, I would have guessed a 7 1/4 x 23 inch form, or maybe even larger.  On today’s mannikin choices I might have picked a 69-7123 size form.  There was only one problem–this deer’s eye to nose only measured  6 1/2 inches!  The head on the form would have been a full 3/4 of an inch too long, even though everything else would work great.  A  6 1/2 inch form would be WAY too small, and a 6 1/2 inch changeout head would be too small as well, particularly in the width between the eyes.   This guy was a big, mature deer; all we would really need here would be a shorter face on the 7 1/4″ form. Read the rest of this entry »

How To: Lengthen a Deer Head

Of the six head alterations that I have claimed taxidermists can’t live without, perhaps lengthening a head, number five in our series, is the most valuable.  At least it’s the one you are apt to use most often.  As I have mentioned, there are many combinations of form sizes in the world of whitetail taxidermy, but even at that, lengthening a head and alteration number six, shortening a head, can come in handy when trying to match the innumerable size variations in nature.  And when you consider all the other species of game that don’t have all the commercial size options, this alteration can be gold.  And like all the other alterations that I have shown so far, they don’t take a lot of time but can make a HUGE difference in the fit of the skin.

Read the rest of this entry »

How To: Narrow a Deer Head

Let’s say you try on a skin and it fits fine, but you realize the skin is very snug on the head and getting the tear ducts and eyes into place will be a real challenge.  And drumming seems inevitable.  What to do…

Well, you can help the fit dramatically in this situation by simply narrowing the head; it’s amazing how well a skin can fit with just the removal of 1/16th to 1/8th of an inch of material from between the eyes.  If you’ve been keeping track, this is number four in my series of six head alterations that I said I was convinced  you couldn’t live without (if you missed the first three, check them out under the “Taxidermy” category).

Read the rest of this entry »

Rusa Deer and Mauritius Island

For years I have wanted to hunt Rusa deer.  They are a unique deer and I’ve always felt the need for a new form.  So when an auction hunt at the Safari Club Convention last year turned out to be a Rusa deer hunt on Mauritius Island, I was all in and we walked away with the hunt!   Read the rest of this entry »

Photography- Yellowstone in the Spring, Close up and Personal

Yellowstone is a great spot for photography in either the spring or the fall.  Since there is not much going on for antlers in the spring,  it’s a great time for bears or wolves.  Now I must admit I have not had much luck on close-up bears or wolves.  I have seen both,  just not within good photo range.   Little did I know what lay in store for us as we headed for the Park this last month, the close-up grizzly category… was about to change! Read the rest of this entry »

How to: Widen a Deer Head

This is number three in a series of six head alterations that I said I felt no taxidermist can live without.   I say this merely because in the world of everyday taxidermy you will, at some time, benefit dramatically by knowing how to accomplish these alterations.  It may not be an everyday thing, but there will come a time.  So this one is all about making a head wider than the original. Read the rest of this entry »

The Method To My Madness

Today’s skilled taxidermists have a slightly different mounting process than in days of old.  Modern foam forms with their pre-sculpted details have somewhat negated the need for the average taxidermist to know anatomy in the same way as when paper forms were prevalent.  I made some effort to show this in an earlier post called  “From Old to New” (see the Taxidermy category on this blog).

But let me say this. The process today is just different, it does not take any less skill or ability, only slightly different skill and ability. Read the rest of this entry »

You Have To Be There

I was dying to get over to a nearby lake to see if any new birds had moved in.  It was a bit early for any serious migration, but you never know.  Days passed, but I just couldn’t seem to get there. Then we got a big spring snowstorm.  Regardless, I made the decision to head that way after an early Saturday meeting at my church.  It was pretty late in the morning by the time I arrived at the lake, and a mere 22 degrees.  But what really kept me going was the nicely overcast sky.  Great light for photography even at midday.   Read the rest of this entry »

How to: Narrow a Deer Muzzle

Back in the 70’s, I can remember one of the old-timers at Jonas Brothers telling me in no uncertain terms: “You must not let the skin be your master!”. He was of course, correct. But sometimes, the skin can’t co-operate, and a form alteration can make all the difference in the world. Read the rest of this entry »

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