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.

So here is number six in my series of head alterations, and that is how to shorten a deer’s face.   But I need to clarify this alteration by saying that making any form dimension larger,  is always much easier than making it smaller.  As this thought applies to the head then, making the head longer is pretty simple as compared to making it shorter.  Shortening a face throws all kinds of angles and proportions out of whack that lengthening does not.  There is a way around, but first lets explore the problem.

So lets say the nose is too long and you decide to simply cut out a half inch chunk in the middle of the head.

Remember how lengthening the head put the nose angles off (see Alteration #5, Lengthening a Deer Head), and it was necessary to increase the distance between the jaw line and the eye to make it all match?  Well, we have the same problem now, only in reverse.   But when shortening a head, the mismatch goes far beyond that.


Because you are working with angles, cutting out a piece of foam to shorten the face will create the situation as seen in the photo above.  You would then need to rasp the larger side down to match the smaller side and model back all of the lost detail with water clay.  That can certainly be done, and an experienced taxidermist could pull it off.  But you will lose a lot of shape, and believe me, it will be more work than you probably hoped for.  After all, so far I have noted how easy these alterations are.  The following four photos will help you too see the problem of the mis-match much better:

 So if the entire head is just plain too big, I would recommend simply buying a smaller change-out head, rather than going through all the work and know-how of decreasing so many dimensions (while it can be done).  But, if the head fits well, except for only the length, as in the scenario of the Texas deer I mentioned earlier, the following alteration will be the way to go…

In order for the alteration to “blend” well, you will need to make several cuts rather than just one.  So first mark the head as shown below.  An average saw will remove about 1/16th of an inch of material so to shorten a head 1/2 of an inch you would need to make eight cuts.  You can check out your saw cut width by simply sawing into a piece of foam and then measure it.  Obviously, a newer saw will make a wider cut than an old one.  The more cuts you make in any given distance , the better this alteration will work.

Saw away…

Make each cut as parallel to each other as possible.

Be sure to keep all of the pieces in order as you cut so that when you reassemble, each piece will go back where it belongs. If you are concerned about getting things back where they belong you might want to lay the pieces out in order and number them.

Now we can Bondo the pieces back together.  I usually Bondo 2 or 3 pieces at a time, but if you are unsure of how this will go, you can simply do one piece at a time to make sure you get it where it belongs.

Here (above) I’ve put Bondo on three pieces and pressed them into place.  Obviously, you need enough Bondo to secure the seam, but you also want to use as little as possible as a thick seam will decrease the value of the shortening process. Sometimes I will add an extra saw cut to make up for the Bondo seams, it depends on how accurate I need to be for the particular job at hand.

Since the foam slices are fairly weak I like to add some nails as I go to keep the pieces flat and the seams thin.  Attach all of the pieces leaving the nose as the last step. Then when you Bondo the nose piece in place, attach with nails as shown below.  Check to make sure it is straight and in line with the head.  If it’s out of line press it one way or the other to get it where it needs to be.  Looking good!

Now mix a final small batch of Bondo and smooth it over all of the outside seams:

A little light sanding and…

… you are…

…done!   The following series of pictures will show how well it all blends together:

In this final picture below, I had set my calipers on the original eye to nose measurement and you can see the difference now.  It is definitely shorter!

This doesn’t always have to be a major alteration.  Sometimes when I have a tight fit in the face length, I might only make a couple of cuts just to give the skin relief and keep  drumming to a minimum.

Time allotment to shorten a face would be about 20 minutes give or take depending on how many cuts you had to make.

Well,  I think that’s about it for head alterations.  You should now be able to fix just about any head problem that arises with any species of game.  Next I want to show how I would fit a skin to a form, to determine if it is the right size form for the job.  And then we can get into some actual taxidermy work and hopefully put some of this information to work.

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 »

How to: Enlarge a Deer Muzzle

Whitetail deer vary dramatically from area to area, sub-specie to sub-specie, and even from deer to deer within any given region or sub-specie. Just as people come in all sizes and shapes, so do deer! This is a sculptor’s Read the rest of this entry »

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