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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.

2 comments

  1. Paul Gustafson

    Great tips on lengthening & shortening the heads. Would have never thought of shortening with multiple slices. Would you recommend using less hardener in the bondo to give you a longer working time to get all the slices back together?
    Thanks
    Paul

    1. Dennis Behn

      Hope it was helpful. Yes you could certainly use less hardener until you get the hang of it. I would still only do a few pieces at a time and not try to do them all at once. Thanks for reading the blog! Dennis

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