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) varies from deer to deer.  And it doesn’t always seem to matter how big the antlers are.  I have seen some really big-racked bucks with quite small frames, and vice versa.  The body size of a deer would appear  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 and 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 I hope will be helpful.  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.    Also, another tip on mounting over a sharp-turned form, like an 8900, with a short cut cape… you might consider lengthening the cut by 6-8″ or more to allow easier shifting of the neck skin… )

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.






1 comment

  1. Joe Martin

    Very helpful tips!
    Why is it always necessary to measure the cape AFTER tanning?
    Is there some shrinkage associated with the tanning process?
    Thank you.
    Joe Martin
    Martin’s Taxidermy
    Lompoc, CA

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