Most of us will at some point consider having taxidermy work done. By consider, I mean that we will think about how cool it would be to have a white tail shoulder mount or trophy trout to hang on a wall. Unfortunately, most of us don’t seriously consider this until after it’s too late.

When I shot my first Vermont deer in 2018’s regular season I already knew what my plan was. If it was a mature buck or younger buck with better than average antlers I was going to have a European mount done. That deer wasn’t much for points but there were five solid ones which, combined with its 19 3/8″ spread made it a good candidate for a euro mount.

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Even for a euro mount, it pays to have a professional taxidermist do it for you.

I am fortunate in that I already knew a taxidermist. Barry Bouker of Bouker’s Taxidermy has been in the business for over 20 years and does quality work on all manner of fish and animals. He is and always has been an avid outdoor enthusiast. This is important in a taxidermist because it engenders an understanding of the importance and significance of your trophy. Barry did a great job with my euro mount and explained to me the process for creating one. I know, a euro mount doesn’t take anywhere near the level of skill, artistry and patience that a shoulder mount demands, but just the same, Barry took the time to do it right. The skull is bleached to a clean white and the antlers have a natural look. Bottom line: it looks like a professional did it, not a DIYer.

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It’s pretty clear that deer shoulder mounts are a popular item at Bouker’s Taxidermy.

I asked Barry what the biggest mistake customers make when having taxidermy work done. Without hesitation he stated simply but emphatically “Waiting too long. The sooner you get it to me, the better.” Apparently there’s a trend among hunters and anglers to take their time deciding whether or not they’re going to have a mount done and not take proper care of their harvest while they make up their mind. If you can’t get to a taxidermist right away, freezing is in order. Wrapping the specimen securely in a towel or its own hide and then in plastic is a good approach. It’s really no different than wrapping meat for the freezer- the idea is to inhibit freezer burn. Barry told me about a client who had a bear mount done that he’d kept in the freezer for three years. Other than some minor freezer burn, it was in good shape. So if you are on the fence about taxidermy, the freezer is your friend.

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The artist, at work in his studio.

Another issue we discussed is the lack of education about taxidermy and what goes into it. Most sportspeople don’t understand that the seemingly exorbitant cost of taxidermy is a necessary part of the process. A capable and competent taxidermist (like Barry) isn’t doing a $200 job and charging you $600 for that shoulder mount. He’s putting in time, effort, skill and artistry to make sure your trophy looks as good as it did in life. Because the end result looks so good when done right, it’s easy to commit the logical fallacy that it must be easy to do. If only the taxidermy client could see the whole  process!

If you think at some point you might want taxidermy work done, do your homework ahead of time. Look up taxidermists in your area and get in touch with them. Ask if you can stop in a look at their work. Nearly all have some kind of studio space to show off their talent and many have websites. Tell them what kind of project you are considering and ask what they need from you when the time comes. Taxidermy is like life- you get out of it what you put into it. To be prepared ahead of time is to ensure the best for your trophy.

 

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I came home from my August trip to Maine with some fresh mackerel for the freezer. I’ve been meaning to pull it out and do something with it for a few months now and finally got myself together to cook it. After pawing through the myriad offerings stowed in the depths of the upright I found a small bag with a pair of large fish and a pair of small. It seemed just right.

The smell, even while frozen was amazing. These fish smelled fresh, like the ocean. I didn’t get complicated with a recipe, mostly due to time. Trying to throw together a week night dinner while tending to young kids when my better half is working late demands keeping it simple.

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Mackerel, onion, tomato, olives and herbs. Pretty darn simple, pretty darn tasty.

I heated my trusty cast iron skillet to medium high, hit it with some olive oil and tossed in a diced onion. I let this saute for a moment then pitched in a can of diced tomato. After adding some salt and pepper and letting it simmer a moment I dumped it into a small bowl and added some more olive oil to the skillet. In went the two large mackerel to fry momentarily on each side. Then I hit them with oregano, basil and thyme. I added the same to my onion-tomato mix, then sliced up some green olives I found hiding out in the refrigerator. I put the remaining two mackerel (the little ones) into the skillet, dumped the onion-tomato mix on top and put it in the oven at 375 for about 20 minutes.

One bite and I was back in Maine, looking out at the water feeling the lingering grit of sand between my toes and a faint salty dampness in the air. Although it’s December here in Vermont, for a brief moment I was back on the coast basking in the summer sunshine. Lobster might be the signature Maine seafood but mackerel is right there with it, holding its own. If you ever get the chance, don’t overlook this palatable, abundant and fun-to-catch fish.

New York offers some great deer hunting, but that’s not what you’ll find in the Adirondacks. Unless your idea of great deer hunting is hundreds of thousands of acres with dense stands of spruce and fir, boggy terrain one minute and steep rocks the next. To be fair Adirondack deer are typically pretty darn big, but they are also few and far between.

That’s what I was up against over the Thanksgiving holiday. That and unseasonable cold. It was -11 when I headed out Friday morning. When I got back three hours later the temperature had warmed to -1. My hunting strategy was to dress warm and find a spot that was relatively open with good visibility, then hit the rattling antlers and see if I could call in a buck. With only one week left in the Northern Zone season it seemed likely that the rut had mostly run its course so I didn’t get too aggressive. There were plenty of tracks, even a set of fresh tracks likely made by a buck. Several rattling sequences yielded nothing. The only substantial sign of life encountered was a grouse that flushed on my walk in. Had I been toting a shotgun I would have had a great shot. But the 45-70 was a bit too much gun!

The evening hunt went the same but at least it was warmer. 34 degrees when I headed into the woods and down to the teens when I got back. I didn’t notice any fresh tracks and saw only blue jays and chickadees. Of course, the next morning as we were getting ready to leave there were fresh deer tracks just outside the house. Big ones, like the kind  a buck typically makes. Of course there were!

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