How Long Should Deer Taxidermy Take?

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You paid your deposit, and you can't wait to see your big buck on the wall. But how long should it take to get him back from the taxidermist?

I was talking to a friend the other day who was grumbling about his taxidermist. “I took him a 10-pointer I shot back in 2018 and he’s still not finished,” Scott said. “Told me I might get him this summer.” 

Last week a friend texted me a picture of a slick, gleaming shoulder mount. “This is the big 8 I shot last October, what do you think?”

It got me to thinking: two years … or three months … or sometime in between? How long should it take to get a mount back from the taxidermist?

How long it takes to get your mount back depends heavily on the tanning process. Image by Will Brantley

Inside Taxidermy

Three factors largely determine the wait for your buck. First, most taxidermy shops are small — one-man shows, or maybe with a part-time helper or two. How efficiently a taxidermist runs his business, and how many deer he accepts to mount each fall, will determine the turnaround time for your mount. If a shop takes in too many deer, along with some bears and other animals, the wait can turn into more than a year.  

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Second, does a taxidermist tan his own capes, or send them to a tannery? If a studio sends them out, as most do, it might take three to six months to get the prepared skins back. What many people don’t realize is that the tanning process largely determines the timeline to finished mount. The actual taxidermy work is amazingly quick.

"Hands-on, about two and a half hours total to do a deer head."

“Takes three to four months to get my hides back from the tannery,” says my friend and taxidermist Lance Waln. “After that, it’s easy. It takes me about 30 minutes to prep the form and set the eyes. I can work the cape and mount a deer in about one hour and 15 minutes. Let it dry for about two weeks, then another 30 minutes for the finishing touches. Hands-on, about two and a half hours total to do a deer head.” 

Third, when you take a buck to the taxidermist is a huge factor. Those two- or three-month turnarounds you hear about? You can bet those hunters shot those deer in an early archery season and took them to a shop immediately.   

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If you kill a big buck during the rut or late gun season, you will drop off the cape and antlers at the taxidermist alongside dozens of other lucky hunters doing the same. A shop can get backed up in a hurry, and this stretches the timeline.

“If a hunter brings in a buck the first day of bow season, chances are he’ll have it back at the end of that month,” says Virginia taxidermist Daryl Howdyshell, who tans all the capes in his shop and then spends about four hours mounting each deer head. “But right now, at the end of rifle season, if someone brings in a buck, I’m at a year turnaround.”

What to Expect

I took a social media poll of fervent deer hunters and asked them how long on average it takes to get a shoulder mount back from their taxidermist. 

I got hundreds of great responses, split pretty much down the middle: 51% of people said six to eight months, and 49% answered nine months to a year. 

There were a few outliers. All the hunters who got their mounts back in two to four months killed those animals with a bow during September or October, and took them to the taxidermist before he got busy later in the season.

Some people grumbled it took 18 months or more to get their deer back, mostly due to a taxidermist taking on too much work. But a couple of hunters who waited two to even three years were happy they did, because the world-class quality of those mounts was worth the wait.

Final Thoughts

It took two years for the author to get the mount back from his best buck ever, but it was worth the wait.

As I gaze up at the whitetail mounts on my office wall, I figure I waited eight months to a year on average for the deer to come back from a taxidermy shop. That’s consistent with what hunters from across the country reported in my poll. Eight to 12 months start to finish for a super-looking mount is reasonable. If you can get your deer back in six months or sooner, great, so long as the quality doesn’t suffer.

It did take two years to get my best buck ever, a 209-inch-gross Canadian giant, back from the taxidermist. I knew that going in and was prepared for the wait. The buck was mounted by the top taxidermy studio in Saskatchewan, and you have to get your animal on a waiting list for them to do it.  

When you drop off your buck and plunk down a deposit, discuss timing up front with your taxidermist. Six months, eight months, a year? Then be patient if it takes a few months longer than expected, within reason. Don’t call and bug him. You want and expect a taxidermist to do his best work, and most of the time the wait is worth it.

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