The economy is down and money is tight, but that is no reason to miss out on preserving that trophy tom for future admiration and conversations with friends and family. Taxidermy fees not in your budget? Well, what if I said that you could have your mount and keep your wallet full? Follow the process listed below and you can do it.
- Drop sink or bath tub
- Dish Soap
- Hair Dryer
- Borax Laundry Additive (drying agent)
- Locktite Glue
- Turkey Fan Mounting Plaque
The first thing you need to do is remove the trophy parts of a turkey. This includes the beard, spurs, fan and even the wings (if you so desire). Hold the beard from its base and cut it from the bird’s body leaving about a 1/4″ of additional skin around it. Remove any feathers that are not part of the beard. To remove the fan, cut the end of tail and remove the tail with about 3-4 additional inches of back skin and feathers. Some folks keep the spurs by removing both legs at the knee. The leg can then be dried and used as anything from bookends to ashtray stands. But this post is about a wall mount and so I just remove the spur by cutting the leg 1/4″ above and below the spur with a hacksaw. The finer the blade the cleaner the cut you make. Dremel Tools could also work. I remove the wing at the “elbow” so that the major flight feathers are saved.
In a small bowl, pour out some borax. The borax will act as a drying agent and remove all the moisture from the tissues that would otherwise decay over time. Take the spurs and remove the marrow from the leg bone. This can be done by loosening it with a 16d nail and then rinsing it out under the faucet. Then place the spurs in the borax and “pack” the hollow bone with the powder.
Rinse the beard in soapy water and spray with LiceX. All birds have feather lice that will devour your mount in an incredibly short amount of time. Don’t worry, feather lice are not the same critter that make their home in human hair, so there is no danger of infestation unless you have pet birds. LiceX is a pesticide found in most pet stores that will kill these tiny bugs. Place the flesh end of the beard in the borax so that it is buried up to the end of the white “scales.”
The wings are not typically preserved but I have found they create a dramatic effect and the black and white striped pattern is beautiful. They must be washed in soapy water and dried with a hair dryer. Then extend the feathers on a flat surface and tack down with pins or small nails. The natural curvature of the feathers will not allow the wing to be pressed flat. I like to lay a small notebook on the top of the wing so that it is semi-compressed. This will help it mount better to the wall. Spray the entire wing with LiceX and pour borax over the exposed flesh.
The fan is the grandest part of the display and the most difficult to preserve. The first step is to remove as much excess flesh as possible. I find using an Exact-O knife or utility knife works best. Ideally you want to be left with nothing but the feather quills, skin, and cartilage of the tail. I like to leave some back feathers on my mount to hide the heavy quills of the tail feathers and to make a smooth transition to the mounting plaque. This is optional and your decision. Once you have the flesh removed, you will need to wash the feathers in soapy water. Turkeys routinely dust themselves to aid in the removal of parasites. Washing the feathers will also remove remaining feather lice and really make them shine.
When you place the feathers in the wash water, the soft downy feathers from the lower back will mush together and you will think that you have just ruined the fan. Trust me you haven’t. A little agitation and a good rinse is all that is needed to bring out the true color. Dry the feathers thoroughly with a hair dryer. Be careful to separate each feather, especially the downy ones, to ensure that each is completely dry. The tail feathers may have been damaged from a flopping bird after the shot. Unless the feather or section of feather has been completely broken, most of these can be repaired at this stage by smoothing out the edges as it dries. Once dry, spray the entire fan with a healthy dose of LiceX as a last step to prevent damage from feather lice.
The fan will create a half circle when fully extended. The gaps caused by missing feathers can be made hidden by closing the fan to provide feather overlap. Remember, whatever position the fan is in when it dries is the position in which it will remain. On a flat surface, place a layer of cardboard and pour and spread some borax to adequately cover the base of the fan at a depth of 1/4″. Place the base on the borax and place each feather to the desired position. The feathers should fall back into their natural position and need only some minor adjustments. Pin feathers as needed to the surface of the cardboard to retain the formation. Once the feathers are positioned how you want them, pour borax over the top of the fan base.
It will take 5 weeks for the fan to dry. If you are drying the fan a basement or other location prone to moisture, be sure to run a dehumidifier and you may need to extend the drying time. Turkey mounting plaques can be purchased or you can make your own if you have the carpentry tools available. The kits usually come with a type of leather strap on which to attach the spurs but I prefer to attach them to the face of the mount. This can be done with simple Locktite glue or a screw from the back of the plaque. To dress up the end of the spur sections, dip each end into melted candle wax to create a cap. This will create a much more attractive and finished look to the spurs. I also use a slightly damp paper towel to wipe off borax from the spurs and to polish the rosy leg scales. Before hanging the mount give all feathers one last coat of LiceX.
That’s it! Thirty minutes of your time and five weeks of patience, and you are left with your own turkey mount to reflect on the events of the morning, friends you were with, and the grandeur of one of the most beautiful birds of North America. The price tag for materials, if you purchase a mounting plaque, is only about $45 total.
I have mounted the last five birds that I have harvested in this way and the only maintenance required is a biannual spraying of LiceX.
Good luck with your bird! We hope to post a video tutorial on this subject when possible. Feel free to post any questions.