“I would love to mount this bird for my trophy room!... Do I have the extra space, the extra funds for taxidermy?... But this is my first Merriam’s wild turkey!”
Slow down and take a couple of deep breaths. If you want a fully mounted turkey, you’ll be looking into spending in the $500-$700 price range. I recommend that you do some research and find a respectable taxidermist. Ask to see photos of their work. Talk about additional cost for the base and scenery. You should be given the option to purchase a freeze dried head or a plastic head. Ask about their business hours. There are several different positions that a taxidermist can mount your bird. If you have the wall space, maybe a flying mount is what you would like, or, your tom mounted in full strut. The strut position can be displayed in a fairly small space. Believe me, price is not everything when it comes to a mount. The old saying of “you get what you pay for” always comes into play. Always take the time to discuss your options with the taxidermist.
If you decide that you’re going to mount the bird, here are some simple steps to help protect the bird. Most taxidermists will tell you to treat the bird like a piece of art. Always grab the turkey by the legs in a place below the spurs and above the feet. You cannot damage the scales on the legs. Move your bird into position for the photo shoot. Always take a few photos of the birds head. You want to show the taxidermist the colors, so he can replicate your bird during the painting phase. Once you’re done, prepare the bird for transport. Always remember to tag the bird first, before removing it from the field. First off, try and wipe away any blood that has dropped onto the feathers. If you have water with you, simply wash away the blood. Also, stick a paper towel or towel paper into the bird’s mouth and wrap it around the head. This will help to keep the blood from dripping out of the bird. Do your very best to keep from bending feathers over and getting them dirty.
Here is a tip for protecting the bird. I carry a small, single deer game bag in my vest. They do not cost much and weigh next to nothing. Next, lay the bird on its back. Tuck the head under one of the wings. Open a game bag, unroll the bag and place the front of the turkey into the bag. As the bird slides in, the feathers will naturally lay downward. Do your very best to keep the tail feathers bunched up together. This will make better sense once the bird is all the way at the bottom of the game bag. Position the legs to be bent under the belly of the bird. If you wear a turkey hunting vest, place the bird in the back pouch and fasten it in. Most vests have “hunter orange” stripes that can be pulled out so you will be visible to other hunters while leaving the field. I would highly recommend you doing this while walking out of turkey woods, for your safety.
Once the bird is back to the truck, get him ready to transport. If you have a cooler with you, you’ll need to get some ice. Lay the bird on the ice; either on his sides or its belly. Be extremely careful not to bend any tail feathers while doing this. You may have to rework the legs in order for the bird to fit. Do not cut the legs off the turkey. Keep in mind that these are big birds and will require a large cooler. Be prepared!
After you return home from the hunt, place the bird into the freezer. This will give you some time to contact a taxidermist and discuss your mounting options. If you are planning on shipping the bird, allow 36 to 48 hours for the bird to freeze solid. A good shipping tip; always ship on Monday’s and never during end of the week. There is a chance the package could get misdirected or sit over the weekend, allowing the bird to thaw.
If you’re planning on mounting the bird, you may or may not choose to field dress the bird. When the Taxidermist starts to skin out the bird, they will usually start at the legs. Where the feathers start and the leg scales stop, cut up the inside of the legs to the groin. Do this to both legs. To visualize this, look at your own arm as it rest beside your body. You want to think of what part of the leg is exposed the most, the outside. So if you think of the inside of your arm, between the elbow and armpit, this is where you would cut the turkey leg. Ok, now both legs incisions are done. With your hand, peel back enough belly skin to access the organs. Think back to our field dressing discussion. We made our cut from the end of the breast bone to the thighs in a straight line. We are now going to do a similar cut, but in a U shape. Starting from one leg and cutting across the belly to the opposite leg.
If you are away on an overnight trip or several hours away from the house, a good tip to help cool the bird once it has been field dressed is to place a frozen water bottle up inside the bird’s chest cavity. The frozen bottle will help cool down the bird, from the inside. Do your best to get the bird into a freezer or ice chest as soon as possible. Talk to your taxidermist about preserving the meat from the bird. A good Taxidermist will process the meat from the bird once they have skinned it. If you make arrangements, and the bird is presented cooled and not frozen, the Taxidermist should be willing to skin the bird while you wait. If the bird is frozen, you may have to return in a few days to pick up the meat.