Thursday, January 14, 2010

Mounting a Pheasant Yourself - Cheap and Fun

Ok, things are pretty slow here in the cold, dark winter of our Pacific NorthWest. The boys have been tying flies and practicing their fly casting, and we got talking about mounting birds.

Thought we'd share some do-it-yerself method for mounting a pheasant. Its actually pretty easy and straight-forward to do. Besides - we always feel alittle guilt tossing out all those beautiful feathers.

This way is pretty simple and very cheap - only about $5 or less, depending on how much you want to make of your own materials. Best part is, if you goof up, oh well!

We mounted quite a few birds way-back-when (when we had a place to hunt them!) and this technique worked well for birds mounted inside a wreath. Stand-alone birds are much more difficult, but something to try.

So here we go!

First, we need to make a body for the bird. simply bend an old wire hanger into the approximate length we need. It needs to extend from the base of the tail up to the base of the skull.

Next step is to pad it with newspaper. Use an interesting paper, so in 50 years when the bird falls apart the owner has something interesting to read...

Slowly build up the body to the approximate size of the bird's body. Masking tape helps hold it together.

Try different materials, too. Now is also a good time if you want to bend it into different shapes.

To have the bird stand alone in a standing pose, you'll need wire and support in here too.

Here is a final body. When it is the size we want, we can wrap it up with more masking tape.

Now... onto the bird!

It is best to mount a fresh bird, but if you don't have the time, freeze the bird until you can get to it.

Don't wrap it in plastic or newspaper - it will fold the feathers and leave ink on them. Butcher paper is best.

Make sure its thawed out before cutting on it.

Start skinning it low on the belly, and carefuly work out each leg. Cut off the legs at the knee, removing any meat and fat you can without hurting the skin.

The skin is very fragile, so go slow to avoid tears. If it does tear, no big deal but it will take time to stitch it up.

After the legs are out, but off the tail at the base, from the body, and remove as much meat as possible. Any meat left on the body will eventually rot... ruining the mount (not to mention the smell!).

With the legs and tail off, take the skin off up to the head.

Also, try to keep the openning in the skin as small as possible - less stitching later.

Be careful and slow as you skin the head of the bird. We want to remove as much of the skull as we can and get at the eyes and tongue, but DON'T tear the skin on the head! It will be difficult to fix, and everyone will notice!

Here you can see the eye-hole in the skin, pulled forward over the beak. The base of the skull is exposed on the right side.

Now, with a hacksaw, cut the entire back of the skull off.

It is important to get all the brain, eyeballs, and tongue out of the skull.

Alittle gruesome, but it is very fasinating to look at. The kids will love it (even though they squeal). A pheasant's eye is as big (or larger) than its whole brain! No wonder they can see so well.

Ok, with all the meat out, dry it out well and add some preservative to the skin.

Van Dykes sells a white preservative powder, or you can buy powder citric acid (food grade) that works really well, too.
Be sure to rub the powder into all of the skin, skull, leg, and tail parts of the skin to preserve it as long as possible.

Now, with the skull dry and powdered, we're going to build up the head and eyes of the bird.

Again, Van Dykes sells plastic or glass eyes - they are about $2 for the pair and the only real expense. Get good ones.

Now, we're simply going to fill up the skull with modelling clay or putty.

It doesn't take much, and is easy to do. Fill in the same amount of area that the brain, skull, and eyes originally did.

Use a putty or clay that won't shrink when it dries.

Try different things, see what you like.

After the clay is in, and the eyes are more or less centered, pull the skin back over the clay and see how it looks.

Be sure to get the skin smoothed and in place, then touch-up the eyes. With a toothpick or similar tool, pull the skin around the eyes to cover up any clay, and to give it a life-like expression... kind of like "oh crap! He's got a gun!"

Now, start wrapping the skin around the body mold and getting things into place. Use alittle vaseline to moisten the skin for moving it around if you need to.
Now is the hardest thing - stitching up the skin. Hopefully there aren't any tears and the openning is small. Use a needle and thread and stitch up the openning.
The nice thing about putting it in a wreath is that it hides the stitching. The feathers will help hide it too.
Here is the bird, now.
Note - we left the legs on, but in a wreath or wall-mount you don't need to.

Yeah, it looks alittle shabby, but it will clean up really nice. As the skin drys, it also helps fluf the feathers and really gives a nice shape to the bird.

Now is the fun part - positioning the wings and tail. We need about 4-5 pieces of paper, or you can use posterboard paper. Something stiff we can staple to the wings to let them dry into position.
For paper, just fold each piece about 1" wide along the length of the sheet, like so.

Here's a finished one.
Didn't he do a good job!
Those kindergarden skills come in handy... best 3 years of Dad's life.

Now, position the wings spread out as if it just 'flushed' into the air. Place a strip of paper on either side of the wings, and staple the papers together.
Don't worry too much about staples through the wings - they will turn out pretty good.

Here is one wing done. Feel free to use as many pieces of paper as you need, and even make changes and variations - 3D shapes are really cool, too.
After 2 weeks or so, the wings will dry into this position and we'll take out the paper.

Here you can see both wings done, and don't forget to do the tailfeathers, also.
Now, we wait. Be sure to position the bird so it will dry well, without anything being smashed, etc. Store it out of the way in a dry place, and after 2-3 weeks it will be ready!

In the Pacific NorthWest be especially mindful of damp air - don't want mold.
This mount will last 5-6 good years without smell or decay. After that you'll probably be bored with it, or you can do another one. The first one will take about 2 -4 hours, but after you've done it a few times it goes quickly.
Best part is that it is inexpensive and fun. They make great gifts, too. It is really great to make use of the best part of the bird - the beautiful plummage.
After mounting a pheasant or two... try a duck! They are actually easier because of their oily skin, and they are really cool.
Not as nice as a professional mount, but for $5 and the afternoon, not bad, either.