Take Care of the Fuzz
Archery hunters love a good set of fuzzy trophy class velvet antlers. Seeing a set of antlers glow in the fading sunlight on a open hillside as a bachelor group of bucks feed on the soft bark and buds of native shrubs can give a hunter butterfly’s. A quality mounted velvet buck can also be stunningly beautiful. Likewise, a mounted velvet buck that was haphazardly taken care of can make one cringe. Below are some of the most common mistakes when caring for that velvet mule deer buck.
- Putting your hands all over the antlers. We see this mistake all the time. Absolutely do not drag your buck around by the antlers once you find him. We’ll take that a step further and say touch the antlers as little as possible. Yep that’s right, keep your hands off. If you need to handle your buck for pictures or move him use his head rather then the antlers as much as possible. Bucks can rub the velvet off in a matter of minutes so if you grab a hold of those velvet antlers and give him a yank you might end up with a fist full of fuzz. Once it comes off it never goes back on and looks good either. Also, those stinky sweaty and naturally oily hands of yours will get on that nice pristine velvet and matte it and increase the chances of deteriorating bacteria.
- Overheating. Antler velvet is a living tissue just like skin or muscle. If it overheats it can spoil, crack, and break down. Get those antlers and/or cape off the body ASAP and into the shade. One thing we’ve seen done that should never happen is covering them in a plastic bag. Plastic will keep the heat in and spoil those beautiful set of velvet antlers. A good way to cool down meat and velvet is, when possible, put it near a stream, seep, or spring. Air temperature will be cooler directly over water, especially running water. Running water will also generate air movement that will help to cool.
- Taking your sweet damn time. Treat your velvet antlers as if it were meat on a 90 degree day. You need to do everything in your power to get those antlers off the mountain. If you don’t they will spoil.
- Playing taxidermist in the field. We think it is best to leave the velvet taxidermy/preservation work to the professionals. Velvet antler preservation can be technical and involve toxic chemicals like embalming fluid and big needles and syringes. This stuff could be a disaster waiting to happen in the backcountry. If you were to get it in your eye or on your skin you’d need immediate professional medical attention.
- Packing it out recklessly. You could do everything right caring for the antlers in the field and completely blow it when you pack them out. The most common ways we’ve seen (and done ourselves) people ruin all that hard work on the pack out is by letting those velvet antlers rub and bang into things. Velvet can rub off from compression straps and rope used to fasten the head to the pack. NEVER FASTEN IT BY THE ANTLERS! Don’t let the antlers rub back and forth on the pack itself either. Take as much time needed to get those antlers on your pack right. Also take every precaution you can when hiking those antlers out through the trees and brush. Branches and brush WILL tear and pull velvet off, again we know from experience.
- Assuming the taxidermist can fix it. Taxidermist can repair a lot of things but velvet is one aspect of taxidermy that is very hard to fix or reproduce. There just isn’t a good substitution for good, clean, well taken care of velvet antlers. Patched, painted, and reproduced velvet just doesn’t look as good nor does it look real. Instead assume that the taxidermist can’t fix it!