Antlers vs. Horns (Part 2): Why Does it Matter?

Whether you are having your trophy shoulder mounted with the hide, or a skull mount, there are questions about the process that you should ask your taxidermist or processor.

Taxidermy Preservation Issues:
When you bring antlered game to your taxidermist, preservation is not an issue. Most of the time the taxidermist removes all tissue surrounding the antlers and skull cap and the remaining bone is dried and then epoxied into place in the foam form used for your shoulder mount. When mounting animals with horns, special care needs to be taken to preserve the inside of the horn sheaths and tissue between the sheaths and the bone. Typically, horn sheaths are either injected with preserving chemicals, or the sheaths are removed from the bone, preserved and then reattached. It is important to ask about the process your taxidermist uses to be sure that the tissue will be either fully preserved or removed, and also that the horns will not be damaged in the process. Some taxidermists drill holes through the horns in areas not seen from the front of the mount to inject preservative. Some “pour” preservatives down the horn sheaths from near the base of the skull, and hope that it fully penetrates the horns and tissue. In addition, many African animals are preserved prior to shipping them to the US. In these types of preservation, chemicals and pesticides may be used that can be harmful to people.

For trophy mounts that have antlers, many people finish the antlers with urethanes, acrylic sprays, and other products, according to preference. While this is an excepted practice in the industry and people have varied opinions regarding each product, these same products used on horns can have a very different result. Horns, because they are made of hair, can be very susceptible to expansion and contraction from humidity and heat. Adding coating products to horns can cause issues down the road. When you are discussing your trophy mount with your taxidermist, be sure to discuss any coating on the horns, proper care, and if anything needs to be done in order to prevent cracking and peeling over time.

Skull Mount Preservation Issues:
For a skull mount, horn sheaths can be removed, preserved, and reattached after the skull is finished. Some processors choose to leave the sheaths intact and protect them during the processing. Depending on the process, horns can be damaged easily if they are not properly protected.. If boiling, horn sheaths in the water can cause damage. If using beetles for cleaning, beetles will eat through the horn sheaths. If macerating, the water and bacteria can damage the bases of the horns. Horns can also be damaged during the whitening process by peroxide.

For antlered game like elk, moose and Whitetail deer, Dermestid beetles will not eat antlers, and they are less susceptible to damage from water damage. However, proper care should still be taken with all processes, especially using peroxide for whitening, in order to insure your trophy mount is finished the way you want.

While many of these situations describe worst-case scenarios, it is worth understanding the preservation and finishing process that will be used on your trophy to ensure you have a product finished the way you want.