How to package a bird for storage and mounting.
This is a hot subject as of late and rightly so. We bring to bear a considerable amount of time, money and thought preparing for the actual hunt, but often little preparation on what happens if we harvest a trophy bird. Are you prepared in the field? Birds chosen for taxidermy directly after the harvest can certainly be one of the most delicate specimens to try and care for if you are not at least somewhat prepared. Sure, often times they turn out after being in the worst possible conditions and half eaten by a dog because you "got a great taxi" on speed dial. However, more often than not, there are likely features on your specimen that may have yielded a more fetching result had they been cared for properly. Several small considerations can really add up to a larger and more desirable outcome in the taxidermy shop.
With heaps of information on the web for how to properly package a bird for the freezer that will be going to the taxidermist, how do you know which is the best way? We all know someone that swears his/her way is the best method out there. Well, lets just break it down and understand whats taking place in that freezer so we can actually understand why we do what were asked to do for packing.
First and foremost, why all the hype with how to package them in the first place? Answer, FREEZER BURN! Freezer burn is a taxidermist's nemesis. The more freezer burn the dermis (skin) gets, the further from a desirable result your specimen will be. So you probably are already thinking, "well that's easy. I can prevent freezer burn no problem." Well, that's the trick. We need to prevent freezer burn all while taking extreme care for the tenderness and integrity of the feathers on our specimen. Sure we can package it so the skin never freezer burns, but doing so will typically negatively affect the condition of the feathers. So, whats the skinny then? Pardon my amazing pun.
We want to package the bird to avoid freezer burn, but in the least handled way possible. Have you heard the ladies nylon or panty hose technique? It's been around for ages. Does it work? Sure, it works wonders...sometimes. Heard of wrapping it in newspaper? Does it work? Sure, at times. Heard of vacuum sealing in freezer vac bags? Does it work? For sure, some of the time. How about triple wrapping it in Walmart bags? The issue with all of the above is they are just not necessary and furthermore over-handle or too rigorously come in contact with the feathers of the bird. The nylon can hold feathers in an undesirable or wrong direction, then freeze them like that causing a bad memory in that feather tract. Kind of like bed head when you wake up in the morning, only this severe cowlick may not wash out. They can collect blood and disperse blood and clotting to other feathers, pulling and moving them in the freezer. Causing a mess upon thawing. The newspaper can leave ink on your bird. The vacuum sealer bags can leave the imprint of the structural components of the bag directly into the feathers and skin. We can go on and on. The point is, these methods are simply not necessary. So why put yourself through the risks when again, it's just not necessary.
Below is a list of the key ingredients to the most successful taxidermy outcome possible based on the condition it was in directly after harvest. Also, remember this one Key Note. A bird will only look as good as the moment it expired before it hit the water or ground. Taxidermy is not magic and therefore we can not simply create a look that was not there before it expired. Follow these key principles.
1. Keep the birds dermis (Skin) from freezer burning. This includes the feet and bill to facial skin transition.
2. Keep the feathers clean.
3. Keep the feathers in a neat and natural position so it freezes in that position.
MOST COMMONLY ACCEPTED METHOD BY AVIAN TAXIDERMISTS
A solid, heavy duty Ziplock freezer bag. That's it folks, it's that easy. It's simple and is the minimalist approach to less is more. A good name brand freezer bag will prevent freezer burn all while allowing the bird some room to breath. Meaning it's feathers are not pressed tightly and firmly together in odd positions and shapes. Therefore the bird can rest easy in the freezer, UN-constricted and NOT OVER-HANDLED.
Most avian taxidermists will tell you to do some version of the following. And when you do, they will thank you! So take a bird guys advice and do this :
1. Once your bird is harvested, cool it down as quickly as possible. If possible and you know your heading on a trip where a trophy bird may be harvested and the weather is warm, think ahead! Bring :
a. Cooler w/ ice
b. Something to place that bird into temporarily so that the heat can escape the body cavity while its cooling.
A Walmart bag or something similar, left open, just as a barrier to the ice for example.
2. Lay the bird into your cooler, again not sealing it in any type of bag just yet. It needs to cool down first. (note: if it's cold weather conditions, this entire step is not necessary. Although getting the birds placed somewhere out of harms way will not hurt. Put it somewhere that guns, decoys, ropes, anchors and such will not damage the feathers. DO NOT PLACE THE BIRD ON A GAME STRAP! Not even the foot straps. The head game straps can ruin your neck feathers and so can the feet straps by overstretching skin, etc. Also, if it is below freezing temps, do not place your wet bird, or even slightly wet bird down onto a surface that it will freeze to. You will never get it off and the feathers will stay where you left it to freeze. For example, if it's 30 degrees and you lay your freshly shot bird to cool down on the aluminum deck of your boat... it WILL freeze to the surface. Damage will occur when you try to remove the bird later. Put the bird somewhere it can not freeze, or lay in on a plastic bag or Walmart bag while it cools.
3. Once home or at camp, remove the cooled bird. Lightly groom any displaced or bent feathers back to their
original position to the best of your ability. Don't tug or pull on them. Just lightly use your fingers to realign them.
4. Take a paper towel and get it soaking wet. Wrap the feet, legs & head to bill transition completely so no skin is showing. Head to bill transition means where the face feathers meet the birds bill. Wrap the wet paper towel around the leg several times so it will cover all exposed leg/feet skin and not fall off. Now, make sure the feet are pointing straight back and on the rump of the bird. All to often no care is placed on where the legs actually freeze. The leg's should be facing to the tail, straight as possible and tucked tight to the anus area of the bird. Don't allow them to tangle in tail or side feathers, or wing feathers. Take the extra time now to ensure feathers are where they are suppose to be before your final steps. Same with the bill to skin transition, wrap it all the way around / lightly, several times. Don't allow feathers to bend in the wrong direction when wrapping the wet towel, pay close attention and go slow. If you follow these steps, it will freeze this way, in it's natural position and help avoid these areas from drying out and losing moisture.
5. Take a small piece of that paper towel (dry not wet), or cotton ball and lightly place inside of the birds mouth. This will catch any escaping blood upon freezing and thawing. Note: use something that will absorb the blood. Take extra care on this step not to overstretch the upper and lower bills apart too far. You could tear the skin. Be gentle. This part is not mandatory, but I figure it takes literally ten seconds and really does stop a majority of the blood upon thawing the bird.
6. Carefully tuck the head to the back of the bird, laying it directly on the top of the back. Almost as if it were preening feathers on it's back. (Some tuck under one wing. I prefer the back as not to mess up side bar feathers on specimens like Wood Ducks and other standing type mounts where side pocket feathers are prevalent) I also just take a standard dry piece of paper towel and place it in between where the head lays on the back feathers. This just helps any possible blood seepage from getting on the feathers. It's not necessary, but it's what I do. Place the bird "shoulders first" into the 2 gallon zip lock bag. Likely if it's a Mallard or larger duck, you will have to place it in at a 45 degree angle. Then start to seal one end of the zip lock, but leave the other end open. Lightly roll the bird in the bag to fold over the excess empty bag sections, so the bag is mostly the shape of your duck. Lightly squeeze the air out by hand. Attempt to get as much of the air out as possible. However, DO NOT vacuum seal it! You could take a tub full of water and slowly set your bird in the bag down into the water, removing any air, and then zipping it shut. Not putting water in the bag, but using water outside the bag to push the air out of the inside of the bag. But, just doing so by hand should suffice.
7. Be careful not to bend the tail feathers in the bag. Try and keep feathers as straight as possible into the freezer. If your having a hard time with this, take some 3x5 note cards, or some pieces cut from a cereal box and build a support card for the tail. Put a piece on top and a piece on bottom and carefully without going through the feathers, just use an office type basic stapler and staple the two pieces of cardboard together, sandwiching the tail between them loosely. Again, don't staple the feathers, just staple the edges. This method works great for birds with long tails such as Pintails, Old Squaws, Pheasants, Grouse, etc.
8. Place bird in freezer in a low use area. Get to taxidermist as soon as your able. (Note, we want the bird brought to us in a thawed state. We go through this in our pricing section on our website. However, the day before your scheduled appointment with your Taxi, remove the bird and let thaw at room temperature. This should be a max of 24 hours, no more. The Taxi will want to inspect and diagnose the actual condition of the bird in your presence.
9. If frozen properly, waiting 1-2 years should not be an issue. Longer than that will require slight modifications to this program.
DO NOT DO THESE THINGS:
1. Do not put in panty hose or nylons (This works for some upland game birds because of the way their feather tracts work. However, even on them, if feathers are out of place in a nylon, it makes things worse for the taxidermist.
2. Do not vacuum seal.
3. Do not wrap in wet towels.
4. Do not wrap in newspaper.
5. Do not set freshly bagged unfrozen bird on freezer grates or shelving with textured surfaces that will transfer to the bird carcass once frozen.
6. Do not gut or breast out the bird.
7. Do not remove the tail unless you are trained to do so. (Upland game birds such as Turkeys or Pheasant)
8. Do not store birds in a "Frost Free" freezer. These new types of freezers are designed to remove moisture to prevent frost build up. However, they then will freezer dry your birds very quickly.
9. Do not lay a freshly harvested bird in below freezing temps on your boat deck or any surface it will freeze to.
10. Do not wait to freeze your bird. Get it frozen ASAP after harvest!
11. Do not hang your bird from any type of game strap! No exceptions! Not even for one quick photo.
12. Do not just toss in a bag and throw in the freezer, read the instructions on how to prepare it. The better care you take, the better the outcome.