Going to the trouble of caping a doe or young buck might seem like a strange idea, but it has to do with the whole “practice” concept. First, I should explain the terms “cape,” and “caping” because their meaning varies, depending on the situation.
Here’s how it works: Your taxidermist will be happy to work with a head that has a “cape” attached to it. In this context, the word refers to the skin from the front part of the deer. The term “caping,” however, is generally used to describe the process of skinning the animal’s head. That’s the next step, and “caping” is something you or your taxidermist will need to do very carefully with a scalpel or a small, razor-sharp caping knife. Once this operation is complete, the skin from the head and the front part of the animal is also referred to as a “cape.”
Caping is not easy. It’s detailed, meticulous work. Most hunters who try it do so for the extra challenge—and it definitely is a challenge. The skin on a deer’s head hangs on tight. If you slip up, it could be tough for your taxidermist to hide the damage—damage that will probably be in an area where it’s especially visible.
Even if your work is flawless, don’t expect a lower taxidermy bill. For taxidermists, this is just the first step in a long process. If they need to make extra repairs, your bill could actually be a bit higher.
Some hunters take on the challenge so they can sell capes to a taxidermist. In a pinch, taxidermists can then use these raw materials to replace damaged capes they’ve received from their customers. Taxidermists might even be willing to purchase capes and antlers they can use to make mounts for sale to local taverns and restaurants. (Rumor has it this is also what happens when hunters don’t pay the second half of their taxidermy bill.)
There might even be situations when you have no choice but to do your own caping. If you’re hunting without a guide in a remote area where you’ll need to fly out your trophy or carry it out on your back, then you’d better be ready to cape your own and have the right tools for the job on-hand.
But here’s the key: Don’t wait for the trophy of a lifetime, and don’t wait until you’re out in the bush somewhere with flies buzzing around your head and a grizzly bear with half-grown cubs likely to wander by at any moment. Instead, practice on a few “ordinary” deer, back home at the workbench in your own garage.
Although our emphasis in “Gut It. Cut It. Cook It.” is definitely on venison rather than trophies, we do cover these step-by-step details in a later chapter. Most of the photos are a little too—detailed—to share here. But if all goes well, your final results will be something that makes you smile daily.
Al Cambronne is co-author of “Gut It. Cut It. Cook It.: The Deer Hunter’s Guide to Processing and Preparing Venison.” His most recent book is “Deerland: America’s Hunt for Ecological Balance and the Essence of Wildness.” On Twitter: @AlCambronne.