Some skilled area taxidermists can give great look to your trophies.
The dean of them all is Southbridge's Al West of 268 Dresser Hill Road, (508) 765-9800. West pioneered the art here, mounting everything from squirrels and chipmunks to Cape buffalo and lions. For decades, very particular members of the Safari Club have loyally enlisted his services. West mounted my very first buck, which still magnificently looks over our family room.
Bob Watkins at 17 Wedgewood Road, Millbury, (508) 865-2239, is exceptional, too. Walk in his workshop and you'll see gigantic racks perennially entrusted to him because of skills that make his mounts come alive.
Bill Minior, retired MassWildlife biologist, does fine work, as well. His shop is at 11 Church St., Douglas, (508) 476-7709. Bill has mounted some special birds for me, too, including snipe, sora, and Virginia rails. Expect to get Minior's mounts back early because he wants to go fishing come April.
I've heard good reports about Southboro's Roland Baldelli. And before he retired, Worcester fireman Tim Johnson was considered a local master.
Mounts can be particularly impressive when pose and eye contact are appropriately addressed. Know exactly where you're going to place your mount. A deer should look at you -- not into space. A deer high on a wall, for example, should face downward toward the viewer.
Straight-forward, upright poses can look stiff. A slight turn or drop can add significant life. The first buck my young son ever shot with his bow -- for me, a much greater trophy than some of his later Illinois giants -- was a small six-pointer. To give it respect among all the monster bucks massively commanding their territory on our walls, we had it mounted in a distinctively different, full sneak position. That pose,while conveying its lower hierarchical position, draws well-deserved attention to it, eliciting a proud story I never tire of recounting.
Size is not always the measure of a trophy. A small deer can be a great trophy, measuring the difficulty or uniqueness of a hunt, or highlighting a significant moment in a hunter's life. For a column-full of reasons, my son's 6-pointer means more to me than any of the giants surrounding it.
Unusual deer of any size can make special trophies, too. Occasionally, someone takes a stunning piebald deer with varying degrees of white. Some hormonally abnormal does grow antlers. Though they tend to have minimal mass, they're rare trophies, indeed. And some bucks with testicular injuries produce bizarrely shaped racks. Bucks with severe testicular injuries may even have a rack that looks like a head of cauliflower or coral covered in velvet that is never shed.
As for mounting costs, expect to spend at least $475 -- and possibly more from some masters with exceptional reputations and large client pools. And while certain taxidermists will have your head ready in six months, others may take a whole year.
Some hunters take pride and save money processing their own meat, but many more need professional services. Ron Jette on 13 Northwest Road, Spencer (508) 885-5831, and A. Arena and Sons on 159 Ash St., Hopkinton, (508) 435-3673, both do excellent work.
Pricing varies, but don't be surprised to pay about 80 cents per pound. A 200-pound deer can cost you $160 for steaks, burger, and stew meat. Normally, higher prices coincide with more meticulous work, like removing all grizzle and vacuum packing. While freezing paper and plastic wrap can keep meat for a year without any problem, vacuum sealing can further extend venison's shelf-life.
Processing a deer yourself means first hanging it long enough to get rid of rigor mortis (at least 36 hours), and aging it for maximum tenderness. Ideally, that would be two weeks at 40 degrees -- perfect conditions that may exist in refrigerators, but seldom below a tree branch in one's backyard. Days over 50 can bring out flies and bacterial deterioration. Many deer hunters who take processing seriously have a dedicated refrigerator and freezer for venison.
After skinning, quartering, and cutting, the amateur processor needs a good meat grinder (about $500 from Cabela's) -- and some good recipes for sausage. Buying the right spices and adding pork fat for flavor are common options -- though the latter adds cholesterol to what naturally is the healthiest meat on the planet -- on par with skinned chicken.
Tough meat from the lower legs and neck is best ground into hamburg. The backstraps and tenderloins encasing the spinal column and getting the least exercise are the most tender. The upper hams are the next most tender cuts. The farther out from the body core, the more the muscles work, and the tougher they'll be. Increased blood flow in the outer extremities, though, makes that meat the most flavorful and the best choice for stew.
Many unlisted processors are overworked right now, taking jobs just for friends and long-time customers. Several requested I not mention them. Since they're deer hunters, they want a little time to hunt, too.
Contact Mark Blazis