How to Completely Break Down and Mount a Turkey

 How to Mount a Turkey | Turkey Mounting 101

Whether you tagged your first gobbler ever this spring or your 50th bird, the beauty of a turkey never seems to get old. There’s something about the perfect way the feathers all align and how they can camouflage a big bird so well. And there is no denying that the iridescent bronze, green, and purple reflections on their feathers are worth studying over and over again. So if you want to gaze on this spring’s turkey every day, have you considered a turkey mount? Mounting a turkey yourself can intimidate some people, but it’s really not very hard to do. This article will walk you through how to prepare a turkey for a turkey fan mount, including the skull, spurs, and beard on the plaque (like the image below). Cleaning a turkey for this mount can be broken down into the following six steps.  

1. Turkey Field Care

The first thing you will want to do after shooting a turkey in the field is to clean it as soon as possible. It should go without saying, but please be careful to not damage the feathers in any way. This is especially true if you’re going to do a full body turkey mount. The gentler you are on the turkey, the nicer your finished turkey mount will look. If at all possible, bring the turkey somewhere where you can clean it on a table. That will help keep it clean of dirt, grass, or leaf debris. Carry the turkey by the legs so that the head and neck are hanging down lowest, which should keep blood from getting on the other feathers. Finally, make sure to use a sharp knife when you start the cleaning process, as that is the safest option.

 2. Removing and Cleaning the Beard

Removing a turkey beard is probably the simplest thing you can do as far as turkey taxidermy goes. Grab the beard and pull it away from the breast. At the base of the beard, under the skin, you should feel a lump where this connection of beard feathers ends. Use your knife to gently cut below this lump until it separates from the skin. Clean it up by picking away any other downy breast feathers and trimming the excess skin. To preserve it, rub some table salt and borax onto all the exposed flesh and skin (there shouldn’t be much left after cleaning it). This mixture will dry and preserve it, which locks the beard feathers in place. This part of mounting a turkey takes very little effort, and it’s a worthwhile memory to preserve.

3.How to Clean a Turkey Skull

Including a white turkey skull on your mount plaque adds a unique touch to it, yet most people don’t bother with this when mounting a turkey. Locate the base of the skull and remove it from the neck by cutting all around and then twisting the head to detach it. Gently make an incision under the skin lengthwise down the head and peel the skin off to each side. Don’t press the knife blade down too aggressively or you could score the skull, which will show in the final mount. Keep the knife blade flat as you are peeling the skin around the eye sockets so you do not nick them either. After that is finished, you can send it in for dermestid beetle skull cleaning. Cleaning bird skulls can be a tricky if you don’t use the beetles since their bones are much less forgiving than a deer skull. The beetles will clean the skulls nicely, and then we will whiten them for your display. 

4. Removing Turkey Spurs

This part of mounting a turkey is pretty easy as well. It is ideal to have about a one-inch segment of leg bone with the spur attached so it will fit on the plaque, but you can make them as long as you want. Score the legs where you would like to cut them, and then use a hack saw to cut through the bones. They will usually snap clean after several saw strokes, but you can use your knife to cut whatever skin is still attached. These can be sent in for beetle cleaning at this point. The beetles will remove the tissue around the hollow leg bones and then we will whiten them.

5. How to Mount a Turkey Fan

The turkey tail fan is what ties the whole mount together. You can choose where to draw the line, but it usually makes a better mount if you include several rows of the rump feathers to add some more depth, texture, and colors to the finished piece. To remove the fan from the turkey, fold the chosen feathers together so you can hold it in one hand. At the base of the feathers, you should be able to feel a lump, which is essentially where the tail bone is and where the feathers all end. Rotate it around a few times to feel where the rough joint is, and then use your knife to cut along that area until it separates from the body. At that point, you should clean up your workspace so that there is no blood or dirt that will discolor or affect the look of the fan. On the rear side of the fan, remove all the downy base feathers (not the long tail feathers obviously). The goal is to remove as much of the skin, flesh, and feathers as possible until all you really notice is the yellow cartilage, feather quills, and a little of the skin.

As far as how to mount a turkey fan, start by liberally spreading an equal mixture of table salt and borax onto the flesh and throughout the base of the quills on the back side, using your gloved hands to massage it in. This will dry and preserve the tail fan base, which keeps it from rotting and smelling. Spread the tail fan out and place it front-side up onto a premade jig (made of plywood and screws), which will keep the feathers spread until it dries out (in approximately two weeks). Take time to arrange the feathers the way you like them because they will dry in place and it will be hard to adjust them later. Make sure the central tail feather is laying on top and that all the other proceeding tail feathers are behind that one to each side. Dump some more salt and borax onto the front base of the feathers and behind the first row of feathers as well. The final step is to lay a few strips of blue painters tape across the feathers to ensure they stay in place. Don’t use any other kind of tape as they could stick to the feathers and ruin your mount.

Final Steps for Mounting a Turkey

After taking the turkey apart like this, you can mount the pieces onto a wooden plaque with the fan on display behind, the skull and the spurs on the front wooden cap, and the beard hanging below. If you’re looking for some other unique turkey mount ideas, check out this other article. The video below takes you through the whole process of mounting a turkey, so you can see the beginning to end in a very short time.

If you’re wondering how to mount a full body turkey or how to skin a turkey for mounting, you would have to take even more care and delicately skin the full turkey. This cape would then be mounted on turkey taxidermy forms. While a full body turkey mount is definitely a unique mount or one that you save for a trophy turkey, it takes much more work than the plaque mount above. No matter what you choose to do, take care of the turkey from the field until you’ve harvested the meat and removed the various mount pieces, and you’ll be pleased to look at the final product for years to come. 

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Unique Turkey Mounting Ideas and Skull Mounts

Turkey Skull Mounts and Mounting Options

When you think of mounting a turkey, you probably immediately think about tail fan mounts. That’s definitely the most common turkey mounting option. Another is full body turkey mounts for those exceptionally big or beautiful birds you luck out with. Both mounts are great ways to preserve a hunt, but there are plenty of other unique turkey mount ideas to add a little diversity to your home collection. So if you’re looking for a fresh idea this spring, consider trying turkey skull mounts or one of the other turkey mount options below. If your wall is filling up with the same old turkey fan mounts, one of these could be your new favorite idea!

How to Clean a Turkey Skull

If and when you kill a turkey this spring, you need to be a little careful how you prepare the skull to send it in for skull cleaning services. Since bird skulls are lightweight, hollow, and somewhat delicate, you do not want to break anything. That being said, cleaning bird skulls is not a hard task if you know what you’re doing.

Remove the head from the neck by making an incision between the skull and the last vertebra and then twisting the head to sever it. Make an incision under the skin from the beak all the way up over the head and peel the skin and feathers off each side of the skull. Keep the knife blade flat against the skull as you‘re peeling the skin around the eye sockets so you don’t nick them. Last, make a V-shaped cut along the underside of the jaw, which will almost free the tongue from the mouth so you can remove it. At that point, it is ready to send in for European skull cleaning.

Many people are confused about the best way to clean a skull. You might think you could just toss an animal skull into a pot of boiling water to clean it. While that would indeed remove the fat and flesh, that has several drawbacks. The boiling water leaches minerals from the turkey skull mounts, softens them, and it may also turn them yellow. Dermestid beetle skull cleaning is definitely the best method to clean bird bones, mostly because they’re so brittle and delicate. Skull cleaning beetles can easily and quickly clean a turkey skull without weakening the structure of the bone. Our skull cleaning business uses a process that starts with you sending the skull in for the beetle cleaning. After they‘ve been picked clean, the skulls are degreased to remove fats and oils present from the flesh. The time required for this degreasing process will vary from animal to animal. After drying for a few days, it’s whitened in a two-step process. If there are any off-colors or blemishes left after this method, we’ll whiten it again. At that point, you can also choose to have your turkey skull mounted on a wooden plaque, which brings you to several turkey skull mount ideas and options.

Turkey Skull Mounts and Other Ideas

As mentioned, there are many other interesting ways to display your turkey mounts. They can be displayed separately as standalone pieces or mounted to wooden plaques or displays. Similarly, you can obviously use any of the ideas below alone or in combination with other full body mounts or turkey fan mounts. If you feel wasteful about mounting only the tail fan and want to use and display more of your turkey, this is a great way to do that. If you already have several other existing turkey mounts in your house, you can also simply display these new additions alongside them. They’ll look great regardless of what route you take!

The most basic turkey mount idea here is to just display the turkey skull mounts by themselves. Turkey skulls are really interesting to look at with their numerous delicate bones and yellow beaks. The skulls can be displayed on a plaque or simply placed on a shelf. You can paint them various colors or dip them in camouflage patterns if that is a style you like. Plain skulls also look great when paired with other bones, feathers, or mounts too. For example, for turkeys with really long or wickedly curved spurs, you could showcase it in a turkey foot mount. This idea is really unique and is a conversation piece for sure. We clean these leg bones stand them up for display like the picture below.

If you’re mostly interested in turkey fan mount ideas, you’re really only limited by your imagination. Some hunters prefer to just display the tail fan itself, which is easy enough to do yourself at home, although it does take some elbow grease and time. Alternatively, you could display the tail fan and beard together on a plaque, which is what many people decide to do. But here’s where it can get a little more interesting. On top of the turkey tail mount plaques, you could also add the turkey skull mounts or portions of the leg bones with the spurs. You could even arrange the leg bones in a skull and crossbones style on top of the wooden plaque, which is a common waterfowl skull mount style that also looks good with turkeys. These options allow you to display more of a turkey than you normally might and are different from what the vast majority of hunters display.

If these turkey skull mounts and turkey mount pictures look interesting to you, keep them in mind for this spring. Turkey season is just around the corner now across most of the country. In just a few short weeks, you could be in the field with a gobbler down in front of you and you’ll definitely think of these mount ideas from Beetle Juice Skull Works in that moment!