Mounting Your Own Turkey Tail and Beard
As I pulled the trigger on a 25-pound gobbler strutting down the end of my gun barrel, I had visions of his stunning tail and ground-dragging beard adorning the wall of my den. I could already feel the memories of the hunt rushing through my mind each time I passed by the handsome display. I approached the downed bird and took care to preserve every feather as I carried him to the truck. When I arrived at the taxidermist, my thoughts of which wall I was going to hang the fan mount on were interrupted by the shocking $150 price tag. I never envisioned paying so much for something that looked so simple. Fact is, mounting a turkey tail and beard is simple. Don't get me wrong. A professional taxidermist will do an excellent job and produce a quality mount, but the average person can make their own tail and beard mount for a fraction of the cost and be very pleased with the results.
Obviously, taking care of the bird's feathers from the time it is shot until you hang them on the wall makes an enormous difference in the quality of the mount. Broken tail feathers are difficult to replace and the old adage of "an ounce of prevention" certainly applies. Shooting a strutting bird while it is facing you is also a sure way to turn a picture-perfect fan into an unusable mess. Wait for his tail to go down and his head to go up. After a clean shot is made, wrapping the bird in a bag or an orange vest (for safety) will help to prevent feather damage on the way out of the field.
Once you have the turkey home, the first step is to remove the tail. Close the fan and follow the tail feathers to the base. Feel for a triangle-shaped piece of meat beneath the skin that connects all of the tail feathers to the body. Cutting in front of this will separate the tail from the rest of the turkey. It is best to leave too much on the tail than not enough, as you can always remove more but putting some back on the tail proves to be rather impossible.
Now that the tail is removed, lay it on a flat, hard surface and scrape the meat from the feather quills. You don't want to remove the connective tissue between the feathers as this holds them to each other, but carefully get rid of all the other meat as it will increase the likelihood of spoilage.
Once the meat is removed from the base of the tail feathers, LIBERALLY apply borax to the quills and connective tissue. Borax is readily available at grocery stores in the laundry isle. Force the borax into every crack and crevice on the front and the back of the base of the tail by rubbing it in vigorously. Skimping on the borax or just sprinkling it on will invite insects and rot and greatly reduce the shelf-life of your tail mount.
Now that the tail is preserved, it is time to fan it out and let it dry. There are a few options when it comes to holding the tail in the fanned-out shape. A large piece of cardboard is probably the most widely used fan-holding apparatus. Assuming you want a full strut fan, spread it out so that the bottom feathers are parallel and the tail creates a complete half-circle. Some people might want to use a half-strut fan on a jake or gobbler decoy and mounting your own turkey tail certainly gives you that option. Simply spread the feathers to whatever position you would like to have them. Keep in mind that when they are dry, changing their position is not an option. Lay the spread-out tail fan onto the cardboard and place a small nail or pin in front of each bottom feather to hold it into position. Place another piece of cardboard on top of the fan and secure it in place with tape until the tail is dry, which should take 5-7 days.
For a more immediate mount, an epoxy (Bondo or similar product) can be used. Arrange the tail on the first piece of cardboard and pin in place as in the previous step, only this time make sure the back of the tail is facing up. Instead of covering with a second piece of cardboard, brush away any excess borax, mix a sufficient amount of epoxy and coat the unfeathered portion of the tail using a putty knife or similar tool. Spread to a thin layer and allow the epoxy to set up (about 30 minutes). If the epoxy is applied sufficiently to the back part of the fan, there is no need to use it on the front.
Another option for keeping the fan spread out to dry is a device called the Fan Dangler, which was chosen in the Top 5 New Products for Turkey Hunters article available in the gear review section of www.biggamehunt.net. Similar in shape to a clothes hanger, the Fan Dangler eliminates the need to pin your turkey tail to cardboard. You simply turn the fan upside down, place the last two feathers on each side into the clips on the device and hang it out of the way until it dries. Epoxy can still be applied to the base of the tail if desired, but isn't necessary unless the fan is going to take a lot of abuse.
The beard of a gobbler makes a nice addition to a tail feather mount. Remove it from the turkey by pulling it and cutting where it attaches to the body. Rub borax into the fleshy part of the beard and then place this part into a container of borax overnight. Once it is preserved, brush off any excess borax. If you are mounting the tail feathers in a wooden display panel (available at sporting goods stores), most of them will have a hole for the beard. Coat the end of the beard with epoxy, insert it into the hole in the panel and let it dry.
Now all that is left is to slide the fan into the slot on the panel and find a place of honor to hang your memorable trophy. Each time you pass by, it will not only remind you of the hunt but also of the $150 you saved and how much you enjoyed mounting your own turkey tail and beard.
Larry R. Beckett Jr. is a full time freelance writer, photographer and videographer. His greatest joy is spending time fishing, hunting and hiking with his wife and son. Larry discovered his enthusiasm for the outdoors at a young age and devotes much of his time trying to instill that same enthusiasm in future generations.