Most people can't wait to dive in and gut the big 8-pointer they just shot. Back at the skinning shack, they do a pretty good job of peeling off the hide ... until they get down to the neck. Whoa, now what? Don't wanna mess up, I'm gonna mount this baby! Well, caping out a deer's head and face is not major surgery. You can do it in either seven or 13 easy steps. If you mess up a cut or two, no biggie. Your taxidermist can sew it and fix it.
1.) Hang a buck head down with its nose a foot or so off the ground.
2.) Cut through the hide and completely around the deer's body behind the front legs.
3.) Cut all way around each front leg above the knees.
4.) Skin out from the circular body cut to the leg incisions; free the hide from the legs.
5.) Cut along the top of the shoulders and along the back of the neck to within inches of the antlers. Cut out to each antler in a "Y" incision.
6.) Using your hands and knife, peel/skin the hide down, around and over the head and rack as far as possible. Pull it tightly out of the way.
7.) Cut all the way around and through the thick neck meat, down to the spine bones. Grab each side of the rack, twist the neck, crack a vertebrae joint and the head should pop right off. You're left with a long, flowing cape with a buck's head inside. (You can carry your trophy to a taxidermist who will cape out the head and face for a shoulder mount. Or, you can make the finishing cuts. Why not try it on a deer this fall? You'll never learn to cape if you don't try it.)
8.) Lay the buck's head on a clean workbench or table. Cut and pry the hide from around each antler, leaving as little hair as possible on the pedicels. A flat-head screwdriver in addition to your knife works well for this.
9.) Use a small, sharp caping knife to cut off the ears as close as you can to the skull.
10.) Using your fingers to guide your caping blade, cut beneath and around the eyes. Run the blade as tight as you can to the skull bone. Be careful not to clip off the eyelids. This is not as hard as it sounds, just go slowly and be careful.
11.) Continue to skin down the top, sides and bottom of the face to the tip of the nose. Cut off the lips and nose close to the facial bones; leave them attached to the cape.
12.) Carry the fully caped buck to the taxidermist, who will turn the ears, split the lips, etc.
13.) Oh yeah, the big antlers! Saw down through the front of the skull at the eye sockets; make a second cut low behind the "horns" and through to the eyes; the skull plate will pop right off. Be careful not to crack or break the plate. If you split it, the rack is not eligible for the record book (if that is something you care about). Tote the skull plate with antlers along with the cape to the taxidermy shop. In six months or so you'll get back a shoulder mount you'll be darn proud of.
Build Your Skills
My tool kit consists of three items: a caping knife, a skinning knife and a sharpening stone. First, use a deep-bellied, fixed-blade skinner with a gut hook to zip open a buck and remove his innards, then peel off the body hide with the stout skinning blade.
Remington, Cabela's and Buck Knives make good skinners. When you get down to the more tedious head-and-face work, switch to a caping knife, a knife with a thin, sharp, 2- to 3-inch blade. The Cub Bear from Knives of Alaska is my favorite skinner; Gerber also makes a good one. Keep a stone or steel handy to keep your skinner and caper finely honed.