A nice mount of a gobbler’s tail fan is a great reminder of the day the bird was taken and the hours of preparation for the hunt. Mounting a turkey tail is not hard to do though it takes some patience and preparation. A turkey tail mounting kit makes it an easier task. Many of the things that you will need may already be around your home.
Like most things in life, a quality outcome begins with proper preparation. If you plan to mount a turkey’s tail, keep the feathers clean and dry and don’t let blood drip on the fan. If you carry a turkey out of the field by its feet the tail feathers are not likely to be damaged. If you stuff the bird into a turkey vest, close the fan and do not bend or break any feathers. Just let the tail stick out of the open top of the game bag on the back of the vest and wear some orange as you walk out of the field.
Remember that if you want to score the bird it must be weighed on a scale before it is cleaned or the tail removed. Birds that must be transported several hours should always be cooled down. It never hurts to eviscerate and pack ice into the body cavity if there is any doubt about keeping the bird fresh. If you have more than an hour before the bird is to be cleaned, the tail should be removed in the field. The bird should be gutted and the body cavity stuffed with ice, then stored in a cooler with additional ice on the outside of the bird. Protect the tail by carefully double bagging it in trash bags and keep it cool, clean and dry.
Removing the Tail
These instructions are for a right handed person. Put the bird on its back on a table or flat surface. Grasp the base of the fan in your left hand and bend the fan back. This will cause the "vent" to show up near the notch between your thumb and first finger. Take a sharp knife and cut downward about 3/4", just in back of the vent until you touch bone. This is the end of the backbone where you will find a cartilage filled space between the boney vertebrae. Gently cut through into the muscle and other tissue on the other side. Do not cut through the skin.
Now you can gently pull up on the tail and separate the skin on the back by inserting your finger between the back and skin. The objective here is to remove a 6" wide flap of skin and feathers up the back that will remain attached to the tail. Using a knife or scissors insert above the legs and cut the lateral edges of this flap about 5 or 6" on both sides and then cut across the mid back to remove the tail.
This will leave a broad patch of very nice looking feathers at the base of the tail fan that can be used in several types of mounts or discarded. Some tail fan mounts take a 5" wide strip of skin from the tail fan to the neck. If you take just the tail fan, you are limited to making the mount that uses only the tail. Taking this strip of skin will not affect the table quality of the bird. Remove any chunks of fat or muscle that are obvious and seal the tail fan in a plastic bag and freeze until you have the time to denote to the project. The beard and feet should also be removed. Remove the beard by grasping it at the base and pulling. Dusting some 20 Mule Team Borax into the end of the beard will protect it from insects. Remove the feet by cutting at the joint above the spurs.
Cleaning and Preserving the Skin
Most mature toms are often fairly lean in the spring, but there will still be fat to remove from the base of the tail. A number of tools can be used to remove the fat and muscle in this area. A small pair of sharp pointed scissors or a pen knife should be used to dig into the area where the large tail feathers are attached. Thaw out the tail and work from the bottom to remove as much of the bone, muscle and fat as possible. Remove the end of the backbone, muscles, and other tissue from this area to expose the feather bases. Do not cut the feather bases.
Using a sharp knife or the scissors make about a 1/2" cut, parallel to the feathers between each feather and remove as much of the tissue as possible. The yellow colored fat is best removed by scraping on the side and between the feather bases with a grapefruit spoon or a small knife. It is important to remove as much of this fat as possible and leave the skin attached.
Pack the area with Borax powder and rub it into the skin and well into the spaces between the feathers. It is important to rub the borax powder into all areas as this preserves the skin and keeps bugs out of your wall mount. The borax will draw out moisture and much of the remaining fat. Let the mount sit for an hour and remove the powder and re-apply fresh borax to all areas.
Look back over the tail and attached skin to make sure that no fat remains attached and that borax has been rubbed into all parts of the tail and skin.
Pinning out the Tail
The tail must now be arranged so it can dry. Spread out the tail and arrange the feathers so they overlap and look natural. Next, arrange the feathers that cover the base of the larger feathers on down to the smaller feathers. Care at this point will result in a better mount.
Next, lay the tail mount on a flat surface with the good side up, and arrange the feathers on a large piece of styrofoam or cardboard. Pin it in place using straight pins next to but not through the feather. Pin down the outer most feathers first and place long pins along the base of the feathers to hold them in place.
Check the fan the next day to make sure that the feathers are drying in place and nothing has shifted. When the tail is dry, remove the pins and remove any remaining tissue from the tail base and pack with more borax. It is often easier to remove more of the tissue after it has dried. Check again to see if the feathers are spread evenly and where you want them.
Finishing the Mount
The mount can be completed by using one of several Cabela’s/Van Dyke’s Turkey Tail Mounting kits. These kits contain all of the materials and instructions to complete a tail mount including a piece that will cover the exposed feather bases at the bottom of the mount and provide a place to attach your turkey’s beard and spurs.
Some turkey hunters like to remove the wing bones and tissues from the wings and mount the wings on either side of the tail fan and place the entire mount on a felt covered piece of plywood. These mounts give a good impression of the overall size of a wild turkey. Wild turkey wing feathers and other feathers can also be used to tie flies and in craft projects. Taking the time to prepare a tail fan mount is a great way to remember a special hunt. Preparing a tail mount for a successful novice hunter is a great way celebrate their first success.