April 19, 2001 11:00 pm
PROTECT THOSE FEATHERS: Mark Steele displays a turkey in his Baker City taxibermy shop. (Baker City Herald photo).
PROTECT THOSE FEATHERS: Mark Steele displays a turkey in his Baker City taxibermy shop. (Baker City Herald photo).

By Dick Mason

Observer Staff Writer

Sometimes turkey hunters should make the bird they are pursuing suspicious.

Hold on to your turkey calls, hunters. The above is not a contradictory statement.

The reason: a turkey that hears a suspicious sound will stop strutting and let its tail feathers down. As a result, when the turkey is shot it is less likely that any pellets will break off the birds tail feathers.

Keeping the tail feathers in good condition is important for anyone who wants to have a bird made into a mount, said Baker City taxidermist Mark Steele.

At a presentation in La Grande last week, Steele told hunters how to keep their turkeys in good condition. His advice was timely because turkey season in Northeast Oregon started on Sunday.

Steele said it is easy to put a turkey on alert and cause it to put its head up and drop its tail feathers.

Any sound will make a turkey suspicious, Steele said.

If any large tail feathers are dislodged when a bird is hit, gather them and give them to the taxidermist so they can become part of the turkey mount, Steele said.

One thing hunters should not worry about is their birds head. Steele and many other taxidermists prefer to use artificial heads when creating a mount because it is extremely difficult to restore a turkeys head. One reason is that blood pressure has a major influence on the appearance of a turkeys head.

Once the skin has dried you cant bring it back, Steele said.

Hunters who are not concerned about the condition of their turkeys head should carry their birds out feet first. They should feel free to do this because there is no reason to worry about blood running from the body to the head.

It is OK if blood gets on the head, Steele said.

Blood should not get on the feathers, though. Steele advises hunters to wipe off blood with tissue, cotton or something absorbent and to use tissue to plug holes that are leaking blood.

Hunters should not despair if any blood dries on the feathers. Steele said he can lift the blood off with peroxide and soap.

It is better if you keep the blood off. The feathers do not lay down as smoothly if they have been washed, he said.

Feathers of most upland game birds do not look as good after they have been washed. Ducks are the exception.

Once hunters get their birds home they should put cotton or tissue down the beak to prevent digestive juices from getting on the birds feathers, Steele said.

Once home, hunters need to make sure all bleeding is stopped before putting the turkey in a plastic bag and then in a freezer.

Steele spoke at a program put on by the Union County chapter of the Oregon Hunters Association.


Completing a basic mount of a turkey takes a taxidermist about 12 hours.

One of the most time-consuming parts of the process is getting the feathers of a bird to lie right, said Baker City taxidermist Mark Steele.

Another major challenge is placing eight-gauge wire through the legs and wings of the bird. The placement of the wire is based on the type of position a hunter wants his bird to be in. Hunters can have their turkeys placed in strutting or flying positions.

One of the most important things a taxidermist must do is clean out the fat under a turkeys skin. The fat is usually concentrated in the chest area but sometimes it is throughout the body. If the fat is not removed it will turn to liquid and run out and ruin the feathers, Steele said.

The skin of turkeys is fairly strong. This makes them much easier to work with than smaller game birds that have delicate skin, Steele said.

Once an initial mount is completed Steele will often do things such as add a habitat structure. Wood or an artificial structure that looks like grass or ground can enhance the mount, Steele said.

Steele has worked as a taxidermist for about 30 years. He worked in Alaska for 20 years before moving to Baker City six years ago.