Generally when archery seasons begin out West, most mule deer will still be in the velvet stage of antler development. When a bowhunter is lucky enough to take a trophy in velvet, oftentimes they want to preserve their trophy in its natural state. For those who are backpacked deep into a remote wilderness, they are generally not able to get it frozen and or deliver it to a taxidermist in a timely manner. As a result, the velvet slips and they no longer have the ability to mount it with the original velvet intact. Knowing how to successfully preserve the velvet is crucial for back-country hunters who wish to prevent the velvet spoiling and “slipping”. Untreated velvet, in room temperatures, begins to breakdown immediately and should be treated within 24 hours (depending on weather). Here’s what I’ve done over the years that’s worked for me while either in the field or at trailhead.
If you want to properly preserve velvet antlers in the field, you will have to inject & brush them with formaldehyde and/or some of the new less toxic chemicals (four in one solution works great as does Knobloch’s antler in velvet tan). I personally prefer the four in one solution to Velvet Tan, as it was easier to use for me, however, both will work. A well respected taxidermist whose specialty was velvet antlers taught me this in field technique.
First, (using rubber gloves and eye protection) take a razor blade and make small incisions at the tips of all points (less than 1/16″). Next hang the antlers upside down, allowing the blood to drain. Starting at the antler bases inject the solution into the veins (you’ll see and feel them) that follow the antler. You will begin to see the solution “push” out blood towards the tips. Continue injecting the solution as you work the untreated blood towards the tips. Be sure to inject several locations so you locate all the veins within each respective antler and/or point. Work your way towards the tips until you have no more velvet antler material to inject. Once the solution you are injecting is the same color coming out the tips, you have successfully removed the blood from under the velvet and replaced it with the preservative.
Allow the antlers to hang upside down overnight while in camp. After the solution has stopped dripping out the ends of each respective point, use a very fine painters brush and lightly brush the outside of the velvet with the solution. This will prevent bugs from entering the velvet from the outside. After allowing the velvet to dry, lightly “brush” out the velvet to give it the natural uniform look. Remember; wear eye protection and gloves when using formaldehyde or any other toxic chemicals. Slow down and don’t be in a hurry to finish. A trophy set of antlers may take you an hour or two of injecting /brushing. If done correctly, your trophy will last forever. I’ve used this technique numerous times and have several mounts, some being twenty years old, which still look great with no bug infestation.
Remember, this technique is for in the field preservation. If you can get the antlers to a taxidermist in a timely manner (within 24 hours), then by all means do so. However, for the back-country hunter who is often several miles from trailhead and civilization, the only viable option is to preserve them yourself.