I began this project in November 14th, 2012 and had the first mount completed about one month later on December 13th, 2012. By January 2nd, 2013 I had nine mounted. The idea came after shooting two grouse and noticing the variation between the tails. As I collected more tails I noticed some are red (nick-named “cherry grouse” at our camp) and some are grey. There is further variation of color within red and grey as well as different banding patterns at the tips of the feathers. Some tails have two unique feather in the center while others have feathers that all look the same. I thought it would be cool to preserve some of the most interesting tails and that it would be appropriate to display them in the cabin as a tribute to Michigan wilderness and the tradition of hunting.
The hardest part was clearly going to be gathering the materials (ie, being a successful hunter). I began collecting tails a bit before November, being diligent to pin them soon after shooting. I found using scrap 6″ pine paneling and push pins to work well enough for this step. I have also heard of push pins and cardboard working. The pine secured the push pins well enough and during the dozen tails I pinned not one let loose during the drying phase.
Once the flesh on the tails dried to a leathery texture, effectively locking the feather in place I consulted the local taxidermist on the appropriate method for permanently locking the tail in the fanned position. Ken Harjala has been a taxidermist for some 30 years and I’ve seen enough of his work to know that if he says, “this is how you lock the feathers” that I should quite asking questions and start taking notes. So, on Ken’s advice this is how you lock feathers:
- Remove the small downy feathers to expose the shafts of the tail feathers
- Lay out wax paper
- Lock the feathers in the desired position
- Pour Bondo onto the feather shafts and allow to harden
After allowing 12 hours to set I found it necessary to remove the excess Bondo. After some trial and error I found a detail sander to be the most efficient way to remove the excess Bondo.
I’ve mounted a number of white-tailed deer antlers to plaques and have spent a fair amount of time wood working as a hobby. But unlike mounting antlers I really didn’t know what a plaque for a ruffed-grouse tail would look like. After a google image search or two I gave up on finding a plan and drew up my own version of what I thought a plaque should look like. Since grouse tails aren’t very large I wanted a clean, elegant, and simple mount.
On December 7th I visited Ken and spent a day in his wood shop. After about two hours I finally arrived at a general template for the plaque.
Once I had a template it was a simple task of tracing and cutting out the shape on the band saw. Then the shape was cleaned up on a spindle sander and mounted to a jig. With the plaque securely mounted to the jig I could use the band saw to cut a nice angle on the plaque. A trip to the table-top belt sander and I had a nice simple face for my plaque.
The plaques were made up of three pieces: a face, a spacer, and a hanger. Glue up was a simple task and using jaw clamps and gorilla glue.
… and repeating 19 times.
Once I had the spacer glued to the face I could drill and mount the hanger. With 19 newly milled plaques the next step was detail sanding and preparation for finishing. After some deliberation I settled on Minwax Sedona Red 222 wood finish. It enhanced the color of the cherry without looking artificial. I applied a coat and then wiped the plaques down 15 minutes later. I repurposed some old clothes hangers and recruited an electrical conduit in my basement for the finishing stage of this project.
Note that latex gloves will dissolve with oil-based finishes after about 5-10 minutes of contact – only a slight improvement over no gloves at all. Before finishing I tested Sedona Red 222 on some scrap pieces of cherry. As a precaution I always test stains and finishes before using them on my projects. I also determined that I would stain all unglued surfaces and then apply a semi-gloss polyurethane to all surfaces for at least one coat. The front of the plaque received a sanding with 220 grit and a second coat for aesthetics. Staining and finishing even the surfaces you don’t see is something I like to do in order to protect the wood from the changes in ambient humidity. This isn’t so much a concern for smaller projects like this, but for desks and cabinets it can be disastrous to have a board shrink or expand as a dwelling transitions from bone-dry winter air to heavy summer air. So, out of habit I stain and finish every bit of exposed wood I can on a project.
When it came time to mount the tails I learned another trick. If I sand the Bondo to the correct thickness I can take advantage of the solid wood construction and use the plaque to mechanically clamp the tail into the plaque. If the Bondo is too thin I can shim with rope caulk.
Here is a gallery with some of this years tails. I pinned about 1/3 of the tails shot and mounted about 3/4 of the tails I pinned. With 19 fully finished plaques I should be well prepared for the future.
- $5.97 :: Gorilla Glue 4 oz.
- $3.19 :: 1-5/8″ #8 coarse thread screw x165
- $9.71 :: 93-1/2 x 1/4 x .025″ 6 teeth/inch band saw blade
- $0.00 :: scrap cherry tongue and groove paneling
- $9.47 :: Minwax fast-drying polyurethane (semi-gloss), quart
- $3.97 :: Minwax Sedona Red 222 wood finish, half pint
- $3.97 :: 220 grit sand paper, 3 sheets
- $3.97 :: 150 grit sand paper, 3 sheets
- $2.52 :: 2″ foam applicators, qty 4
- $7.98 :: hand sander block
- $9.97 :: 100 pack latex gloves
- 10 hours required to make plaques
- 3 hours time needed to finish plaques
- 29 grouse shot this season
- 9 grouse tails mounted
- 19 total Plaques produced