Deer Taxidermy

Whitetail Deer Earbutts 101

Whitetail deer earbutts can be intimidating to some taxidermists especially to the new comers to the game.  There are two wrongs I usually observe on first time deer mounts that will stick out to any veteran taxidermist.  Either they have over exaggerated whitetail earbutts for the season the deer was killed in or we have what is called sausage ears. Sausage ears are earbutts that are roundish earbutts from the base and continue up into the ear liner giving it a tube like effect. Even some veteran taxidermists are guilty of over exaggerating earbutt muscle including myself from time to time.

Before we get too deep into this article you should know this is a two part series with part 1 being hosted over on Taxidermy Talk. It is an introduction into whitetail deer ears and should be read before getting yourself too heavily involved with this article.

Moving on, there are a few popular ways of doing a whitetail deer earbutt. You can clay them in, you can epoxy them in or you could purchase and install a pre-cast, prepositioned whitetail deer earbutts found in many of the taxidermy supply catalogs today. Also available are complete ear liners with earbutts molded in. Each method has advantages and each method has dis-advantages. No method is more right or wrong then the other method. However if you follow any of the online Facebook taxidermy groups or subscribe to a taxidermy forum, you will see at times a disagreement over which method is better, which method is a waste of time and so on. Whether you use ear liner or bondo ears either method will work. However the pictorial within this article will mainly focus on sculpting whitetail deer earbutts while using ear liners.

The first method would be the simpler route to go if you’re new to deer taxidermy. It would be using the cast, pre-positioned earbutt, sold by a few of the big box taxidermy supply companies. They are for the most part damn near close to anatomy correctness and you can’t screw them up when mounting, unless your point of attachment is off. More later on the keyword point of attachment as it plays a major role in mounting whitetail deer.

Cast whitetail deer earbutts come in three positions, whitetail deer ears forward, ears half back and ears full back. I highly suggest to any one going with both ears forward on a whitetail deer mount to use the pre-cast earbutts. It will be quicker and you will have two symmetrically sized ear butts with both ears being in the exact same position and ear rotation, if your point of attachment is dead on.

The only really negative downside to using the pre-cast whitetail deer earbutts is that you have no control over ear rotation or the angle of the ear coming of the form. You’re pretty much in a fixed position with the use of any cast earbutt, so that is something to consider when using them. Also you must use an ear liner that is designed to marry into the earbutt. Not all ear liners will work with the pre-cast earbutts.

If using a bondo ear, you will install the ear butt after pouring your bondo into the ear, and after you place a glob of bondo inside the earbutt canal. Do not shape your bondo filled ear until the pre-made earbutt is in place. When shaping and smoothing your bondo ear allow the bondo to flow over and onto the pre-cast earbutt. Before the bondo sets hard peel back the skin off of the earbutt. The bondo will be getting hot at this point and that is when you will want to peel back the earbutt skin off from the ear butt. Just like you were turning the ear again but stop as soon as you off from the earbutt. Your bondo should have bonded the pre-cast earbutt onto the conchal cartilage, becoming one whole until. Doing this will allow you to taxi the ear butt skin during mounting and add any necessary wrinkles if so desired. It will also allow you to properly seat the ear butt to the deer form, aligning your point of attachment. This method will take practice and can become messy your first few tries.  It’s not that easy to pull off but can be done successful with great results.

When using earliners with the pre-cast whitetail deer earbutts I always glue the earliner to the earbutt. This of course is after I sand, prepare and have test fitted the earliner. I use a 5 minute epoxy to accomplish this. Others will secure their earbutts to the form using a screw and then insert the ear liner into the earbutt during the mounting process, which is perfectly fine to do also. But not before applying hide paste to the inside of the earbutt canal. It’s always a good practice to ruff up the inside of the pre-made earbutts so you get better glue adhesion between the ear liner and earbutt.

The last method I use and use more often when mounting deer is to sculpt my whitetail deer earbutts out of clay. You can use epoxy if you so desire, but I prefer the clay.  Sculpting your own ear butts takes a little practice to getting use to if you have never done them before. They key part in sculpting ear butts is to have reference on hand of muscle structure. I highly suggest you acquire one of the 3D reference cast models available to the taxidermist. If you can’t then no worries just purchase some pre-made, pre-positioned earbutts and use them for reference. I will give a shameless plug to W.A.S.C.O and Ohio Taxidermy Supply as having some the best accurate pre-made cast earbutts on the market. If you’re going to do your deer with clay butts it wouldn’t hurt, however I insist that you have a set of ears forward, ears half back and ears full back whitetail deer earbutts sitting in your shop 24/7.

I use ear liners on all of my deer and will only bondo an ear from time to time due to the ear being badly damaged and or torn. The ear liners I use on my deer are the ear liners designed to fit into the pre-made pre-cast earbutt. They work great for clay sculpted whitetail deer earbutts and I highly suggest you use them too.

When you sculpt your own whitetail earbutts you will have more freedom and control over your ear rotation and position. A whitetail deer is constantly moving and twerking their ears nonstop. They can be in any one position at any given time. They are also independent from one another. One ear can be forward while another ear can be in a back position. It’s important to remember deer usually rotate their ears while moving from front to back and then again back to front. But then again I have seen live deer move their ears back with very little rotation involved. So the next time a judge states your ear rotation is questionable, show them a reference pic on how you came to position your ear.

The main reason to pre-sculpt your earbutts is so you can see exactly what your deer ears will look like before taxiing the skin on. You will have no guess work if you have enough clay on your earbutts or not. You pretty much get to see your deer together without the cape. That’s if you have your antlers on and eyes set. Sculpting your earbutts after your antlers are set will help in being precise with your muscle group.

If you recall a couple of paragraphs ago I stated that you should have a pair of each available positioned pre-made cast whitetail deer earbutts. If you did so that’s great and things get easier from here. Now go ahead and take your ear liner that has already been prepped and sanded and insert it into the ear butt of your choosing. In this article I’m using an ears back cast ear butt. I will now use the pre manufactured earbutt as a template and trace it out onto the ear liner using a black Sharpie marker.  By doing this it lets me know where my clay work should transition onto the ear liner.

The following set of pictures are pretty much explanatory along with their captions. The one thing a taxidermist must remember when sculpting whitetail deer earbutts is not to overdo them. On northern winter whitetails the muscles do not need to be as conspicuous or distinct, like if the deer is on steroids. During the late fall and rut period the ear butt muscle of a whitetail buck will be more fluid filled as the neck swells and will lose a lot of the definition you would see in a summer whitetail deer ear butt.  But as you can clearly see in the pictures that follow that I am a little over exaggerating the earbutt anatomy and my edges are sharp. I do this to all my deer and the reason being is that it all will be corrected after the cape is on the deer. I will be able to smooth out and reshape the butts to my liking. So in other words don’t go crazy trying to perfect a sculpted ear butt. Get it close as possible, make sure they are in the right spot and when you finally mount up you will be able to fine tune the ear butts. It doesn’t have to be hard and you should be sculpting both ear butts in less than 15 minutes.

Point of attachment is crucial and absolutely necessary


Trace pre cast earbutt onto liner

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By CJ Herring

CJ Herring has been practicing taxidermy for 22 years and resides in the hills outside of Cooperstown, New York. A crippling and disabling brain tumor took control of his life in early 2018. In 2019 CJ took a major turn for the worse and was diagnosed with Acromegaly and underwent brain tumor removal in 2020. CJ also suffers from end stage Osteoarthritis within his entire body. In 2021 CJ began his journey with total hip replacement. CJ continues to write about taxidermy and still manages the day to day operations of the Taxidermy Lab Facebook group.

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[…] 1 of a 2 part article series on whitetail deer ears and earbutts.  Part 2 of this series involves sculpting whitetail deer earbutts. But before we get going into the unknown depths of ear and earbutt anatomy I would like to make […]