Freeze Dry Technology

No other method of Taxidermy can duplicate the trophy with such attention to detail as Freeze Drying.

Richard Lee has been using conventional taxidermy methods since 1981. In 1990 while working with a Taxidermist in Calgary, he was introduced to the Freeze-Dry method. At that time he was working with small animals, birds and fish. Richard recognised the potential this method had for trophies such as pig heads, Bull Thar and Chamois. When he returned to New Zealand he began working with John Campion to design a machine for just that purpose.

The most obvious advantage of freeze-drying is the far superior finished product. The quality and accuracy of the muscle tone and facial features achieve superb realism.

The Actual Process


Water constitutes approximately 70% of the animal's total weight and is found mostly in the specimen's vascular and cellular spaces. This water can exist in both a free state and a bound state.

The purpose of freezing is to achieve a thorough hardening of the specimen by aprogressive crystallization of the free water (completely locking the body fluids in an ice matrix). When frozen throughout, the drying process can begin.


Freeze-drying, called sublimation, is a dehydrating process, accomplished under precisely controlled conditions. This procedure causes the ice within the specimen to change from a solid, directly into a gaseous/vapour state, bypassing the liquid stage altogether. The result is truly lifelike, the goal of all taxidermists and museum curators.

The vacuum system removes almost all the air from the chamber and condenser, allowing the ice/vapour molecules to move unhampered to the condenser. When all ice/vapour molecules are gone from the specimen, it stops losing weight and is now thoroughly freeze-dried, and may be permanently mounted on its selected base.


A question often asked by potential freeze-dry customers. In order to give an honest answer to this important question, several other questions come to mind. How long should any conventional or freeze-dried specimens last?

Conventional taxidermy, as we know it today, can be traced to about 400 years ago when the first attempt on record was the preservation of birds in Holland. In comparison, the freeze-drying of biological specimens has a much shorter past. The first reported use of freeze-drying whole animals for use as museum exhibits was by Dr Harold Meryman of the Naval Medical Research Institute. His initial use dates back to 1953 with the first published material appearing in Curator Magazine in 1960.

Most colours appear to have survived unchanged. The fat in all eight specimens shows no sign of becoming liquid or rancid. The specimens have been displayed in a normal room environment, without the benefit of air conditioning or other humidity controls. Dr Meryman attributes this lasting durability to several reasons. The first is the fact that the freeze-drying process inactivates all enzyme systems and removes most soluble gases. The second is the unstable tissue condition created by final moisture removal during secondary drying. This condition, a mild invisible form of oxidation which prevents the absorption of moisture and allows the specimen to improve with time.

Take Care Before Freezing

Head skins

Front half of animal required. Turn ears inside out, split lips and nostrils. Salt and let drip dry three times (once daily) until thoroughly dry if removed from skull.

Many clients prefer to take head skin off shoulders and let the taxidermist remove head skin from the skull to ensure that no damage is done to the eyes, nostrils and lips.

Wrap shoulder skin around the skull and freeze in sealed plastic bag.


Opening cuts for taking off a cape


Freeze Dry

Do not remove the cape from the skull.
Cut behind the shoulder as normal and peel the skin over the neck to the ball joint and dissect there.
Care must be taken to freeze A.S.A.P. to prevent hair slippage.


Please Note:

Chamois, Thar and boar heads will fit straight into the freeze-drier chamber with ease. However most deer heads won't because of the antlers, which will have to be sawn off at the hairline just below the coronet with a hacksaw. Then I'll fit them onto the head after freeze-drying (removable antlers) of which has its advantages (i.e. Freight, shipping). The option is also there to replace the antlers with superior ones a few years later or have the second head mounted in a different position.

Some clients may have concerns about being a member of the N.Z. Deerstalkers Association and wish to have their trophy put forward in their local club competition for that years trophy as best head of species and possibly even go to the N.Z.D.A. Nationals. At the present time clients do not have a choice and will have to have a conventional mount done after the measuring night.

However, I see no reason why the client couldn't have his trophy recorded by the N.Z.D.A. representative in his area prior to cutting the antlers off and freeze-drying and not entering the competition (average head).

This is an issue that I had mentioned to various N.Z.D.A. members in many locations in the North and South Islands. As this freeze-drying method is a whole new concept the rules should be addressed accordingly. I am confident that the N.Z.D.A. would be interested in protecting the freedom of choice for their members.