The planets actually aligned — and because of all the hard work you put in selecting that primo stand location, cultivating the perfect food plot and doing lots of target practice — you finally drop the buck of a lifetime.

The big deer is a true wall-hanger, and you can already picture him in that place of honor you’ve been saving above the mantle in your living room.

So what steps do you need to take — and what mistakes should you avoid — in preparing the deer for its date with your taxidermist?

Wade Wolkart, with Wade’s Taxidermy in Denham Springs, shared a few tips that will help you get a mount you’ll be proud of for years to come.

• Get the deer skinned out and cooled down as fast as possible.

“The biggest mistake people make is they kill these animals, and they’re so proud of them they parade them all over creation showing them off and they end up going bad riding around in the back of their truck, and when they get to the taxidermist they’re no good,” Wolkart said. “So the biggest thing is get them skinned out and either on ice right away, or in a freezer. 

“If they put them on ice, what they should do is put them on ice but put the cape and the head in a bag by itself and then pack ice around the bag. That way the cape is not floating in all that melting ice, which has all that bacteria-filled water and everything else in it.”

If bacteria take hold and the decomposition process begins, the animal’s hair begins to fall out — and there’s nothing that can be done to reverse that process.

“Once that happens, there is no saving it. It’s done — that’s why this is so critical,” he said. “As soon as that heart stops beating in an animal, bacteria is a real risk factor. Once the animal takes its last breath, that’s when field care comes into play and it’s so important to get it taken care of properly. 

“The clock starts kicking when the buck goes down.”

The amount of time you have depends on the air temperature, Wolkart said.

“It’s very weather-sensitive. If you kill during bow season, you better get it cooled down in an hour or two at the most,” he said. “If it’s good and cold during the rut and it’s 40 degrees or below, you have more time.

“But in warmer temperatures, you have to be more efficient and get it done as quick as possible.”

• If you can’t get to your taxidermist right away, put the head and cape in the freezer.

Don’t make the mistake of keeping the head and cape in an ice chest for too long, he said. Although it’s on ice, bacteria can — and will — still grow.

“Even though it’s on ice, don’t parade around town for a week showing off the buck, pulling it in and out of the ice chest,” Wolkart said. “Even if you’re putting fresh ice on it, as long as it’s above-freezing, bacteria can grow. 

“So get it to a taxidermist or a freezer, whichever is most convenient, as quick as possible.”

• Correct freezer prep is critical.

Place the head and cape in a plastic bag, and tie the bag in a knot between the antlers.

“Tie the bag up good so the cold freezer air doesn’t get to the critical areas like the tips of the ears, the nose or the lips, because those will freezer burn even in a short period of time if that cold air can get to them,” he said. “”Put it in the freezer and freeze that sucker solid. It can stay like that for a long, long time. 

“I get them in here after eight or nine months where they’ve been in peoples’ freezers, and I just thaw them out and get to work on them.”

• Cape the deer out properly, taking everything from the middle of the ribcage to the nose.

This is definitely a case where less is not more. If you’re not sure what to do when caping the buck, ask someone — or just bring the whole deer to the taxidermist. 

“My general rule of thumb is if there’s too much, I can throw it away,” Wolkart said. “So err on the side of caution and bring me more than you think you’ll need.”

When skinning a deer that will be mounted, he tells everyone to keep everything from the middle of the ribcage all the way to the nose. 

“That’s what I need, and that will take care of 95 percent of your mannequins that you’re going to put that deer on. Most people that are not familiar with it take a bunch of rib cage and back skin, then they cut the brisket too short up in front of the legs, and I end up with a brisket that won’t work on anything and I have to throw the cape away,” he said. “If you’re not sure, ring it at the kneecaps and bring everything to me.

“Keep it all as intact as possible, especially the chest and the shoulders. All that armpit skin that you don’t see on the deer — you see some of it on the mannequin, so that armpit area is often cut out because they don’t think we need it. In reality, we need more than people realize.”

Overall though, Wolkart stressed getting the deer to a taxidermist quickly, or freezing the head and cape as soon as possible to guarantee a quality mount.

“I know everybody is proud of their deer, but show him off after the taxidermist has finished with him, then you can parade him around all you want,” Wolkart said. “This could be the deer of a lifetime for some people, and they might never get that opportunity again.

“If you don’t preserve the trophy right, you won’t have it to look at for the rest of your life.”