Everything came together for you on the hunt of a lifetime, and you've got the buck of your dreams down on the ground in front of you.

If you're planning on getting it mounted, your actions over the next couple of hours can help you get a beautiful mount that preserves the memory of a magnificent animal and a fun hunt. Here are a few trophy care tips to ensure that you take good care of your trophy and set your taxidermist up for success.

First, have a general idea of what sort of taxidermy you want to do, and find your preferred taxidermist before the hunt. When choosing a taxidermist, you normally get what you pay for, so don't pick your taxidermist based solely on price. As the saying goes: The bitterness of poor quality remains long after the sweetness of a low price is forgotten.

Next, make a good shot that quickly and cleanly kills the animal. Try to avoid shots to the head, neck or shoulder blade. In addition to the ethical considerations involved with head and neck shots, bullets that hit these areas tend to cause a lot of damage to the animal's hide and can really complicate the job for your taxidermist.

Just like when you're dealing with meat, heat is your enemy when you're trying to preserve the animal's hide for a mount. Animals begin to decompose as soon as they expire, and this process occurs faster in warmer temperatures. For that reason, you should take the animal to the taxidermist or skin it as soon as possible to avoid ruining your hide.

Remember what I said earlier about having a general idea about the sort of taxidermy you want before your hunt? This is where that comes in.

When in doubt, skin the animal to make a larger mount than what you want. So, if you think you might want a full body mount, skin the animal with that goal in mind. If you do that and change your mind later, you can always get the taxidermist to make a smaller mount for you, but not the other way around.

There are a couple of different methods for caping a big game animal for a shoulder mount or skinning it for a life-sized mount. Individual taxidermists have their own preferred way of doing things and can give you a few pointers on how they like animals to be handled in the field. Talk to your taxidermist beforehand and see exactly how they prefer that you skin the animal.

When in doubt, leave more hide for the taxidermist to work with. Remember, it's called a shoulder mount, not a neck mount, so make your cut behind the shoulder and do not cut into the brisket of the animal (even when field dressing). Do not slit the throat of a big game animal or wring the neck of a bird either.

Do your best to avoid dragging a big game animal out of the woods if you want to get it mounted. Put it on some sort of sled or carry it on a four-wheeler instead. Once you get the animal skinned, wash off any blood from the hair with water or snow. Then, cool the hide.

Do not skin small animals. Take small animals and birds straight to a taxidermist whole. If you can't do that, put the animal in a plastic bag and freeze it. When dealing with birds, tuck the head under its wing and keep the feathers as straight and flat as possible.

Taking good care of an animal in the field can involve a fair amount of work. Fortunately, as long as you use a good taxidermist and take good care of the trophy in the field, you will likely get a great mount that will last for many years.