Nitro Special. Caribou Antlers.
What's this Lefever Nitro Special worth? Salvaging caribou antlers in velvet.
Q: I own a Lefever Nitro Special, serial number 33—-, a single-trigger 16-gauge double in good working order. I’m not interested in selling, because my father bought it for me when I was 16, but I’d greatly appreciate any info on age, value, or collectability.
A: The Lefever Nitro Special was made by a division of Ithaca between 1921 and 1948. In excellent (virtually new) condition a single-trigger gun might bring anywhere from $600 to $800, depending on model, and about half that in average condition. This is a fairly low price for excellent-condition American doubles, indicating it’s not hard sought by collectors. Though I can’t tell you exactly when it was made, the high serial number indicates later manufacture, so it should be safe to use with any modern 16-gauge ammunition.
Q: My father and I went caribou hunting last fall in Labrador and each tagged two bulls. The guides didn’t seem knowledgeable about preserving antlers, however. We were instructed to strip the velvet off the antlers, then submerse them in water to soak the blood off to prevent staining. I did this, but when my antlers were shipped to me they looked porous, like a sponge, with tiny holes where all the blood vessels had been. My Dad boiled his antlers at camp and they came back hard as a rock but bloodstained.
Do you have any suggestions on how to make these look more natural? Should I coat them with lacquer or varnish or something?
A: Antlers in velvet are a problem in most caribou hunting. Seasons open in August across most of the North, but most bull caribou don’t shed their velvet until the first half of September. The antlers vary in hardness throughout this period, and early-season antlers will sometimes be very porous because they’re still growing–the reason they’re full of blood vessels.
The strip-and-submerse solution your guides suggested is most common. The harder the antlers are under their velvet, the better it works. But as you’ve noticed, stripped antlers don’t look like naturally hardened antlers. You can try filling the larger pores with plastic wood, then painting the antlers with a walnut-stain varnish–or take them to a taxidermist who knows how to fix them. You could also leave them outside where the weather will eventually turn them pure white, which doesn’t look bad either.
The problem with leaving the velvet on is that without some sort of curing it rots. I’ve heard of various techniques from various taxidermists, but the one that makes the most sense in the bush is to take along a quart of turpentine and a pair of rubber gloves. Squeeze turpentine into the velvet every day for two to three days, forcing the blood out, and the velvet will remain in pretty good shape. I’ve seen several caribou mounts done this way, and they look good.
But the best solution (and the one I prefer) is to go caribou hunting only in September. Even if some bulls are still in velvet, it usually strips off easily, and the antlers are hard underneath. Plus the abundant mosquitoes and blackflies of the North have mostly disappeared.