Aug
16

Skull Mounting Basics by Randy Rowley

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Skull or “European” mounts seem to be increasingly popular as time goes by. They originated in Europe and remain very popular there. With the high cost of a neck mount ($425 and up) many hunters find themselves unable to afford to put their trophy on the wall. Deer hunters have frequently resorted to sawing off the bucks antlers and part of the adjoining skull and fixing them to a wood and felt mounting board that can be bought at Wally World for about $10. Taxidermists can put them on a fancier board for you for about $50. The problem with such mounts is they only display the horns of the animal and, in the case of the Wally World plaque, you get what you pay for – they just look cheap. European mounting is simply removing all of the skin, muscle, and meat, down to the bone and cartilage. Basically you cut the bottom jaw off of the buck’s head including half of the brain cavity, remove the flesh, and mount the remaining skull on a board. This mount focuses on the size of the skull as well as the horns. It’s not hard to do if you’re patient and can devote some time to it. Additionally, other animals such as hogs, rams, antelope, and bulls look good as skull mounts. Hog skull mounts are typically displayed on tables.
In the old days hunters would simply leave animal skulls in the elements to rot and be bleached by the sun. This was an cost free way to create a mount but the results were not much to look at. Today there are basically three methods of removing the flesh of a skull – skinning, insects, and boiling. Most people use a combination of two of these methods or all three.
Skinning a head is much more difficult than removing hide from an animals carcass. It is hard to grab hold of the skin and frequently the skinner will accidentally cut into the skull. Skinning a head is very labor and time intensive. It is almost impossible to skin all of the flesh off of a skull. Skinners will almost always have to boil their skulls also.
Hunters have put animal heads in ant mounds for a long time. The advantage to this method is it does not involve much work – just patience. Large fire ant mounds seen to work best. However, if you just put your head in your back yard the bugs will quickly find it. Flies will lay their larva and the resulting maggots will have a feast. The two problems with this method are keeping pets off of the head and the skulls can stink to high heaven (which your neighbors won’t appreciate). I’ve solved the dog/cat problem by covering the head with the bowl half of my birdbath. Insects will not clean all of the flesh off of a skull, however, and you should be prepared to skin the rest off or boil it off or both. Skulls that are left uncovered are usually affected by the sun in a negative way. They often look old and dried out as a result. Be prepared to keep your skull in the ant bed for at least two months.
Turkey fryers are super for boiling a large pot of water. They don’t take very long to bring a big pot of water to a boil and it’s easy to keep the water boiling. Some men additionally put one to two cups of Sal soda (taxidermy product) or Sodium Carbonate (Arm & Hammer laundry soap contains it) or Dawn or another dish washing liquid (to de-grease the skull) in the water. Just make sure that the entire skull is immersed in the water. Keep antlers out of the water because boiling them can change their color. The larger the skull the longer you will have to boil it. A hog skull takes up to four hours before most of the flesh will come off of it. A deer skull takes considerably less time. Every 30 minutes or so pull the skull partially out of the water or completely out of the water and scrape off any flesh that’s willing to come off. Wear a heavy glove as the skull will be hot and the inside of the skull will hold hot water. Then put it back in the water and check it again in another 30 minutes or so. Over-boiling can dry out a skull and make it crack. I have read that some men will soak their skull in water for about a month before boiling. They claim that this reduces the boiling time. If any teeth fall out during the boiling process you can always glue them back. For deer you’ll probably have to use long needle nosed pliers to pull the cartilage out of the deer’s nose. Some men keep the brain cavity intact and instead run a piece of heavy gauge wire into the brain cavity and scrape out the brain matter. This method usually doesn’t get it all, which is why I prefer to saw the lower half of the brain cavity off before boiling. You’ll also have to remove any grizzle and sinew. Some men let the skull dry out in the sun for up to two days after boiling.
I have read that some men will rub their skull with Borax (it doesn’t contain bleach like Clorox) after they have removed the flesh, let it sit for a few hours, and then rinse it off.
After you have removed the flesh off of the skull the next step is to “whiten” the skull. A lot of men use a bleach water solution to accomplish this. The problem with bleached skulls, however, is that over time they tend to yellow. Bleach also dries out the bone and makes it become flakey. Alternatives to bleach include Hydrogen Peroxide (large bottles can be bought at beauty supply stores like Sally’s) and water solution (40/60) and hair bleaching kits (such as clear/40 max lift developer and L’Oreal quick blue, also available at Sally’s). If you use bleach/water or Hydrogen Peroxide/water you’ll need to soak your skull for up to 24 hours. Use fresh water for soaking (not the same water that you used to boil the head). Sally’s also has a product called 40 volume cream developer that is 40% peroxide in a cream. All you have to do is paint it on the skull and set it in the sun for a few hours. There are also skull bleaching kits available at http://www.wildlifeartistry.com/orderform.htm for $30 or at http://cabelas.com/ for $20.
The remaining steps are optional. Many professionals seal their skulls with clear acrylic spray paint in gloss or satin (found at hardware and paint stores). Acrylic is especially recommended if you are going to keep the skull outdoors. I don’t care for the way that acrylic makes skulls look, but it does protect them from insects. Many professionals also stain horns and antlers. I prefer the natural look, but this is sometimes necessary because boiling part of a horn or antler will darken it resulting in a two-toned look. Many professionals also mount skulls on boards. You can get boards from www.walnutcreekhardwood.com. I also don’t care for the way that skulls look on boards.
For those who want a professional looking skull mount or who don’t want to whiten it yourself check out www.skullsunlimited.com. They use dermestid beetles to clean their skulls (what museums and universities have used for decades). A deer head will cost you $95 and a hog skull will cost you $110. You have to send the skull via UPS. It must be skinned, wrapped, and frozen. For those who want a European Mount but don’t want to do any of the work a taxidermist will do it for you for $275 and up.

My first European mount (11/05)

My second European mount (1/8/10)

Mounts together (1/8/10)

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