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European Mounting Basics by Randy Rowley

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“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 shoulder mount ($700 and up), many hunters find themselves unable to afford to put their trophies on the wall.  European mounting is an inexpensive solution.  It produces a natural-looking mount that often is more appealing than a skull mount on a board with felt, where only the antlers or horns are showing.

In order to create a European mount, one must remove all of the skin and meat from the animal’s head, down to the bone.  If it’s a deer, ram, or antelope, you’ll need to remove the bottom jaw from the head and half of the brain cavity.  If it’s a hog you’ll leave the bottom jaw attached and not cut into the brain.  This mount focuses on the size of the skull as well as the horns or antlers (except hogs).  It’s not hard to do if you’re patient and can devote some time to it.  Additionally, other animals such as hogs, rams, and antelopes 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 a 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 an animal’s head is much more difficult than removing the hide from an animal’s carcass.  It is hard to grab hold of the skin and frequently the skinner will accidentally cut into the skull. Skinning an animal’s 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 or pressure wash their skulls.

Hunters have put animal heads in fire ant mounds for a long time.  The advantage of this method is it does not involve much work – just patience.  Large fire ant mounds work the 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 a large tub and putting a cinder block on it.  Insects will not clean all of the flesh off of a skull, however, and you should be prepared to skin, boil, or pressure wash the rest off.  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 people additionally put one to two cups of Sal soda (taxidermy product), Sodium Carbonate (Arm & Hammer laundry soap contains it), or Dawn dishwashing soap (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 (it’s wise to wrap the bottom part of the antlers near the skull in painter’s tape).  The larger the skull the longer you’ll have to boil it.  A big hog skull takes up to four hours before most of the flesh will come off of it.  A deer skull takes less time.  Every 15 – 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 15 – 30 minutes.

Over-boiling can dry out a skull and make it crack.  I have read that some people will soak their skulls 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 people 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 people let the skull dry out in the sun for up to two days after boiling.  A power washer comes in handy to remove any stubborn meat that is clinging to the skull.  I’ve read about people using just a power washer (without boiling it first).  I tried that once and it didn’t do the job.

I have read that some people will rub their skulls 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 people 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.  I prefer to use a Hydrogen Peroxide solution (large bottles of Salon 40 can be bought at beauty supply stores like Sally’s) and hair bleaching kits (such as Clear/40 max lift developer and L’Oreal quick blue, also available at Sally’s).  If you use Hydrogen Peroxide/water you’ll need to soak your skulls 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 can darken part of the horns or antlers, 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, as it takes away from the simple look that a European Mount attempts to achieve.

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.

Whitetail

Blackbuck Antelope

Mounts together

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