Thursday, July 28, 2016

How to do a European Skull Mount and Remain Married

I've always liked "European" or "skull" mounts.  I'm drawn to the contrast between bone and horn/antler, the intricate architecture of joints in the skull and sinus bones and the simple, eerie beauty.

They are also very practical since they take up less space than shoulder mounts and are a LOT less expensive.

For years I relied on a local taxidermist named Leslie (yes, he is a dude).  His prices were ~40% less than others I had found and his work always looked great.  He specialized in birds but would do skull mounts for deer and hogs.  Over the years, he did skull mounts for 3 bucks and a large boar that tried to eat me in the dark.  I asked him once about the "process" he used.  After he explained the length of time (months), the rotting (i.e. maceration), stinking mess, having to leave his office for the day after "dumping the buckets" due to the overwhelming stink, etc., I realized he was giving me the deal of the century.  Sometimes a checkbook is the best tool in your arsenal!

Well.... Leslie retired.  And since I'm not giving up hunting any time soon AND I'm selectively cheap, I needed an alternative.  After some research and input from my buddy Bob who has done a skull mount of an aoudad and a pronghorn, I decided to give it a try.  Below is the process I used which honestly, was not as bad and as smelly as I originally thought it would be.

Shockingly, my wife was not as keen on this experiment as was I so most activities were done in "stealth" mode.

Materials Needed:
- Dead deer (preferably a nice 10 pointer with a little kicker off of his G2!)
- scalpel, razor blades and/or exacto knives
- 5 gallon bucket you do not plan on using ever again!
- water
- handful of dirt
- painter's masking tape
- V40 cream hydrogen peroxide (H2O2) solution (12%) from the beauty supply store.  The cream is thciker.
- packet of hair bleach powder (does not contain chlorine-based bleach)
- shallow plastic tub
- cheapo small paint brush
- solo cup
- time

Process:
 1,  Shoot a nice buck like one below.  (Note the excellent shot placement! For our area of Texas, this is a pretty nice deer.  In other places, this would be considered small or average.)


2.  Load buck and haul back to camp.  (Bonus feral hog is optional but does help with the counter balance.  YES, I realize this 4 wheeler is slightly overloaded and I'll have ticks crawling up my backside on the way home.)

3.  Clean, process, butcher buck as normal and remove his entire head, intact.  Take care to not damage the delicate bones at the base of the skull.

4.  When your family is not around, skin out the head using razor blades, scalpel blades, tweezers, forceps and some patience.  The goal here is to remove as much meat and tissue as possible without going crazy.  The bacteria will do the work for you but to speed things along and minimize the stink, remove what you can.

The lower jaw is more "attached" than you think.  Keep at it and you'll be able to remove it.  Take care to not score or scratch the bone.

The eye are really, really tough to remove.  Again, keep at it and you will get them out.  The first one took the better part of 15 minutes.  The next took about 8.  Take care to not damage the bones and ridges around the eye socket.  The ears are tough but much more manageable.  Just cut through them as you work your way around the head, pealing it away as you go.

Do not worry about the brain.  Like with most democrats, it is small and will decompose quickly.  Don't go crazy with the sinuses and the very fine turbinate bones inside the nasal cavity either.  (The crude pressure washing techniques you'll see on YouTube destroy all of these details; savages!)



5.  FAR, far away from the house and in area where your wife will NOT go forthe next 1-2 months, place the skull in a bucket and fill with water.

To help seed the bacteria, throw in a handful of dirt.  (This is probably completely unneeded but it made me feel like I was helping get the process started.)  Unlike dermestid beetles, the bacteria (i) are really, really small and will get into every nook and cranny and (ii) produce tons of enzymes which will break down the tissue in short order.

(Note:  Never used household bleach or boil your skulls.  Both are really bad for the bones themselves.)

Find a place to hide or obscure the bucket.  I chose a larger than deer-head-rot-bucket-diameter tree to both hide the stinking mess from unappreciative eyes and secure the skull from a hungry and desperate coyote.



6.  Use a ratchet strap or some other means to secure your head to the tree.

7.  Leave the head alone for at least a month.  If water evaporates, add more to always keep the bone submerged.  (I tried to keep the antlers out of the water as much as possible.)

8.  Ignore the occasional winds from an inconvenient direction.  If your wife notices something is "funky", volunteer to wash out the garbage can to take care of it.

9.  Remove head from the bucket and... STAYING UPWIND and generally away from the house, prying eyes of wives and neighbors and in a place where a household pet will not roll, rinse the skull REALLY well with the garden hose.  Some of the teeth will probably have fallen out in the bucket-o-funk.  If you want them, don't discard the contents just yet.


10.  While probably not as bad as expected, this will not smell good!  Dry the skull for several days under a fan or outside in the sun if possible.  I sprayed some Febreeze every now and then until it was not noticeable (my wife parks about 8 feet from the official skull drying area but she never commented.


(I did not use the 3% hydrogen peroxide after all but opted for the 12% stuff.)

11.  Let the skull dry for a week or two.  (This is what I did but it might not be necessary at all.)

12.  Place skull in the shallow plastic tub and mix up your 12% H2O2/hyrdogen peroxide and hair bleach powder in a SOLO cup.  Wear gloves and eye protection and be careful.  You really don't want this stuff on your skin.

There might be small pieces of dried fatty tissue in some of the crevices.  I removed these with a small pick.



13.  Tape the edges of the antlers to prevent the H2O2 solution from bleaching them.


14.  Brush the H2O2 / hair bleach powder paste / solution onto and into the skull.  Coat it heavily making sure all the little nooks and crannies are covered.

Let this sit at least several hours.  (I went with just 1 hour but next time will let it sit for several hours with fresh applications.)


15.  Rinse really, really well and let it dry.  (No fan is needed this time since 95% of the smell will hopefully be gone.)

16.  Mount the skull.  I used a cross-section of a tree I had finished with gun stock oil.  The pictures below show the general steps I used and the final product.


This method preserves all the intricate bones of the skull.  

After eyeballing the location, I drilled a small hole at the base of the skull (note black "dot").

Sanded smooth with a few coats of TruOil gunstock oil applied.

Drill hole to generally line up with the hole drilled at the base of the skull.

Attach skull to wood with a long drywall screw.  Be careful to not break the skull.


DONE!



Not 100% the same as the ones I've paid for but I'm overall very please at how it came out.  I'll spray a light coat of dull clear paint or finish on it to make it easier to dust.

+++

A Man in the Woods





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