A friend of mine called the other day and told me he had taken a nice Axis deer buck in Southwest Texas. It was not his largest, but was a nice deer and he wanted to keep it as a trophy. Deciding on a European skull mount he called his local taxidermist to get a quote. Shocked to find out the cost would be $250.00 he called me to find out where I had my skulls done and what they had cost. To say he was surprised to find out I had done my own and the cost was under $10.00 per skull for chemicals and $35.00 for the wood plaque to hang it on the wall was an under statement. He wanted to learn how to do his own skull mount so I am writing this for him and those of you that would like to do your own European style mounts.
European style mounts allow you to uniquely display the skulls of predators, deer and other animals. This style of mount allows one to preserve the memory of the hunt at a less expensive cost than traditional taxidermy. A couple of my favorites are a bobcat and Javelina on my fireplace mantle. I have even used this method to save the jaws from a black fin shark I caught in the Gulf of Mexico.
There are several methods of getting the same result in cleaning skulls. Some use dermatoid beetles to clean all the tissue from the bone and others boil the skulls in a chemical solution or other formulas to clean the skull. The method I use has turned out to be the easiest for me to do at home with the least hassle. This method will let you display the skull of predators, deer and other animals. I would however recommend that you use a professional service for a record or lifetime animal.
The method I have settled on is by maceration or letting water and bacteria do all the work of removing the tissues. It can take two to six weeks depending on how much meat and tissue is on the skull and how hot the outside temperature is at the time. The better you skin out the skull the faster the process. I have even done skulls that have simply been cut off with the skin, eyes and all meat tissues intact, it just takes more time in the water.
Take a large plastic container or bucket that will hold your skull and fill up to the level of the antlers. If you are doing a skull without antlers simply submerge in water. Now this process does smell so if you can put a lid on your container do so. I use plastic buckets most of the time so if the antlers stick out of the bucket I just put up with odor. About once a week I take the skull from the water and wash all the tissue that will come off with a high pressure nozzle on the water hose. You may have to stick a wire into the brain cavity and twirl it around to enable the water pressure to get all the brain matter out of the skull. A stiff brush will help remove stubborn tissue a little faster if needed. Make sure you do not lose any teeth as some will come out and have to be glued back in later. You can use plain Elmer’s glue to put the teeth back into place when the maceration process is complete. I then place the skull back in the rinsed bucket and replace the water with fresh water and let the process continue. Repeat this weekly until the skull is completely clean of all tissue.
I then use a mixture of 40% peroxide, available in beauty department of some drug stores or a beauty supply shop, to make a mixture of about 50/50 peroxide and water and soak the skull for 4-10 hours taking care not to get any of the solution on the antlers as it will bleach them white also. Check the skull during this process and remove when it is whitened. Rinse the skull well and dry when removed from the peroxide solution. If you get some on the horns you may stain with potassium permanganate, available from taxidermy supply houses, or wood stain matched to the antler color. If the skull has been outside for a while you may have to color the antlers anyway. The last step once the skull is dry is to seal the skull and mount to a plaque if you like. You may use a satin plastic spray sealer or a mixture of 50/50 Elmer’s glue and water painted on with a brush to seal and protect the skull. Wood wall or table top decorative plaques may be purchased from a taxidermy supply house or outdoor store to mount your skull if you like. Many skulls will look fine simply displayed without a plaque. As a final touch I rub a coat of boiled linseed oil on the antlers to give them that fresh appearance. You now have a trophy to be proudly displayed and the best part is that you did it all yourself.
Good hunting, Wild Ed