So you’ve caught your first buck. Congratulations! Now you may be thinking of keeping its head as a trophy, but you don’t want to spend a lot of money on a shoulder mount. Instead, you want to make a European style mount that you can hang proudly anywhere you like.
In order to make a beautiful European mount, you need to learn how to clean a deer skull properly. To do that, you can choose from these two options. I’ve also included the pros and cons of using both options to help you decide.
Option 1: Clean by Boiling
Things You Need
- Sharp knife
- Plastic wrap
- Electrical tape
- Bottle of hydrogen peroxide
- Turkey fryer or deep-bottom pot
- Power wash machine
- Wire brush
- Small pliers
- Shine coating
Step 1: Remove the hide from the deer’s head.
Before you do anything else, you need to remove the hide from the head. This is because it will be very hard to remove the hide after you’ve boiled the head.
When removing the hide, use a sharp knife and cut a small incision from one point of the head and work your way through. I prefer to start at the tip of the nose and work upward, but I know some hunters who start at the base of the skull going down the nose. Either way is fine, as long as you can remove the hide completely.
Step 2: Remove the deer’s jaw.
Once you’ve removed the hide, you can now remove the jaw. You can make removing the jaw easier by cutting the meat inside and outside of the jaw on both sides and then slicing the tissue connecting the jaw with the rest of the head. For a more visual illustration, check out the video, starting from the 1:42 mark:
Step 3: Protect the antlers with plastic wrap.
Protect the buck’s antlers from discoloration by wrapping shrink wrap around their base six to seven times. After you’ve wrapped a sufficient amount of plastic around the antlers, secure their position by covering them with electric tape.
Step 4: Boil the head in a hydrogen peroxide solution.
A lot of hunters boil the head in water first, but I’ve discovered that boiling it immediately in the peroxide solution saves me time because the peroxide will remove the meat and start to color the skull at the same time.
To make the solution, add 6 parts water for every 4 parts peroxide in a plastic bucket and mix well. Transfer the solution in a large turkey fryer or deep-bottom pot. Place the deer’s head into the pot and bring it to a boil using high heat.
Once the peroxide solution starts to boil, bring it down to a simmer. It usually takes about four hours for the initial boiling and simmering, where much of the meat will fall away from the bone and you can start cleaning it after.
Step 5: Clean the skull to remove the excess meat.
You have two options to clean the skull after you remove it from your turkey fryer.
If you have a power wash machine, you can simply turn it on and spray the skull until all excess tissues are removed. Make sure you reach all the crevices so that no meat would be left behind, as this may cause bacteria to build up in your mount.
If you prefer to go the manual route, you can use a wire brush to scrape off the meat still sticking to the skull. Then, using a pair of small pliers, sticks, and a knife, do a more detailed cleaning of the skull, paying careful attention to the nasal bones as these may break easily.
Step 6: Boil the skull in the peroxide solution again and rinse.
Once you’ve finished cleaning the skull, re-submerge it in your peroxide solution and boil for another 2 to 3 minutes, just to remove any hidden leftover meat. You can then remove the plastic wrap around the antlers, rinse the skull with cold water, and set it to dry.
Step 7: Apply finishing.
Once the skull has dried properly, you can apply a finishing coat to add a natural glow to it. You can use a diluted solution of Mop & Glo Multi-surface Floor Cleaner or any other coating of your choice.
Pros and Cons of Cleaning by Boiling
- Boiling the head makes removing the meat easier.
- The whole process takes less time than other methods.
- This method uses chemicals that may be harmful to the user and the environment.
- The process has a lot of steps and may be tedious.
Option 2: Clean without Boiling
Method 1: Degreasing
Things You Need
- Sharp knife
- Hot water
- Dish soap
- Deep-bottom pot
- Burner or water heater
Step 1: Remove the hide and clean the head thoroughly.
As in the first option, you need to cut away the hide first before you proceed with the next steps. After you remove the hide, get rid of any surface dirt that might make the degreasing process take longer.
You can also scrape off all the meat you can so that your deer’s skull won’t produce a nasty smell during degreasing. If you don’t mind the rotten smell, you can keep the meat in place, as this doesn’t really have any other adverse effects on the finished product.
Step 2: Add water and soap into the pot and submerge the deer’s head in it.
Fill the pot with hot water and add dish soap in it. I like to add ¼ to ½ cup of soap for every 5 gallons of water, but you can make your own measurements. Wait for a few minutes as the soap clouds up the water and then submerge the deer’s head into the bucket.
Step 3: Apply heat to the pot and start degreasing.
Set the pot over a burner or attach to a water heater and set the temperature to 115oF. Let the water heat up and maintain this optimum temperature, checking back after every few days to replace the water solution.
You can leave the skull degreasing in the pot as long as you like, depending on the level of whiteness you want it to have. If you don’t mind having a slightly yellow skull, you can probably finish the whole process in about a month’s time. If you want something whiter, expect to wait for a more than a month or two for the whole process to finish.
Step 4: Remove the skull from the pot and clean.
Once you reach the level of whiteness you want for your deer’s skull, you can remove it from the pot and start applying your whitening agent to it. Another option is to just apply a thin coat of shine on the skull to give it a more natural sheen.
Method 2: Burying
Things You Need
- Rat poison
- Plastic tub
- Small pliers
- Whitening agent
Step 1: Dig a big enough hole to place the deer’s head.
Find a good place in your backyard or hunting grounds where you can bury your deer’s head. Using a shovel, dig a hole large enough to cover the entirety of the head, minus the antlers.
Step 2: Place the head of the deer into the hole and cover with sand.
Once the hole has been dug up, place the head in it and cover it with top soil. Then add a layer of sand over it for additional protection, as dogs, rats, and other vermin may be less inclined to dig through it.
Step 3: Sprinkle rat poison and cover with a plastic tub.
You can also sprinkle rat poison around the mound to keep the rats away. Once you’re done, cover the mound with a plastic tub or another container and weigh it down with heavy rocks.
Step 4: Check the skull for decomposition.
After three months, you can check your deer’s skull to see if the flesh has decomposed nicely. Once all the meat has gone, you can now bring back the skull to your work area for cleaning.
Step 5: Clean the skull and whiten.
You can either use a power wash machine or a simple garden hose to remove the dirt and grime sticking to the skull. Then, using a pair of small pliers and other tools, do a detailed cleaning, checking for excess meat and dirt in the small crevices of the skull.
Once you’re done cleaning the skull, you can now start applying the whitening solution to it. You can either coat it with a water-peroxide solution or any other bleaching product of your choice.
Pros and Cons of Cleaning without Boiling
- There are fewer steps in both methods and both require less effort.
- Materials used are safer and more environment-friendly.
- The waiting period is very long, usually lasting for months.
- The quality of the skull may not be as good as that cleaned using the boiling method.
Cleaning your deer’s skull, whether by boiling or using a non-boiling method, is a challenging but fulfilling activity that may make you appreciate your European style mount better.
If you prefer to get quicker results, then you can go for the boiling method. If you don’t mind waiting for months if it means exerting less effort, then I think the non-boiling method may suit you better.