There are several ways to approach a European mount. You can bury it in up to the base of the antlers and let Mother Nature gently breakdown the tissue on the skull. This can be a lengthy process and take months before it has decayed enough to finish. You also have to worry about critters coming along and digging it out of the ground and the possibility of damage to the antlers as they stick out of the ground. In a similar but more accelerated approach to burying, you can purchase dermestid beetles online and unleash them on your skulls. These ravenous flesh eaters will pick your skull clean in a matter of days. If the idea of having a colony of beetles in your shed or garage doesn’t sound appealing, then you can outsource it. There are plenty of places where you can send your skulls that keep large colonies of dermestid beetles for this purpose. Finally, in what I consider the most DIY friendly approach, there is boiling. It takes time, patience and a little elbow grease, but it’s worth it! Here’s how I do it:
- The Prep Work: Removing the Hide, Flesh, Ears, Jaw and Eyeballs
With a saw or knife, severe the head from the rest of the carcass. The first thing that has to come off is the hide, don’t boil your skull with the hide still on, that’s a mess! Skin the skull by making a cut on top of the nose and run it all the way to the top of the head between the antlers. Starting at the nose, grab the hide and peel it back on each side. Use your knife to cut any stubborn tissue that wants to hang on. This process is much like unzipping a jacket, the hide should pull away from the center line on each side. As you pull the hide back, cut around the eyes and work your way up to the base of the antlers cutting all the way around them. With the front and sides of the face caped out, run your knife around to the back side of one antler, cutting off the ear behind it. Next, work across the back of the head, peeling the hide away until you get to the other ear, then cut it off as well. Continue to cut away what little hide is left on the face, then flip the skull over and cut the hide and connective tissue on the bottom jaw. Your skull should now be hide free.
Next, disconnect the lower jaw by running your knife down the inside and outside of the jaw bone on each side, this severs any flesh that would otherwise impede the jaw from breaking free. Then, open the mouth and cut the tissue where the jaw hinges on each side. With this flesh and tissue severed, you can pull the mouth open and push the lower jaw down and back until it breaks free.
Eyes don’t just pop out, there is actually quite a bit of connective tissue holding them in. So, to remove them, make a cut in the connective tissue anywhere around the eye, and much like coring an apple, work your way around the perimeter. Push one finger back behind and apply some forward pressure to help you identify the areas that are still holding the eye in the socket until you can pull it out.
I think the brain may be the most problematic part of the European process for many people. It’s a small cavity that is hard to access with lots of nooks and crannies that need to be cleaned thoroughly. Because the brain has so many fats and oils, leaving it in the during the boil process can actually cause those substances to soak into the skull making it harder to clean up and also discoloring it. There are a lot of ways to remove the brains - wire brushes, weed trimmer string on the end of a drill to scramble the brains so they dump out, high pressure water streams, air compressors, screwdrivers, wire coat hangers and more. No method is wrong, it’s a matter of personal preference. I use a couple of different approaches. First, I run a bottle brush with stiff bristles through the opening on the back of the skull to loosen up all the brain material, turning the skull over and shaking it frequently to knock out as much goop as possible. When I have as much as I can get with the brush, I flush the cavity out with high pressure water blasts. A word of caution with this, keep your head back or use a face guard of some sort because there is a very good chance you’ll get a squirt of brain water to the face.
- Clean-Up: Boil, Wash, Scrub
With the hide, flesh, jaw, eyes and brain removed, it’s time to boil. So, prep the antlers by wrapping the bases tightly several times with shrink wrap or a similar plastic material. Wrapping them will preserve their natural color.
You’re going to need a decent sized pot, one where the skull can be fully submerged. I use an old camping pot that I heat up on a portable propane burner outside. Fill the pot with enough water to submerge the skull, but not the antlers. To that water, add about a ½ cup of dish soap or a box of baking soda to act as a degreaser. If you are having a hard time keeping your antlers out of the water, suspend them on a board balanced across the pot or wire them up with a piece of smooth wire attached to the handles. Bring the water to a simmer, not a full boil, and let the skull sit and soak for 30-45 minutes in that bath. During this soak, the bulk of the tissue that was attached to the skull will begin to loosen and/or fall away. Remove the skull from the water bath and set it aside to cool for a few minutes.
In the meantime, dump the dirty water in your pot, rinse it thoroughly and refill it with fresh water and soap and begin heating it again.
Place your skull on the ground or secure it to a fence with some wire and using a power washer, spray it, working carefully to remove any tissue. Don’t overlook crevices like the nasal passages, ears, brain and jaw area where flesh, fat, cartilage and other tissues tend to hang on tight to the skull. The nasal passages in particular can be a little fragile, so be careful not to break any of the small bones here. Once you’ve given it a good once over with the power washer, move in for a finer cleaning. Using a bottle brush, wire brush, toothbrush, tweezers, needle nose pliers - whatever works - dig in and really clean out the small spots.
At this point if your skull is 100% clean, congratulations. However, chances are that there is still a bit of gunk left, so another dip in the hot water will probably be necessary. Submerge your skull again for another 30-45 minutes, power wash, then scrub. Repeat this process until your skull is completely clean. It is essential to get everything that is NOT bone off of the skull. Leaving tissue, fat, cartilage, flesh and more behind is unsanitary, makes your skull and the surrounding area stink, plus that decay can also attract bugs. This is the most important part of the entire process, now isn’t the time to get lazy. Depending on how well you scraped it to begin with, this might take a couple of hours or all day long. Once you get everything clean, remove the plastic wrap, put your skull in a bath of dish detergent and water, washing it thoroughly to remove any excess grease sitting on the surface. Remove and let air dry.
- Finish: Bleach & Hang
With your skull clean and dry, you can get to work bleaching it. Prep the skull by taping off the antlers with masking tape a couple of inches up or wrapping them tightly with foil. You don’t want bleach to touch the antlers and discolor them, so be sure to wrap them completely at the bases. You are going to bleach your skull with peroxide, but there are two different ways to do this.
You can simply buy over the counter hydrogen peroxide, available virtually anywhere and pour enough of it in a bucket so that your skull is completely submerged. This will take 5-7 days of soaking in order to achieve a nice white color.
For quicker results you can go online and purchase a skull bleaching kit or go to your local salon or beauty supply store and pick up a small bottle of 40 Volume Developer Cream and a package of White Powder Lightener. Combine the two in equal portions (⅓ cup to ⅓ cup), you won’t need to use it all for just one skull. You can always whip up more if you need it. This 50/50 mixture should make a paste but beware of the strong odor that accompanies it. Using a paintbrush, liberally apply the paste to every surface of your skull, using a small paint brush to get in all the small cracks, crevices and canals. Once your skull is well coated, wrap the whole thing with plastic wrap and let it sit in front of a small space heater for 30-45 minutes.
Next, take the plastic wrap off and dunk your skull in a bath of clean, warm water. Put on some rubber dish gloves and wash it, working all of the mixture off of the surface. Once it’s clean of any whitening residue, pull it out and let it air dry. If it isn’t as white as you want it, then repeat the process, bleaching it again. At this point your skull is finished and ready for display, you can also spray it with a matte polyurethane if desired, but it’s not necessary.
Save yourself a little coin and try your hand at a DIY European mount. This works for deer, elk, pronghorns, bear, boars and more. This can be achieved for less than $50 and significantly less than that if you already have some of the supplies on hand. Give it go!
Wall Hangers & Happy Wallets,