Here are some basic and easy to follow steps to clean a deer skull for display in your game room.
One of the greatest reasons that hunters began to make trophies of their game kills was the distinct fact that it took so much effort to take that wild game.
Sure it sounds silly, but deer don't want to be hunted and they sure don't make themselves an easy target. That may be the number one reason why we want to put them on our wall, so they can't go anywhere anymore!
In fact, hunters have been making use of their kills for as long as there have been hunters. Even though some of these uses have been more practical than others, the fact remains that we want a reminder of what it took to harvest that game animal, while subsequently creating a story behind it for years to come.
Enter what we now know as the European skull mount.
For most of us, a shoulder mount, pedestal mount, or even a full-body mount is the best way to memorialize that trophy deer for posterity's sake, but then again not everyone can afford that. Cleaning your deer skull yourself can be an easy and fun way to remember that hunt of a lifetime without spending a lot of money doing so.
For many, the quickest and easiest option will be to turn to a taxidermist to create their Euro mount. A traditional skull mount can run you anywhere from $100-150 depending on your area, but as a DIY project it can be far less.
This type of mount is probably the oldest deer mount option known to man, and with today's alternative choices for achieving the final product can produce one of the best trophies in your game room.
For those new to the process, some forms of cleaning a skull to remove the flesh, skin, and inner organs can be a bit time consuming, rather dirty, and quite smelly. Some of it requires up-front gear and supplies, things you may or may not already own.
Methods of Cleaning a Deer Skull
Let's look at a few of the methods tried over the years to attain a clean deer skull:
There are probably two basic methods of cleaning the skull of any game animal that most people use. We'll take a look at them first.
Maybe the most common of these, and the most smell-intensive process, is to simmer the head for several hours, sometimes all day, to loosen the leftover tissue for removal. This is after you remove what you can by detaching all of the meat and skin as you can by hand before you begin the process. It usually calls for a good knife, but pliers and picks can work wonders, too.
Just for the record: you will have to remove the deer's brain matter and eyeballs as well. The majority of these parts can be removed by hand, it just takes a while, especially if you're new at it.
Remember that if you bring the water to a boil, you've gone too far. The high-temperature water will break down the bones and the nasal cavity, resulting in a less than satisfactory skull mount.
The simmering is best done in an open air environment, because the smell of a simmering deer skull with much of the flesh and brain still intact is quite abominable.
For best results, the use of a propane stove, the type of which is similarly used for frying a turkey outdoors, and a vessel large enough to hold the amount of water required to cover the skull without submerging the antlers.
One good piece of advice is to add a bit of dish detergent as a degreasing agent. Another is to wrap the antlers near the pedicle with some plastic or foil since they always seem to get into the hot water, which can ruin their color and natural look.
This method requires your time and attention since it really works the best when you remove the skull every hour or so to inspect the progress and remove more of the fleshy parts.
If you've never heard of them, dermestid beetles or skin beetles are a variety of bug that can eat their way out of anything except metal or glass. They can strip away all of the flesh and cartilage of dead tissue on an animal, leaving the bones spotless. A strong colony can clean a deer skull in about three days under the right conditions.
This is a great do-it-yourself method of skull cleaning since it is virtually hands free, you just need a place to let them work. Depending on the source, it takes 1,000 to roughly 15,000 of these ravenous little insects to clean a deer skull, and the best part is you can purchase them right through the mail.
One big reason to use these critters is that when cooking your deer skull, the melted fat soaks into the bone which often results in greasy yellow skulls.
Maceration is the process of placing the deer skull in warm water until it softens and the bacteria decomposes and digests the flesh... in about three weeks. It is probably the most gentle process by which it can be done, but the time and effort to continually change the water turns some folks off.
As far as burying your deer skull, you take the chance that some other freeloading critter could dig it up and carry it off while you're waiting for this process to work. While some may try to bury it on top of an anthill, it's not the same as using the beetles.
Neither has ever proven as viable in a DIY format, which is why simmering and using beetles have dominated in the recent past.
After the meat and the lower jaw has been removed, along with the brain tissue through the back of the skull, you can now whiten the cleaned bone. Let the skull completely dry first and then prepare a solution of 12 percent hydrogen peroxide mixed about 1:1 with water in a vessel large enough to hold the deer skull, but not the antlers since you will want them to retain their natural color.
The term "bleaching" is commonly used here, but chlorine bleach is not actually used since it has the tendency to seep into the bones and damage the finished product. It is now a matter of letting the skull soak in the peroxide solution until the desired whiteness has been reached. Once this step is reached, you can rinse the skull and let it completely dry again.
Cleaned and prepped skulls can also be camo-dipped. You can have this professionally done, or it is a fairly simple DIY process. Start by prepping the skull with some spray paint primer. Fill a five gallon pail with warm water and have several desired colors ready. Spray one color onto the surface of the water, then another, and so on, and then slowly dip the skull into the bucket (you should tape or somehow cover the antlers up a few inches from the bone to protect them).
Once submerged, use a circular motion to gently move the unused paint from the surface of the water to the outside of the pail, and then pull out your deer skull.
There are many videos and related instructional content on this process to choose from before trying it so that you can find the right method for you.
Some folks use a hose or even a pressure washer to help move material from the skull during the simmering procedure, but this can be harmful to the skull without taking close care. You'll want to use some protective glasses, gloves, and maybe even some rain gear, but it can really pay off. Skulls that haven't completely dried out clean easier than ones that have, so you may want to freeze your trophy if you cannot simmer it right away.
As with many hunters, you may choose to have a professional taxidermist to do this job for you, and most don't charge an arm and a leg to do a European mount. The whitening process is important and can be damaging to the skull if done incorrectly, and the same goes for using boiling water instead of simply simmering it.
These procedures can generally be used for any animal skulls that you may want to turn into a wall hanger or centerpiece. Keep in mind, though, that the final product is one you'll likely cherish for the rest of your life. In many hunters' eyes, you're already cutting a corner by skipping the shoulder mount, and you're looking to save even more money by cleaning the deer skull yourself.
We're all for saving dollars where you can get your own hands dirty instead, but make sure you're comfortable with your approach before getting started, as it'd be a shame to damage what could've been one heck of a trophy to hang on your wall.
Like anything else, practice makes perfect with this kind of project. It can be a great learned process much like skinning, butchering, and even preparing the game meat of your prized whitetail. Just remember, anyone can do it with time and dedicated effort.
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