I took a brief break from deer hunting last weekend after filling my second doe tag this year. At the top of my list of things to do was to attempt to turn my buck head from last fall into a European mount. The European, or Euro mount, is a mount of an animal head that only features the cleaned skull and any antlers. There is no skin or hide on it such as in the shoulder or full body mounts. Now, everything I have read suggested this is something I could learn to do myself with minimal skill required.
Last year, during firearm season, I shot my first public land buck at about 80 yards with my 450 bushmaster rifle. It was an exciting moment. I knew I wanted to do mount this deer, but being only a 3 point, I did not want to pay hundreds of dollars to have it shoulder-mounted. So after butchering the animal myself, I used my Sawzall to remove the head, placed it in a garbage bag, and put it in the freezer. Over the past year, I have delighted in asking guests at my house if they wanted to see my frozen buck head, however, it has been taking up a lot of space in the freezer. I wanted to finally get it up on the wall. I’m going to walk you through the process of cleaning the skull.
Skinning The Head
Out of the whole process, this was the part I was most hesitant about. I’ve long gotten past being squeamish about field dressing and butchering animals, but I have never dissected a head, so to speak. Step one was removing the head from my freezer and letting it thaw for 24 hours in my garage. Parts of it remained frozen and in retrospect, I would have thawed it for closer to 48 hours. I had left a good amount of the neck on the head and decided to use my Sawzall to cut the neck off at the base of the last vertebra where it connects to the skull.
Then, taking a very sharp knife (a razor blade or fresh scalpel would probably also work well here), I started cutting through the skin at the top of the skull and working it off the bone. It took a considerable effort to remove the skin. I believe this is due to the animal having been frozen and from a year ago. Once the head was skinned, I started removing muscle with the knife until it was looking relatively clean. I then removed the lower jaw. Finally, I used a long thin knife to reach into the brain cavity at the back of the skull and pull out as much of the brain as possible. If left in, it can create quite a mess during the boiling process as it is very oily.
“Boiling” The Skull
The next step in the process is to use liquid and a detergent of some sort to loosen up the remaining muscle, skin, etc. I first soaked the skull in dawn dish soap and water overnight to start softening the tissue. Next, I used a large 16 qt. pot and a camp stove to bring water to a boil and reduce to a simmer. Then I added the skull and simmered for 15 minutes at a time, removing it to scrape tissue off. After scraping, I added powdered borax by packing it into the nasal and brain cavity. This definitely accelerated the process of getting the tissue removed. Several times throughout the process, I used a power washer to wash skin and muscle off which worked really well. The hardest part of cleaning it was getting the cartilage off from the nasal cavity. I used a knife to go in from the nose area and cut as much loose as possible, which then washed out with the pressure washer. Two things to note here:
- Do not actually boil the skull or you will weaken the bone considerably. Some people swear by boiling, but if you go this route only boil for a few minutes. Simmering is the key.
- When using a pressure washer, do not use a 0-degree nozzle or it will likely break through the bone. I used a 15-degree nozzle for most of the work with the washer.
The next step in the process is to add whitening to the skull if you desire. Sally’s salon products make a hair bleach called “Salon Care 40” which is purported to be phenomenal for whitening. A bottle can be ordered online for just a few dollars. You simply paint it on the skull and let it sit for 48-72 hours. Saran wrapping the skull or leaving it in the sun will accelerate the bleaching process.
Finishing The Mount