I got a text message from a buddy of mine late last deer season asking me if I still messed with doing European mounts for folks. I’ve done a few of these for myself, but mostly for other people for a number of years now. I really didn’t have the time, but he’s a good friend so I said ‘sure’ and he said ‘Good, cause it’s already in your garage…LOL’. There are many ways to display your trophy, but I have to tell you, I really like the look of the European mount. If it’s not a giant buck that you’re going to spend the money to shoulder mount, a European mount looks awesome (for any size buck) and you can put it anywhere… with your wife’s permission. I’ve already completed the work on my friend’s deer head, but I still had one from my dad that I told him I would do for him. I’ve been pretty busy with work and my son’s baseball team, but I recently cleaned out my garage for spring and knew it was now or never on this deer skull. I thought this would be a good blog post to show you how I clean them and bleach them so I went ahead and filmed the whole experience. It’s not as hard as you think and doesn’t take all that long, plus it actually saves you quite a bit of money by just doing it yourself.
First things first, I remove the head from the spinal column. You can feel (with your knife) and see where the spine attaches to the back of the head and where all the nerves and vessels make their way into the brain cavity. Carefully cut those nerves, vessels and connective tissue until the only thing you’re holding is the head. After removing the head, I skin it out and remove the lower jaw along with the tongue and as much of the chunky meat around the ear and nasal areas as possible. It’s not extremely important to work a long time during this phase, but while I’m already bloody and have it in front of me I just get rid of the bigger chunks. You can remove the eyes here if you wish, but the next step helps make that a lot easier before boiling. After the initial prep work I soak the skull for a month or more in just a 5 gallon buck of water. The bacteria in the water (after it sits for a while) will actually help you out as it starts to break down the remaining meat and connective tissue. This can get a little smelly as the days and weeks go on so for as long as you can take it, let it sit. I recommend at least 30 days, but I’ve had great success with letting it soak for 60 days or more (obviously in my garage and not my basement). If the smell becomes unbearable, I’ve even dumped half the bucket of water out and filled it back up with fresh water. The bacteria are still in the water from the portion you left, but the fresh water will get rid of the smell (at least for a while).
Once you’re ready to boil the skull, go ahead and get your pot and your burner ready to go. I DO NOT use a pot from my wife’s kitchen. That’s how they say ‘the fight got started’! I actually went out to Wal-Mart and bought my own and this is the only thing I use it for. I use a turkey fryer propane base to heat my pot of water and I mix in a good bit of dish soap. This helps degrease the bone and helps the meat come right off (usually a lot of it in the boil pot). While the water is heating up, I throw on a pair of latex gloves and remove the eyes and any other pieces of meat I can. Once the water comes to a boil, turn down the heat just to maintain that constant slow boil and place your deer skull in. Covering up the base of the antlers with boiling water is OK. I was worried about this when I first started, but it’s no big deal. It’s difficult to save any pieces of tree where the deer was rubbing simply because of the steam from the boiling pot. You can try, but it’s more work than it’s really worth to me. Boil your skull for a good 30-40 minutes. Keep the water at a slow boil by adjusting your temperature. Stay nearby because if the water boils over it will put out your flame. This has happened multiple times to me. LOL If you’ve soaked the head as suggested above, this first boil will help you remove a good 80% of the meat and tissue.
After your first boil, remove the head and quickly start working on removing the pieces of meat that have cooked. Be careful because it will be hot so wear some old work or butchering gloves. Tools that come in handy are needle nose pliers, flat screw driver, putty knife, a sharp knife and small wire brushes. Sensitive/thin areas in the bone and cartilage are the nasal cavity, tear duct/gland and the inside part of the eye sockets. If you’re not careful you can easily puncture a hole in these areas and not necessarily ruin the mount, but you’ll have a hole where you really shouldn’t. It’s a fairly nasty, smelly and difficult job to do, but after this first boil you’ll need to stick something up inside the brain cavity and give it a good stir. I use the bottom of a tomato cage that I cut off and bent a hook on the end. It works GREAT! After you’ve gotten as much as you can off during the first round, take a garden hose with fairly good pressure and spray out the brain and nasal cavities and give it a good spray down all over. Put it back in the boil pot for another 20 minutes and repeat these steps until you’ve cleaned every piece of meat off the skull. I’ve rarely had to boil it more than twice using the ‘soak method’. That really seems to help break everything down to where it just ‘falls off the bone’.
After you’ve hosed it down one last time to make sure everything is clean, hang it up and let it dry completely. At this point, it can still smell a little so I wouldn’t recommend drying it in the house. After it’s completely dry, it’s time to paint on the bleaching agent. In the past, I’ve used the basic peroxide that mom used to put on my cuts and scrapes and it would burn the crap out of me! Most recently, I’ve used the 40 Volume Crème Developer that salons use to dye hair. I use the cream instead of the liquid because it’s easier to paint on the skull and it doesn’t run down on the teeth (which I like to keep looking ‘normal’ instead of bleach white). Another tip for this phase is DO NOT get any cream on the antlers. It will bleach anything it touches and you want your antlers to stay their natural color. After a good layer of cream has been painted on, let it sit for 24 hours to soak up the peroxide solution and bleach the skull. If it’s a nice sunny day, I’ll hang the skull out in the sun and this helps it bleach out even more. You can repeat this step until it’s reached your desired bleach color. Some skulls vary, but most that I’ve done only require two coats of the solution.
After the bleaching process is complete, spray it down with the garden hose one last time to remove the peroxide solution and wipe it down with an old rag or towel and let it hang dry overnight. You’ve now completed the European mount and can display it in several different ways with many different mounts they sell on the market. It’s a lot of fun and very rewarding to shoot, process and preserve your trophy. Next time you harvest a nice buck that you’re not going to shoulder mount, give this a try and I’m confident you’ll be pleased with the results!
Shoot ‘em Straight!