European Skull Mounts ~ Thomas Hooker
Taxidermy. It’s a really cool way to preserve a trophy when you have the cash to work with, but what about other options? What about saving some money, and creating a work of art yourself? Well that’s exactly what I decided to do. The last European mount I paid for cost $120.00 and I had to wait months to get it back. Since I took the proverbial bull, or deer by the horns it cost me all of about $20 bucks and I can have it ready as soon as I give it the time to get it done. I am not a pro. This is my first attempt at such a feat; so quite a bit of this is just simple imagination. I will first imagine you can use this process with any type skull, and the fresher the better. Here we go!
Step one for some may be the most difficult part. You will be required to harvest an animal, unless you’re working under our infamous road kill law. Whatever the case you need a head. Remember any head is a trophy so today I’m doing a doe, and a buck. Ok we checked in our animal and take it home. You have a nicely cut head and you have a job ahead of you. First I recommend the following tools: Bone saw, and a very sharp knife, and a dull rounded blade knife or as I used, a flat head screwdriver. Easy enough? For the sharp knife I found that a good sturdy fish fillet knife is the perfect tool. It’s point is small enough to do intricate work where needed. I place the head on a makeshift table at a good working height and begin to cut while having flashbacks of gross anatomy classes in college. Starting at the nose I slowly and surgically made an incision up the center of the head and went from there to “Skin” the head. I was surprised how easy this process was and as you see in photo #1 you can actually take the face off. Then I removed the neck from the base of the skull.
Step two is easy pickings. It is just a bit time consuming. Here we cut as much muscle tissue away from the skull as possible and remove the eyes and brain tissue. The gray matter is the most difficult to remove because of the small working space. I would just take a long screwdriver and stick it in there and stir it around and pull it out with what ever I could. Once your skull is as void of meat as possible its time for cooking. When this step is complete the mandible will become separated from the head and it will split in half after cooking. If you are not doing a lower jaw mount just toss it, but I like having it. If you’re keeping it make sure you super glue the base of the teeth in place in the Jaw and Head of the skull. The cooking process will loosen them and you don’t want to loose them.
Step three I call deer head soup. At least that’s what I told the kids I was cooking for Thanksgiving dinner. Somehow they weren’t too happy about that when they smelled it. Cooking heads is not for the squeamish as the odor is not at all pleasing so take that into consideration. I have a gas grill with a side burner that works great. If not a Coleman type stove will work also. You need a pot you can submerge the skull in. Let the water come to a constant simmer (Not a rolling boil) and add a few squeezes of your favorite dishwashing liquid to cut the fat.
If your cooking with antlers included wrap them thoroughly in aluminum foil for protection and let it cook. Make sure the water level stays constant adding hot tap water when needed. I simmered these heads for about 4 hours.
Step four is simply taking the skull out and picking off the cooked meat. Make sure you get “Everything” off. If you have difficulty getting it all then you may need to add more cooking time. The end result should look like this fine doe! When it does you are ready for bleaching.
Step five is bleaching. There are several alternatives for this and I don’t have time to write a book so I will try to keep it simply and just share the way I accomplished this. Hydrogen Peroxide is an oxidizer. It accomplishes several things. One, it kills bacteria, viruses and fungi, and it also bleaches. The kind you use at home is only a 3% solution. Meaning that 97% is water. Not real good at bleaching a large skull. What I recommend at this point is what is called Volume 40 hydrogen peroxide, which is used in beauty parlors for bleaching hair. This is in reality a 12% solution but has plenty of kick to do the job. NOTE* Be sure to read precautions when handling! You can obtain this product at hair care suppliers for around $3.50 for a 16 oz bottle. I used 5 bottles to do two doe heads and one buck. If you are working on a single skull 3 bottles should get it, but it depends on how much you dilute the solution. I used the same container I boiled the heads in to soak the skulls so it took quite a bit of water. Doe heads or such just drop them in the mixture. Buck heads should be stabilized to submerge just under the base of the antlers, which should still be wrapped in foil. You don’t want to bleach the antlers. However, if you do this may be corrected. Let the bones sit in the solution for at least 24 hours. If it is not to your desire you may add more peroxide. When the process is complete thoroughly rinse the skull and let dry.
Step six is finishing. I purchased some oak boards and cut them to my desired shape, sanded them and gave them a few shots of stain and clear coat. You can get as fancy as you want with this, but I kept it simple. Now you’ll need a few more tools: Super glue, Clear Caulking, Drill, 4” x 3/16ths Lag screws, and Flat Spray Acrylic finish.
Now that your skull is dry re-glue all teeth in place by placing a bead of glue inside at the base of each tooth. If you wish you can also spread a bead down the line in the center of the mouth pallet to prevent spreading of the bone. Next glue the lower jaw back together by gluing at the separation point at the front and let set. When it is firmly set then super glue the mandible or lower jaw back into place on the skull placing a bead of glue at connections of teeth and where the mandibular joint rests flat against the skull. Remember the lower jaw teeth will actually set somewhat inward of the upper teeth. As a precaution use some clear caulking to solidify the connection where indicated below in the red circle. At this point if any of the antlers have been partially bleached you can add a few light coats of stain to your desire to bring back the natural color. After through drying take you acrylic paint and spray the skull. One or two coats are all that is needed, but it’s kind of a “To Taste” kind of thing. When firmly set the drill a hole in the skull at the base of the brain stem where indicated by the green circle.
For mounting simply drill a hole in your plaque at the desired height, run the screw through to the skull and screw it into the lag placed on the inside of the skull. You may need a pair of needle nose pliers to hold it in place as this was a bit difficult, but I guarantee the skull is going nowhere when mounting it this way. Hang a picture mount on the back and you are ready to enjoy your trophy!
Doe after cooking: Doe Finished:
Thomas has been an outdoorsman for the majority of his 46 years. He started chasing whitetails in Eastern Tennessee about twenty years ago. He moved to Mt.
Juliet, Tennessee about ten years ago and shortly thereafter took up bow hunting which he now describes is his passion.