European Mounts Made Easy

Alright, so now you’ve harvested a nice buck and finished the butchering, what are you going to do with the head and antlers? Some folks will spend the money on a taxidermist, especially if it’s “wallhanger” worthy. Others will opt to just skull cap the head and mount the antlers in plaster on a board or wood plaque. If you want to spend a little more time (but save a lot of money) to prepare your antler mount in a professional looking display, you might want to consider making your own European mount.  It takes a little time and a few basic pieces of equipment, but you’ll be happy with the result.

There are two basic methods for making a European mount of you deer skull.  One way is to put the entire skull into a colony of dermestid beetles and let the flesh-eating bugs do the work of cleaning the skull to the bone which may take several days or even weeks until the job is done.  This is the method most taxidermists and museums use, but not many people have access to a large colony of dermestid beetles or want to go through the hassle of raising beetles just to clean off some skulls.  

Another method is to skin and boil the skull for 4 to 5 hours and gently scrape off the flesh as the boiling process proceeds.  Most people have access to a large boiling pot, such as a canning pot. The bottom third of a steel 55-gallon drum works well too, especially if you want to boil more than one or two skulls at the same time.  You’ll likely want to boil the skulls outdoors, if possible, since the smell of boiling deer skulls is not that pleasant.

European Mounts in a garage. Iowa County, WI.

Here are the steps to the process of making a boiled European mount:

1) Remove the deer head from the carcass by carefully cutting through the flesh and spinal cord at the back of the skull.  You shouldn’t need a bone saw.  A sharp knife or scalpel will do the trick.

2) Using a sharp knife or scalpel, carefully remove the eyes and as much skin and flesh from the skull as possible.  Try not to cut too hard to avoid scarring the underlying bone.  By carefully skinning and cutting, you should also be able to remove the lower jaw. Again, no bone saw is necessary.

3) Fill your large boiling pot with clean water and about 2 to 3 cups of 20-Mule Team Borax plus a tablespoon or two of liquid Dawn Dish Detergent.  Some folks prefer to use soda ash instead of borax but soda ash can be harder to find and borax seems to work just as well and is on every grocery store shelf.

4) Bring the water and detergent to a rolling boil and place the skull in the pot.

Steps 3 & 4

5) Keep a rolling boil going for about an hour or two and remove the skull to gently scrape off loosened flesh with a knife or wire brush.  You might have to repeat this procedure a few times until the skull is clean.

6) Use a slender knife or stiff wire to get inside the skull and remove the brain material.  Stirring and rinsing the brain cavity frequently during the boiling process should remove all the tissue.

7) If necessary, you may need to drain the pot and refill with clean water during the boiling process.  It usually takes a total of about 4 to 5 hours of boiling and scraping/brushing to get a nice clean skull.

8) After all the flesh and brain material have been boiled and scraped from the skull you’ll likely want to finish the job by applying a bleach paste solution to whiten the skull bone but not the antlers.  Some folks may decide to skip this step and just let the skull dry instead of bleaching it but a bleached skull will provide more contrast with the darker-colored antlers.

9) Mix up a few cups of Clairol Basic White Hair Bleach (available online or in local hair salons) with hydrogen peroxide, making a paste, and apply the paste to the skull (not the antlers!) with a small paint brush or foam brush.  Let the bleach paste dry on the skull for 24 to 48 hours.

10) Rinse the skull and scrub off the bleach paste with a small brush or tooth brush.  Let it dry and, if you want to make a wall mount, you can insert a narrow-gauge wire through the 2 small openings at the back of the skull on either side of the place where the spinal cord exits the skull.  You’re done!

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