Whitetail European Style Skull Mount: The Basics
If you are not squeamish, and you should not be if you are a deer hunter, a skull mount is a good way to preserve the trophy you have taken. Of course if it is truly a trophy, I mean a record book deer, you’ll most likely want to go for a professionally done shoulder mount. A skull mount is easy and does not take much time. It adds to your satisfaction being an activity that extends the experience of the hunt. Some may not agree, some may ferociously disagree, but I think it is, in a way, paying some respect to the animal you have just taken. Long after the memories and excitement of the hunt have dissipated you can still admire the animal with this token of its magnificence.
You can boil the entire skull once the skin has been removed then pick it clean of tissue (inside and out), a tedious process, indeed. Then you have to bleach it with beauty salon grade peroxide being careful not to splash onto the antlers. Then find a way to mount the skull to a plaque or just hang it on the wall. After a few years the bone will begin to yellow a bit, which is ok, natural looking , if you like that.
This is the what I have done recently as an alternative:
1. Remove the head and using a sharp knife (Exacto knife or razor blade) cut the skin away from the skull and as much tissue as you can manage. The skin does not have to be entirely removed just peeled back enough to expose the portion of the skull you want to save. I clamp the ears together under the head.
2. Mark a line from the pocket in the back of the skull behind the antlers to the nose. This can extend all the way to the flesh part of the nose or to just beyond the antlers. Personally I like a long nose section left on.
3. Here comes the messy part and the part where you are most likely to screw it up. I use a reciprocating saw with a long blade to cut the skull on the line just marked. This can be difficult to manage because it is hard to see and follow the line, and the head is hard to hold in place. A hand saw would work better if you have the patience. You want the cap of the skull to lay flat and evenly on your plaque so as not to tilt the antlers. If you mess it up you can adjust it later by filing down one side or the other.
4. Now the skull cap and antlers are off and you have a messy, slimy saw blade and a cap with half the brains, not to mention you just cut through the eyeballs. Remember me telling you about the squeamish part.
5. Boil the skull in a large pot of water with a few drops of Dawn dish soap. DO IT OUTSIDE. The smell is not too pleasant. Use tinfoil to cover the pot top, it will boil faster that way. I boiled mine at a light boil for about an hour over a camp stove. Be sure to check it every so often, if you boil too long the skull can crack, warp or separate.
6. Let it cool and begin to pick the bits of meat off with a sharp knife, both inside and out. Be sure to peel every piece of tissue and hair from under the antler crowns. I scrape out the boney nasal tissue on the underside. It is a mixture of fine bone and tissue that should be removed.
7. Once I have all the tissue picked off, I wire brush the skull, and lightly sand it. Don’t do this to the antlers though. You should just wash off any extra dirt and blood.
You could bleach the bone by soaking it in peroxide but I found that gloss acrylic paint from the hobby store works better. I first paint the skull with a darker neutral tone like “Natural”, to cover any stains that may bleed through the white paint. Next I use another coat of slightly lighter colored paint “Suede”, followed by two or three coats of “Ivory” color. Use care to evenly cover the skull so brush strokes are not apparent and care not to splash paint on the antlers.
8. I made a template out of thin poster board for the plaque by setting the skull on the poster board and tracing free hand around the skull a few inches from the edge. Only half was traced then the cardboard was folded and cut with scissors to make a symmetric shape.
9. I drilled holes in bony portions on the bottom side of the skull, being careful not to drill all the way through. Then I place nails that were cut long enough to protrude into the holes. Then I pressed the skull onto the plaque to mark the holes for screws that would hold the skull to the template. Drill these holes a little over sized in case you need to make minor adjustments.
10. Take it apart and finish the plaque. I think it looks best with a dark finish to contrast the white bone. Lighter wood can be blackened (lightly burned) with a torch then sanded with fine sandpaper for and interesting color.
Want to try a shoulder mount?
- Whitetail shoulder mount: The basics
Things I learned during my first attempt at taxidermy of the Whitetail deer I took while hunting my property.