There’s no arguing that a high-quality taxidermy is an art form. But if you’ve already got a wall filled with impressive head mounts of previous hunting trophies or just don’t have the cash to have a wall mount done right, you may be looking for some different options. Lucky for you, there is a very old traditional mounting technique that’s regaining popularity and it just so happens that you can do the entire procedure at home.
European skull mounts offer a unique and very attractive taxidermy method that’s great for showing off a trophy buck. They draw the eye in and, as such, can make great accent pieces to help break up the textural monotony that can happen with a wall filled with furred and feathered mounts.
The equipment needs are low and this entire procedure can take up to a day, especially the first time you do it. While the following procedure is very basic, there are a few modern options thrown in along the way that you can add to increase the efficacy of the procedure.
Here’s a basic idea of what you’re going to be doing so the instructions make more sense as you read through them. Essentially, you’re going to strip the head of your buck down to the bone and then whiten the skull to make for a more dramatic presentation. It’s messy, hands-on work and you’ll want to do the entire procedure outside.
While there’s no functional reason you can’t make your European skull mount inside the house, the resulting smells and frightful sight of a skinned deer head may be unappealing to the people you share your home with. While there’s no accounting for taste, you can make everyone’s lives easier by keeping the process outside.
Gather Your Materials
There’s not much you’ll need, but the few things you do need may take some time to acquire.
- A large pot your deer skull will fit in (a stainless steel stock pot works great)
- A small camping stove or open fire
- Heavy wire (an old coat hanger works great)
- A few gallons of water
- 2 cups of borax (optional)
Optional Whitening Supplies
- 40% peroxide solution (available through taxidermy supply shops, as part of taxidermy kits, and from beauty supply shops)
- Paint brush
- Cotton balls
- Something to set the skull on like an old tarp or aluminum baking tray
This method works best if done with a fresh head. One that’s had time to sit and dry out can still be turned into a European skull mount, but it will take longer as the tissue has to soften before it will fall off or can easily be removed.
Skin the head, making sure to remove as much meat and tissue as possible. Take care around the nasal passages as that cartilage will remain intact throughout the cleaning and can give a distinctive look to the skull mount. However, you can remove that cartilage. It’s really your choice and comes down to aesthetics. Personally, I think skull mounts with or without the nasal cartilage are impressive looking either way; your mileage may vary.
Whatever tissue you can remove now will speed up the cleaning process. You can use just a knife, although a wire bristle brush may help to loosen stubborn tissue. Don’t worry about trying to get the brain out now (which you absolutely will need to do as it will smell awful for a few months if you don’t.) After the skull has cooked for a bit the brain will come out much more easily.
Fix the wire coat hanger onto the antlers to create a handle. This makes it easier to get the skull in and out of the pot. It also helps to prevent possible injury, as you won’t have to fumble with tools of some sort to try to pull or scoop the skull out of the pot.
Boiling the Skull
Get your fire going, if you plan on using an open fire. You’ll want a moderately hot fire; not too much heat but enough to keep water going at a low boil. This could take all day, so be sure you have an adequate wood supply.
Fill the pot with water and bring it to a low boil. If you like, you can add a cup or two of borax to help clean the skull faster, but this isn’t necessary. Water is naturally soluble, that is, it naturally dissolves (most) substances placed in it. So, the combination of water and heat will work together to soften remaining tissue and encourage it to fall off of the skull.
Be careful not to have a rolling boil. It won’t harm the skull or necessarily make the work go faster, but it can cause the bones in the skull to separate. Unless you feel like sitting there trying to piece and superglue the skull back together, keep the water at a low boil or simmer to avoid this problem. However, if this should happen, despite your best efforts, superglue is an easy fix. Be sure to glue the skull back together completely and allow the glue to fully set before whitening.
Every hour or so, pull the skull out of the water and use your knife or wire bristle brush to scrape the skull and remove more tissue. This helps to speed up the process. Continue to do so once every hour. Eventually, the brain will have softened enough that you can easily remove it without risking damage to the skull.
This step can take as little as two hours but can take as long as several hours. It really depends on how moist the skull was to start with, how much tissue you scrape off, and experience level. You’ll get better the more you do this and eventually you’ll be able to complete multiple European skull mounts in a day.
Whitening the Skull
Once the skull is clean, you can whiten it to make for a more dramatic presentation. This step is purely optional, as a natural looking skull that ages with time does have its own unique charm. Older skulls that have not ever been whitened can be done so at any time. There is no time requirement for whitening nor does it make a difference in finished results because you’re using chemicals to essentially bleach the bones.
You can leave the wire on the antlers for this step, if you want to. It can help you in facilitating the whitening process as you can more easily maneuver and reposition the skull. It also makes for less handling of the antlers as the oils in your skin can cause the antlers to lose their color.
To whiten the skull, you’ll want to set it on your old tarp or in something like an aluminum baking tray. This step can take about a day just on its own as the skull will need to sit. You’ll want to be extremely careful not to get any of the 40% peroxide solution onto the antlers as it will bleach them, too. You can wrap the base of each antler with plastic wrap to afford them some additional protection. Be sure to wear gloves throughout this process and don some eye protection. Avoid getting the peroxide solution onto your skin or clothing.
With your paint brush, cover every last inch of the skull with the 40% peroxide solution. The cotton balls will come in handy for applying the peroxide to more difficult areas, like inside the nasal passage and the edges of the eye sockets. Let the skull sit and absorb the peroxide for a couple of hours.
From here, you can reapply the peroxide until the skull is as white as you want it to be. Alternatively, after applying the peroxide, you can wrap the skull in plastic wrap or aluminum foil to seal in the moisture and allow the skull to better absorb the peroxide. After a day, remove the plastic wrap or foil and brush off the dried up peroxide.
The skull may need additional time to dry before it can be mounted. This can take a few days, although it’s possible your skull will be ready to mount immediately.
Mounting the Skull
When it comes to mounting and presentation, you have a lot of options. There are pedestal kits available that create a dramatic base for the skull to be mounted onto a wall (and that also make it take up nearly as much space as a head mount.) You can also get simpler wooden plaques (similar to antler mount plaques) to affix the skull to that offer a basic yet beautiful accent to that gleaming white skull.
One of the simplest ways to mount your skull, however, involves drilling two holes on the back of the skull and running wire between them. In this way, you can simply hang the skull from a nail. This has a much more rustic appeal to it but offers better contrast if the interior of your home is wooden.
A cleaned and whitened skull also makes a dramatic fixture on a shelf or table. In this way, there is nothing further to do it once you’ve finished whitening it and it has thoroughly dried.
Some people like to modify the skull for a smoother presentation when hung on the wall. They may take the skull to a sander or grinder and smooth down the top teeth so that the skull lays flat against the wall. While this does look nice when you’re looking straight at the skull, the distinctive alteration of the skull strikes me as tacky and disrespectful to the deer whose life was lost to fill your freezer and whose skull now adorns your wall. Circle of life and all, but I’m of the persuasion that life shouldn’t be taken needlessly and that respect is a crucial part of the hunting experience. Again, your mileage may vary.
Final Thoughts on European Skull Mounts
As you can see, the process for making your own European skull mount is pretty straightforward. With some practice, you’ll find you’ll be able to do multiple skulls in just a day –making you quite popular among your hunting buddies.
A European skull mount makes a great addition to any trophy wall and helps to break up the colors and textures. It also has its own unique beauty and charm that may be just what you need to convince your significant other to let you hang some of your trophies in other areas of the house.