As a red-blooded American, I don’t embrace many European traditions. But one I hold in high regard is the décor of a glistening white European skull mount. Unlike shoulder mounts, which require a hefty cape, a heftier taxidermy budget and plenty of wall space, you can create striking European mounts for pennies in just a day or two. Here’s how.
Boiling skulls isn’t the easiest of methods for removing flesh, but it’s a good option if you have time. The equipment list is simple: a large pot, stove, dish soap and baking soda. Do not try this in the house. Move outdoors and fire up a propane turkey fryer or a heavy-duty camp stove. Add a dash of dish detergent as a degreasing agent and don’t actually boil, but simmer. Add a cup of baking soda to start, but be careful it doesn’t cause the brew to boil over. Use a pot big enough to completely submerge the skull. (Don’t boil your record-book bear or lion, as boiling will shrink the skull a bit.)
Start with a fresh skull skinned, with eyeballs and lower jaw removed. Avoid immersing any portion of the antlers, as this will turn them white. For additional insurance, wrap any portion of the antlers that might be submerged with clear plastic wrap and duct tape.
Simmering takes several hours and requires you to remove the skull repeatedly to scrape away loose meat. Use a thick coat-hanger to get inside the skill and other cavities. After bleaching it, you’ll end up with a taxidermy-quality mount, but be prepared for a stinky mess along the way.
To achieve boil-quality results, you need a pressure washer rated around 3,000 psi and 30 minutes. Lower-pressure units take longer to strip meat and too much pressure could damage fragile bones. Thinner pronghorn skulls particularly have to be done with care, but deer and elk hold up well to pressure treatment.
With a rotating nozzle, chisel the meat off section by section. Be sure to don old raingear, latex gloves and goggles to avoid getting any animal matter on you. Like boiling, remove the hide, lower jaw, eyeballs and excess meat. Wrap the antler bases as well. Wire your skull to a board or other object to keep it stationary while you blast away. I use a pallet and wedge the antlers between the slats to hold it firm.
You may have to scrape a chunk or two of stubborn meat after the wash. There will be meat chunks flying, so do this well away from the house.
For a walk-away option, consider using dermestid beetles. A colony of these ravenous insects can whistle-clean a skull in just a few days. That means no boiling or pressure washing. But beetles are a year-round commitment, which definitely includes the smell of rotting flesh. And if they if they get loose in your house, taxidermy mounts and furnishings could be on the menu. My advice: take the skull to a professional “beetle guy” who can clean it for around $100. Depending on the backlog, this might not be the quickest method, but the results are great.
Once the meat is removed, your skull will appear somewhat yellow. The cheapest option to bleach your skull bone-white is to use a jug of 40 percent hydrogen peroxide paste available at beauty supply stores. Be sure to wear heavy-duty rubber cleaning gloves and eye protection when handling this stuff as it will burn if it gets on you. Paint it on the skull, set it in sun for a day or so, then brush away the flaky residue, and voila. From there, you can display the skull with everything from a simple nail in the wall and wire through the bottom of the skull to an elaborate hardwood plaque. Or, a mounting system such as Skull Hooker offers and easy and elegant approach.