You can easily spend over $100 for a good European Mount of your trophy. Why not do it yourself for under $15. The process explained in this tutorial involves simmering the head and can be finished from beginning to wall in one afternoon.
Let me preface this article by saying that if I can do this, anyone can. I had always been a little nervous about cleaning up a skull for a European mount, now I wish I hadn’t been because I’ve wasted a few good mounts.
The whole process began from online searches. Trying to cite every source would be very difficult, so I will say that while I did not come up with this process myself, I did a lot of research, combined a bunch of information and gave it a go.
-The head of the animal (In this case a Texas Whitetail Buck)
-A big metal container that will hold water and can be heated by a stove of some kind.
-1 box of Baking Soda or Sal Soda – Order “Arm & Hammer” Super Washing Soda 55 Oz.
-A sharp knife
-Air Compressor (Used in this process, but could be traded for another step)
-Small Paint Brush
-Tub to mix Peroxide and Whitener
-Powerful Peroxide Cream – Order Salon Care 40 Volume Creme Developer
-Whitener (1 oz. packet) – Order Clairol Basic White Powder Packets
-Plastic (Seran) Wrap
-Stove to heat water: cache cooker/barbeque/kitchen stove (depending on females in household)
It seems like a lengthy list, but many of us have a lot of these things sitting around the house. The things hardest to come by may be the air compressor, the chemicals, and perhaps a woman that will let you use the kitchen stove (not likely). These obstacles can all be overcome, and I’ll talk about that later.
We can start at the beginning. During an open season, with a valid hunting license, grab your gun/bow and bullets/arrows along with other necessary gear. Go out to a likely area to find the animal you are after. Kill the animal (This step varies in many ways, this article will not attempt to address this step). Go home with your tasty game meat and the head of the animal.
Cape out the head, remove all hide and hair. Then remove the eyes from sockets, all vertebrae, the tongue and lower jaw, and all the meat you can easily cut off with your knife. The brain will also need to be removed, take a old wire coat hanger, or a good stick, and loosen the brain. With a flattened end of a wire or stick remove as much brain as possible. You are now done with the prepping and ready to begin the simmering.
Another small step may be inserted here. A lot of guys like to cut a hole directly below the brain cavity in order to better remove the brain tissue. I did not.
Fill the pot with water, empty about one box of baking soda into the water and place the skull in the water. You will want to have the water level above the top of the skull as it needs to simmer. I was afraid that it would remove the colors of the antlers, but it did not. There is a little bit of grease that may get on them. You may want to wrap the antlers/horns in plastic wrap and electrical tape to keep it secure. This will keep some water and grease from the antlers. (Not a big deal if you don’t though).
Put the pot on heat source of some kind. I used my barbeque grill, which has a burner on the side. I turned it on low. You do not want the water to boil. Just keep it right below a boil and simmer the skull for 30-45 minutes. Take the skull out and remove all the meat you can. Much of it should have already fallen off the skull. Use pliers and your knife to gently remove some of the meat in hard to reach areas. You will most likely have to put the had back in for a few more minutes, I had this skull in the water for a little over an hour and a half total. However, looking back I would have taken it out a little sooner.
*Note: Not all the very small specks of meat will be gone at this point. It seems to hold in a few places in the eye sockets, and nasal passages. At this point some people remove the ear canal bones by prying them out with a screwdriver. It removes a lot of meat, but also some bone. I chose not to as I was planning on leaving the entire skull intact as it will be displayed on a shelf, and can simply sit there.
Next you want to have a container or a sink, I used a cooler, full of hot water with a bunch of dish soap. The skull should come right out of the simmering pot, right into this hot water. (As hot as your hands can stand). Get your air compressor with an air attachment, and submerge the skull, and your air nozzle and blow air across, under, above, and through all the surfaces of the skull. You will want to blow water through all of the holes in the skull also. This blows out the grease and meat left in the smaller places. You may still need to pick some of it out with pliers and knife, but this will get most of it. I was a little careful with the nose, because I wanted to be extra careful not to break the fragile bones in the nasal cavity.
If you don’t have an air compressor, there are other steps that can be taken to replace this step. But the grease needs to be removed somehow, either by soaking in a degreasing solution or by some other means. It will take longer by using another method, as soaking is typically involved.
Your skull should now be meat and grease free. Now you should probably repeat again. The bubbles and air push the grease and meat out of the hard to reach areas. Make sure the brain cavity is completely clear, especially the front and hardest to reach part between the eyes. This is the part of the skull where you will see the most yellowing. If all of the grease is removed there should not be any yellowing in the future.
My skull looked like this. The fissures and nasal bones were a little dark, but there was no flesh or grease left.
Dry the skull. Depending on your time frame, you can do this in front of a heater, or let it air dry. It was getting late when I got to this point, so I left mine overnight in the garage. Drying in front of a heater for 20 minutes works great also. Rotate it every few minutes to make sure it dries thoroughly.
Now to the bleaching part. The products used in this process were purchased at Sally Beauty Supply. I was pleasantly surprised when the girl at Sally Beauty Supply knew exactly what I was looking for. I would expect at many of these locations (at least in the west) they will know the products you need.
You will need Salon care Maximum Lift 40 Developer Crème. This comes in a liquid, you will want the crème. This is really just Hydrogen Peroxide that is more potent than the stuff you may have around the house. The second product may not be necessary, but I used it and was very happy with the results. Salon Care “Quick White” powder lightener. This whitener can be purchased in large tubs, or for a couple dollars you can pick up the small packet that turns out to be more than enough for a deer sized skull. I would anticipate it would be enough for an elk skull.
Before application you may want to mask the antlers as this mix will bleach the antlers to a bone white. If you do not want to mess with re-coloring the antler/horn you should mask it off. I used masking tape and wrapped it around to just above the eye guards.
Mix these two products together. The whitener will thicken the peroxide a little to almost the consistency of a homemade milkshake. You will want to wear protection on your hands and eyes for this step. This mixture is pretty potent. The smell can be quite strong also, so you may want a mask of some sort. I simply used a paintbrush to mix the peroxide and whitener together.
Paint the skull. Get the peroxide/whitener mixture on every surface. I dumped some extra in the brain cavity and down the nasal passage. Just coat the entire skull, and be generous. Then wrap the skull in plastic wrap (Saran Wrap or cellophane) and set in front of a heater. I used an electric heater.
Heat is what is going to activate your bleaching process. In my understanding, often times it is thought that light, or time is the most important factor in getting a good bleach. But heat works. While I have never in my life had my hair bleached. I hear that if someone were to get their hair lightened, they are quickly set in front of heaters for a short amount of time. So it makes sense that this is the case with bleaching a skull as well.
You want to get the skull as warm as you can without burning the cellophane. Rotating every few minutes to get the heat activating the bleach on the whole skull. Twenty minutes or so is probably adequate, but the longer the better. I had this skull bleaching for around 35 minutes. Cut the plastic wrap off and put the skull in hot and clean water. (No soap or bleach this time). Get your air out again and bubble it again to get all of the bleach out of the skull. Place it in front of your heater to dry. If it isn’t as white as you want, you can do this again.
After I washed the bleach off of this skull, it still seemed a little dark in a few places along the cracks in the nasal area, so I was planning on bleaching again. But as it dried, it turned pure white. So don’t rush another bleaching if it isn’t needed.
Remove your tape from the antlers, and let the skull dry. Within an hour you should have a beautiful Euro Mount.
I tallied up the cost of the materials, (to justify my stinking up the garage to my wife). I had to go out and buy a pot, because I didn’t have one big enough to boil the skull in. That was my largest purchase at $20. I walked out of Sally Beauty Supply spending slightly over $6, and another $6.50 for a couple of paintbrushes, masking tape, and a small paint tray. So for essentially $32.50 I did my first Euro Mount and have without the need to purchase a pot again, I can do a mount in the future for under 15 bucks. (Although I do still have enough bleach to do at least one more deer sized skull. So if you have a couple to do at once, you can essentially cut that price tag in half). I can’t help but feel a definite sense of pride on doing it yourself. After all, isn’t that what makes it all worthwhile anyways? And for a professional looking finished piece and a price tag that is cheaper than a box of .270 ammo makes it hard to beat. Give it a try, Good luck, and Happy Hunting. May your next season supply you with the need to use this information!