Every Buck’s a Trophy: On Making a European Mount.

This is all about preparing an animal’s skull for a European mount.  You see it commonly done with deer, but it works on any mammal.  Years ago, I tried writing this as an article for Backwoodsman magazine.  For some reason, the article was rejected.  I’m still bitter about the whole thing.  The guy said that he didn’t think his readers would be interested in a project like this.  Whatever.  I think it’s neat, and I wanted to pass it on.

The process I use is called mastication.  I understand that it’s how a zoologist would go about it.  Basically, if you immerse the head in water for a good while, the flesh will all rot and fall off.  That’s pretty much it.  Some people might boil theirs outside in a turkey fryer and get good results.  The drawback there is that the skull shrinks slightly.  A professional taxidermist might use specialized beetles.  I remember that a guy down the road use to tie his heads to the barn roof, letting the birds do the work.  All those methods are fine.  However, this is another low tech process that anyone can safely do.

The first step is to procure a head.  There’s not too much to say about that.  If you’re having your deer butchered, tell the guy you want to save the head for a European Mount.  He’ll know what that means.

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Next, you want to take a knife and get all the hide off.  Be careful, as you don’t want to scrape the bone.

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The next step is to immerse the head in water and just leave it.  A week or so is good.  A month might be better.  The idea is that the bacteria are going to start multiplying and breaking down the flesh.  I’d imagine that some kind of aquarium heater or something would speed this along.  I just stuck mine in a dark corner in my basement.  I will warn you, this positively reeks.  Covering the bucket helps, but be ready when you lift the lid.

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After a time, you’ll want to take the thing and see what you can remove.  Eventually, the meat will all just fall off with a slight tug.  Do not try to muscle it off.  Again, you don’t want to risk damaging the bone.  You also want to be careful here to retrieve any teeth or small bones.  You’re going to want those later.  Furthermore, you’ll notice that I’m not wearing gloves?  As I was handling rotten flesh, that was dumb.  You’ll also want to remove any jewelry, unless you want it smelling like rotten venison.

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There may be some tiny bits remaining and clinging on, but once the skull is basically clean, you’ll want to sanitize it in hydrogen peroxide.  This will disinfect it and bleach it white.  I just used the strongest stuff I could find at Walmart.  DO NOT USE ACTUAL BLEACH.  Bleach breaks down bone.  To preserve the colors on the antlers, I coated them in vaseline.  Let it all set in a tub or basin for a while.  A long soak won’t hurt it.  When you’re satisfied that it’s done, take it out and let it dry thoroughly.  You’ll need to reinsert and secure the teeth and any small bones with Elmer’s glue.

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Since bone is porous and will eventually collect dirt, you’ll want to finish it with something.  On the skull I have here, I used polyurethane.  Now, my skull turned yellow and I thought for the longest time that that was from the polyurethane.  People later told me that that was caused from fat remaining in the skull.  Mine looks fine, but it would be neat to achieve just a nice, ivory white.  Some people just paint theirs.

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From there, it’s just a matter of figuring out how to display it.  They sell wall plaques online, or a competent woodworker could rig one up.  They look fine just sitting on a shelf too.

I should say that the deer hunting around here sucks.  It’s rebounding through better management, but the success ratio is still about two in five.  The combination of coyotes and deep snows have done a number.  That being the case, getting a deer, any deer, is kind of a big thing.  As you read this, you probably saw that the deer I used was a pathetic little spike horn.  It even had a broken antler.  The thing would look awful as a full mount and spending money would be a waste.  Still, for that winter, no matter what else came about, I had meat.  That’s at least worth a memory.  This project was more than worthwhile.

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