DIY European skull mounts

February 2, 2010

So how do you make a European skull mount? The reality is that it’s not a difficult process but is time consuming, messy, and a little smelly (at first at least, then it smells like stew). There are lots of good taxidermists who probably deserve the business, and my intent is to not take it away from them, but if you’ve ever been curious or simply want to give it a try (you should) I have outlined the process that we follow in the space below. I also shot a video of the process, which you can find on YouTube here: http://www.youtube.com/user/110sunview#p/u/5/V1lM03CxZp0&hd=1

To be blunt, the first few skulls we did took a really long time to finish. I’m talking an entire day. But through a little trial and error we now routinely crank out 5-6 heads in a day and once you have your system down you can expect the entire process to take 2-4 hours for a typical whitetail deer head, maybe less. We’ve used the same procedures for coyotes and it’s likely to work on other animal species as well.

Skinning the skull is a big time saver

Skin the skull before boiling to save lots of time

A couple words of caution first:
Do this outside. Believe it or not, there are some people who think the scent of cooking animal heads is repulsive (sarcasm implied). But besides that, you’re going to be boiling large amounts of water and making a mess scraping tissue off the head(s) so go somewhere outside….preferably at your friends house…..when he’s not there.
When starting off, only boil one head at a time. You will notice that sometimes the skull bones will separate during the boiling process. No worries, nothing a little super glue or arrow fletching glue can’t fix later. Starting with one head at a time will ensure that the bones of multiple animals don’t get mixed up when you dump out the waste water and collect the bones for skull reconstruction.
Be very careful with the 40% peroxide typically used to bleach the skulls after they are done boiling. This stuff is the real deal and can cause burns. ALWAYS keep it away from children (lock it up when you are done) and wear rubber gloves when using it.

So here’s the list of the equipment we typically use to produce a European skull mount.
• Large (3+ gallons), heavy-duty pot to hold the skull(s)
• Turkey fryer or another heating element to boil the water
• Borax powder (found in Laundry detergent section at grocery store) or Sal’s soda (order online via taxidermist’s supply shops)
• A wire coat hanger
• Knife and wire brush
• Large Tupperware or aluminum tray
• Small paint brush
• 40% peroxide solution from beauty supply store. Yes, they will look at you weird when you ask for it at the beauty supply store so stock up.
• Cotton balls

Alright, so you’ve got your equipment gathered and are ready to start. Hopefully you skinned the head of the animal long ago. If not, skin it now. This is the most important factor in speeding up the process. Skin the head first. In fact, skin it before it gets cold out and let time and cold temperatures reduce the smell factor. Get as much of the skin, hair, and blood off the skull as you can. The more you get off, the quicker the boiling process and the better the final product.

You'll need to scrape tissue off the skull several times with a knife or wire brush

You'll need to scrape tissue off the skull several times with a knife or wire brush

Here is the basic process that we follow:
1. Fill the pot with enough water to cover the skull. Keep in mind some of the water will boil off.
2. Put the pot on the heater and get the water hot.
3. While waiting, take the wire coat hanger and wrap it around the antler so that you can easily remove the skull from the hot water.
4. Add 1-2 cups of borax or sal’s soda, stir it up a bit.
5. Add the skull when the water is good and hot (doesn’t have to be boiling).
6. Let it cook for 20 minutes or so.
7. Remove skull via coat hanger and start scraping off the tissue using a knive and/or wire brush. The tissue will come off easier as the skull has cooked longer. This task will require a little effort. Expect 3-4 “scraping rounds”.
8. Put the skull back in the pot and let it cook some more.
9. Repeat steps 7 & 8 until all tissue has been removed from the skull and the brain has been shaken/scraped out of the brain cavity. Don’t forget about the brain. The skull will stink for a few months if you do.
10. Once the tissue has been removed to your satisfaction place the hot skull in a tray or Tupperware, put on your rubber gloves, grab your paint brush, and add dump a couple ounces of 40% peroxide on the skull. Paint it all over the skull. You will notice that a lot of it soaks into the skull. This is good. The bulk of the work is now done.
11. The skull should dramatically whiten over the next couple of hours, providing that you reapply peroxide every once in a while.
12. Use peroxide-soaked cotton balls on stubborn areas. Don’t be afraid to let them sit for several hours.
13. Once bleached to your satisfaction, allow a couple days for the skull to dry.
14. If desired, paint the skull with Elmer’s glue to strengthen and seal up the skull and give it a “satin” finish.

Concentrated peroxide painted onto skulls will dramatically whiten the bone

Concentrated peroxide painted onto skulls will dramatically whiten the bone

Multiple boiling pots helps you get through lots of skulls

Multiple boiling pots helps you get through lots of skulls

That’s it. You’re done. I hope you’ve found this post and/or the YouTube video helpful or at least interesting. Feel free to email me (click on “Contact Me” on the top of the website) any questions you might have about the process. Thanks for reading and remember to pick up any trash you might see in our woods and waters. Every piece helps.

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{ 40 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Terrell Sykes October 21, 2010 at 7:55 pm

I heard that the lower jaw bone needs to be removed. If this is true in what step will it need to be done and is there a trick to make removing it simple.
Thank you!
Terrell

2 Ryan Holem December 8, 2010 at 9:56 pm

Terrell – you don’t have to remove the lower jaw bone but I do. Eventually the jaw will fall off during the boiling process but I take it off while skinning the skull by cutting the muscle tissue that connects the lower jaw to the skull. Boiling the skull will go much faster if you remove the hide prior to boiling. Thanks for reading and commenting.

3 Cat August 18, 2011 at 4:33 pm

If you don’t want to spend all the time scraping the flesh off, you can also let nature work on it for a few months. I buried my skulls about 2 feet underground for 8 months, during which time they went through a cold winter, warm spring and part of a very hot summer. The various temperatures, and then freezing and thawing rendered the flesh under the skin to a buttery substance. When I dug the heads up the fur and flesh was still on but very loose. All I had to do was run my hand along the skull and the flesh just slipped right off. Afterwards I cooked and bleached them as normal to remove any residue.

The upside to this method was that there was very little effort required to remove the flesh, and any residue didn’t need to be cooked as long to remove.

The downside was that the smell was pretty bad, and there was some tooth loss, but only the incisors on the lower jaw. The molars were a little loose but stayed intact.

4 Treva November 20, 2011 at 9:45 pm

I have an old skull that my son found. Can the peroxide be used on old skulls successfully?

5 Ryan Holem November 20, 2011 at 11:16 pm

It might help whiten the skull but it probably depends on how old and flesh-covered it still is. It shouldn’t hurt. Just be careful if you use the 40% peroxide – that stuff will burn you, no doubt. So use gloves and handle with care. Thanks for reading and let me know if the peroxide cleans the skull up.

6 junior December 8, 2011 at 6:29 pm

do you have to kut the skull to get the brain out?

7 Ryan Holem December 12, 2011 at 11:11 pm

Nope. You can get the brain out through the brain stem near the bottom/back of the skull. Once the skull has boiled for a bit you can loosen up the brain tissue with a coat hanger through the brain stem and shake the tissue out.

8 RJ December 22, 2011 at 3:19 am

Should the skull still be hot when I paint on the pexide? Great article by the way. So far my buck looks awesome.

9 Ryan Holem December 22, 2011 at 9:57 am

I prefer to paint the peroxide on when the skull is still hot. I think it soaks in better. I soak cotton balls and/or make up pads in peroxide and place them on the skull for several hours after I’m finished with the initial peroxide treatment. Thanks for the compliments and I’m glad to hear the skull you’re working on looks good.

10 Al January 10, 2012 at 10:57 am

I have done my buck skull from this past fall hunt and it looks great. Now to finish it and mount it to a plauque, how do you attach the jaw? Is there a certain glue you use to secure it back together? and all the other parts? can I use a simple elmers glue, or should I use hot glue? Or is there something better?
Thanks!

11 Ryan Holem January 28, 2012 at 11:46 pm

I’ve never attached the lower jaw to the head so I’ve never experimented with anything. Super glue might work (it’s what I use to glue the nose pieces together if they fall apart) but I’m not sure you’ll have enough surface area between the lower and upper jaws.

Ryan

12 Jake Brown February 29, 2012 at 4:40 pm

Have you tried to Mount the Skull to plaque after you have done this process? have you had much luck. I shot an audad (mountain ram) about 7 months ago and was unable to pull it out of the canyon, went back a few weekends ago found it. Nature had done its job, but im planning on boiling it to get remaining hide off then peroxide/glue, but i would like to mount it on a plaque. Haven’t seen anyone mention how to do that part yet? just curious if you had any success with it?

13 Zach Jooste March 14, 2012 at 5:59 am

Thank you very much for a nice piece of information. I am planning on doing some skull using your process. Does one have to take case to keep the horns out of the mixtures?

14 Ryan Holem March 25, 2012 at 10:00 pm

Sorry it took me so long to reply….I’ve never seen the antlers bleached or stained from the mixture. Grease (from the brain) can get onto them and into the bases but I just wipe it off. No big deal. Thanks for reading.

15 Ryan Holem March 25, 2012 at 10:03 pm

I’ve never mounted one to a plaque but I do hang them from the wall. I just drill a hold into the base of the skull and hang it on a nail or screw. I’m sure you could mount it on a plaque using this method. It wouldn’t be a permanent mount but would hold up. You could also drill several small holes and run wire through them and back to the screw or wire that’s drilled into the plaque. That might hold it in place. Thanks for reading and good luck with your mount.

16 Tim April 7, 2012 at 12:51 pm

Just finished my first mount. I had a friend of mine that has done several tell me to boil it for 8 hours! It was amazing how easy it was to clean up! You still have to clean out the brain and nasal cavity, but everything on the outside came off really easy! Just skin it, and I removed the bottom jaw first, and drop it into a pot. Straight water. I checked on the water level about every 45 mins to an hour. Never lost any pieces of the skull. A couple of pieces got loose, but when it dried out they tightened right back up. Went to the beauty supply store and bought 40 volume creme developer. It has about the same consistency as paint. Got a couple of different size brushes and was very careful not to get it on the horns! Set it on a table in the bright sun and painted a good thick coat on it and let it sit for about 45 mins to an hour. Rinsed it really well, and sit back in the sun to dry out. It turned out very nice!!!

17 Wendy Morgan June 3, 2012 at 6:56 pm

I use beetles to clean my skulls and use a peroxide paste to whiten them. I mount all of skulls onto plaques. Different plaques have different mounting methods. Some use a wire to attach, but most use screws to attach the skull to the plate. To attach the lower jaws you drill a small hole on the jaw and wire it to the skull.

18 Derek Maresh July 26, 2012 at 4:31 pm

Where can I buy the 40 % peroxide mixture? I asked at a local beauty supply and they did not have it. Also, do you coat the antlers with anything once finished? Thanks!

19 Ryan Holem August 1, 2012 at 9:36 pm

I got mine from a beauty supply shop. If they don’t stock it maybe they’d order it for you. Stock hydrogen peroxide will also work but not as well. Thanks for reading.

20 rob August 11, 2012 at 11:45 am

Hey bud. Will this work on a hogs skull.?

21 BO DOVER November 9, 2012 at 10:02 pm

thanks for the tips .iI HAVERSTED A 10 POINT BUCK in 2012 october the process worked great . I still need to make my wife think so….. oh well , thanks again the mount looks great . by the way I FINISHED MINE WITH CLEAR VARNISH TO TWEAK IT OUT …….. LOOKING FORWARD TO MY NEXT MOUNT.
THANKS ,
BO

22 cory keith December 2, 2012 at 11:52 am

thanks for the infomation got 6 heads to do gonna get a start on them today.

23 Tjensen December 10, 2012 at 4:38 pm

okay, so I do stuff completely backwards and look up how to do it right after I tried. I have antelope.. I skinned the head put peroxide on it, and mounted it to the board. I used a hot glue gun to mount the horns back on so I am nervous to try to take them back off. My problem is the head does not stink out the house but if you get close to it you can smell it. (Wife has problem with smell) Beside boiling it is their any trick you have learned for dummies like me to fix my mount.

24 Monty Flannigan December 11, 2012 at 10:27 pm

used the boiling system and it worked like great . looks like a professional did it. Thanks

25 Amy December 17, 2012 at 1:48 am

I have heard that simmering fouls a pot. Do you happen to know why this is? I used baking soda, some borax, and we live 2-3 hrs from the nearest cwd area….can’t find any info on why you can’t use your pot again. (Unless its just the idea of it?) Well, long story short I used the same pot to presure cook some of my roosters to can the meat and I’m not sure if there is some reason I should throw away 15 roosters ready to put in jars or not?? Any advice would be greatly appreciated, I don’t want to make my family sick. Thank you so much.

26 Robby December 28, 2012 at 6:59 pm

I have done 6 deer heads using this method it works great, except when cleaning the nasal cavity. Is there a trick to making that easier?

27 Jeff January 10, 2013 at 7:13 pm

Do you rinse the peroxide off after the final treatment?

28 Ryan Holem January 11, 2013 at 9:50 pm

Jeff – nope, I don’t rinse the peroxide off, I just let it air dry until it’s all gone. If there’s any left in the nasal cavities or anywhere else I dab it dry with a paper towel or something. Thanks for reading and commenting.

29 Ryan Holem January 11, 2013 at 9:51 pm

I use needle-nose pliers to reach way into the nasal cavity but that’s about the only trick I can think of.

30 Ryan Holem January 11, 2013 at 9:52 pm

No problem Monty, glad it worked out for you!

31 Ryan Holem January 11, 2013 at 9:54 pm

No problem Cory. Good luck.

32 Ryan Holem January 11, 2013 at 9:54 pm

Congrats on the buck Bo and thanks for reading and commenting!

33 Ryan Holem January 11, 2013 at 9:55 pm

It should. We’ve boiled skulls of many animals with this method.

34 Kevin E January 24, 2013 at 4:00 pm

One thing that helped me when I started doing this was finding a Tupperware bin about the same width and length as a deer head and poured the peroxide into that then just dumped the deer head into the bin and let it set for 12 hours or to your liking. It seemed to make less work for me, if I have multiple heads I just let the others sit on a bench until that 12 hours is up.

35 Mario Garcia February 16, 2013 at 12:01 am

Ryan
I found out that if you use a cheap exacto knife, works much better than a pocket knife or a household knife. They’re a lot sharper and you can get into those hard to get places. Thanks Mario. Garcia

36 ryan taggart March 8, 2013 at 4:14 pm

how long did it take.

37 jacob April 16, 2013 at 8:23 pm

What if it.has.been sitting out.side 4 a.year er 2 can you still boil
It

38 Danielle September 12, 2013 at 12:11 pm

I have a skull that is a few years old, it’s been outdoors for the most part. I want to clean it up and do a euro mount with it. It’s already cleaned down to the bone and pretty positive that all the brains tissue and sinew are gone, should I still boil it a few times to make sure? Also the antlers have been bleached by the sun, is there anyway to use a stain to give them colour again?
Thanks :)

39 kaleb malone November 6, 2013 at 10:21 pm

hey I do European mounts only on ones without velvet do you take the velvet off or leave it on and how to keep it preserve on the mount. thank you!!!

40 Patrick December 2, 2013 at 4:42 pm

I just completed my 10 years sons today, I found this very helpful as I followed it step by step.

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