The European style of skull mounting is an ancient style of preserving trophy skulls where the whole skull is cleaned and bleached white. Personally, I prefer the clean white skull of a trophy animal over taxidermy any time. For me it’s all about seeing the variations of anatomy between and within species. For scoring and claiming purposes, trophy skulls need to be cleaned up before they can be officially measured. And a word on this, with my measurer’s hat on – shrinkage will result from your trophy skull drying. If your skull measures just past the trophy or record class standard, you should benefit from measuring the skull after a quick boil and scrape. After measuring, then complete the clean up proper. DIY skull cleaning skills are useful on overseas hunts too. With a bit of planning, you can boil up skulls in camp and complete the rest of procedure during your later travels. My friend Mark does this in a tub in the boot of a rental car and has his skulls clean enough to pass US customs by the time he’s ready to go fly home. European skull mounting will not be cheap at the taxidermist because it takes a lot of time to do the job properly. Expect to pay around a quarter of the cost of a shoulder mount. But skull cleaning is messy, stinky work – it’s not for everyone. So, if you’re up for a bit of DIY skull cleaning, here’s how I do it…
You will need…
* Plastic bucket (fox or feral cats) or a large fishing bucket from your local fishing tackle store
* Gas ring burner, your camp fire or BBQ – your kitchen should be your last resort – skull work is best done outside because it does cause an odour!
* Boiling pot – large enough to submerge the skull in
* Bleach – basic household bleach from the supermarket
* Knife – a semi dull one is best
* Dish washing detergent
* Hydrogen Peroxide – you can use the chemists offerings for a feral cat or fox, but buy Vol 40+ Hydrogen Peroxide from pool or cleaning supply businesses for anything bigger.
First, skin the skull and cut away as much meat as possible. Remove jaws on goats or deer. I keep the jaws of fox or feral cats. I just think their skulls present better with them than without. Pig and camel skulls, complete with jaws, look awesome too. You can freeze small skulls until you’re ready to start “day one”. Hang bigger skulls by wiring them up in a tree, so they’re out of the reach of dogs. You’ll need to set aside a couple of hours for a fox or feral cat skull to complete the “Day one” part of the process. Double for bigger skulls.
Day1 – Fill the pot up so the water will just cover your skull. Aluminium foil the antlers and goat horns to protect them from your the fire. Submerge the goat horns so several inches of the horn boss gets boiled as well. Squirt in plenty of detergent. Add a spoonful of sodium bicarbonate if you have it on hand. Bring the water to the boil and then in with the skull. Small feral cats should be ready in 15 minutes, 20 minutes for a thumper. Fox are ready in 25-30 minutes. Goats in an hour and pigs a bit more. You’ll want to do the pig jaw on its own first no doubt. Boil it for half an hour. You’ll need to press the tusks down with a rag protecting your hand. Most tusks let go and push down into the jaw on the first boil. Pull them out in circular motion and then clean them up. After measuring, soak the tusk in olive oil. Next soak a cotton wool ball in olive oil and push it down into the tusk cavity and pour melted beeswax to seal them all up. This will prevent cracking in the years to come – but do this after they are officially measured so the tusk base girth measurement isn’t compromised. With goats, you’ll remove the horns with a bit of foot work and strength. Re-boil if they don’t let go. The skulls are hot straight out of the pot. So take the water off the boil and then take the skull out when it’s cooled down. Carefully scrape everything off the skull with your knife. This is time consuming work but it is very important. When you have scraped off everything that wants to come off, judge whether you need to stick it back into the pot and repeat the process. On goats and deer you’ll save yourself a lot of time if you saw (use your camp saw or a wood saw) the back off the skull where the spinal cord exits the brain cavity. Do this neatly – check that your saw angle right so the cut leaves the back of the skull even and symmetrical. Cut off half of the goat horn boss tapers – it won’t reduce their official score and the skull will now fit into your tub. With foxes and feral cats, remove the brain with a stick or tool up with a taxidermists hook. Twirling a rough stick (Sheoak) or a taxidermist hook will coil up the brain membrane and you’ll be able to pull that out too. Last thing to do is soak the skull overnight in a strong bleach and water mix. I pour bleach into the goat horn cavities and let them soak overnight too.
Day2 – Wash the skull in fresh water and check if any teeth have come loose – fish them out of the tub if there’s any missing! Dry the loose teeth and then bag them up so they don’t walk. Later, when the skull is dry, glue them back in place with Araldite. Give the skull another scrape, remove anything you might have missed. Greasy skulls like pig and fox will benefit from more detergent. With a pig, squirt the whole detergent bottle in and cover with just enough water. This is where Mark’s rental car trick works well – all those traffic lights, stops, starts and corners are agitating that skull of yours to victory. Soak a fox for one day and a pig three or more days.
Day3, maybe Day4-5 – Soak a fox or feral cat for two days with the chemist hydrogen peroxide and enough water to just cover the skull. Half a cup of concentrated Hydrogen Peroxide with enough water to just cover the skull will do a goat in 24hrs and pig in 48hrs. By now your skulls are as white as they’ll ever get. Leave them to dry out in a safe spot and it’s job done. In a few weeks the goat horns can be placed back on the skull. Pour a little borax powder into each horn and then glue them back in place with a small amount of liquid nails mastic.