My most recent project was my very first attempt at a European style skull mount.
During the 2015 rifle hunt, my dad was able to harvest a buck that was considered very large for our area. It was a quiet morning, as it was just me and him out for the early sit. Hearing a shot ring out from the direction which could only be from my father's gun was quite exciting. I arrived moments later to his tree stand and it was truly an amazing experience being able to recover this large animal with him. Being such an exciting memory, I decided I would like to try a different style of mount for this rack; our traditional plague style was becoming overdone.
After doing some research, I finally decided to tackle the project on a Sunday afternoon. The key to this project is to remove absolutely all of the tissue, fat, skin, hair and other decaying matter. The consequence to not thoroughly cleaning is a resulting unforgiving smell that drives away the idea of ever hanging your masterpiece in any inhabitable area. So, although this may be a lengthy and tedious undertaking, make sure to do it right so that your work of art can be displayed without any quarrels.
Gathering materials seemed easy enough for this as most items required were lying around the house. The first step of the project involved skinning the deer head. This task was made easy with a sharp knife. Again, I did not rush this segment and really worked to remove as much flesh as possible. At the same time I was bringing a large pail of water to a boil. It is recommended that the water stay at a simmer and not quite a boil, because it is such a lengthy process. Boiling the skull for this long would compromise the integrity of the bone.
Once I cleaned as much of the skull as I could, I simply dropped it into the pail. I also added a generous shot of dish soap to the water to act as a degreaser. At this point, the project is a waiting game. At hourly intervals, I would remove the skull from the water and scrape away as much of the soft tissue as I could using an assortment of tools including a wire brush, a knife, screwdrivers and a scrub brush. The boiling process really softens up the tissue, but it still remains quite stubborn and is difficult to remove from many of the nooks and crannies of the skull. With plenty of patience and persistence, I continued working on eliminating the flesh from all areas of the skull. I was fortunate that I was able to clean the majority of the head after only four hours of boiling.
I left the skull overnight in a pail of soap water and continued the cleaning process the next day. Two of the most difficult areas to thoroughly clean are the nasal cavity and the brain. For this, I took a pressure washer and hosed these areas out being careful not to damage or break any of the softer parts of the skull.
Be especially careful with the lower nasal bones, as they are quite fragile and will break off relatively easily. I learned this the hard way after one of those bones became separated from my skull early on in the process. (I saved the piece and ended up gluing it back into place once the project was coming to an end.)
Ican't emphasize enough - it is so crucial to ensure complete cleanliness of the skull, so removing all matter from all of the cavities in the skull is fundamental. The remainder of the cleaning process was just repetitive scrubbing and picking away at the skull and flushing it with water until only the bare skull remained.
The next step was creating a backboard to mount the skull to. I was able to use an old piece of barn board. I kept one end of the board with its original formation to maintain its rustic appeal. For the other end, I chose to cut an irregular shape to add to the character of the board. Once I had the board shaped the way I wanted, I quickly sanded it and then stained it with one coat. I used a small blowtorch to burn the edges and different areas of the board and then stained it again and repeated the process with the torch. This process transformed the board into a piece with the exact character that I was looking to achieve.
Once the board was ready, the project quickly came to a close. I used a simple hook to attach the skull to the board and then attached a wire to the back of the board which I would use to hang the entire piece.
It didn’t set in right away after completing these final steps that the project was done. I was definitely somewhat disappointed that the project had come to a close so quickly. I thoroughly enjoyed the entire process of this first-time venture. I couldn’t have been happier with the end result.
Although a time consuming and meticulous project, I will definitely be doing more of this style mounts in the future. It is a great off season project that keeps the hunter inside preoccupied while waiting for the next season to begin.