Down to the Bone

DIY European Mounts, Bozeman Taxidermy

Down to the Bone

Dehmer, Kurt
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DIY European mounts.

There comes a time in almost every hunter’s life when he or she harvests something that is considered a trophy. While this critter’s measurements may fall well short of any record books, to the hunter it is most certainly more than just meat in the freezer. Memories of the time, toil, and adventure of the hunt all factor into the making of a trophy. However, many hunters don’t have the resources, space, or understanding spouse necessary for a full shoulder-mount. That is where the do-it-yourself, totally badass, and very classy European mount comes in.



The Supplies

  • Head of a dead big-game animal
  • Metal pot or tub large enough to submerge head in liquid
  • Turkey fryer, or other outdoor boiling implement
  • Big bottle of bleach
  • Box of Borax laundry booster
  • Two bottles of hydrogen peroxide
  • Tablespoon of dishwashing liquid
  • Pair of dishwashing gloves
  • 8-10 hours of free time 

The Prep
The best way to start this process is with a skull that has been skinned, scraped, and cleaned of excess fat or connective tissue. This includes eyeballs, lower jaw, tongue, and of course, brain tissue. Using a utility knife, cut out as much of the aforementioned offal as possible. A wire coat-hanger bent and shaped into a crude hook can be used to remove much of the brain tissue from the brain cavity as well. If your skull has not been prepped, you may need to boil it for an hour or so with the hide on so prep work can begin. At this point, it should be mentioned that this is an outside project, or at the very least best done in a shop, garage, or barn. Try to boil a head down to the bone on your stovetop, and you may want to retain a divorce attorney as well. 

The Mix
Various combinations exist for the chemical concoction in which to boil your skull. I like to start with about 60:40 water-to-bleach mix, followed by one bottle of peroxide, and about a cup of Borax. The dishwashing soap is great for cutting through the fat and tends to speed the process up slightly—be aware that these liquids, when mixed together, are caustic and can cause skin burns; hence the gloves. Also keep in mind that as the mixture comes to a boil, it may froth over and put out the boiling fire; constant tending is a must when doing a Euro mount at home. 

The Process
Once your mixture comes to a boil, drop the skull in. Be prepared for this process to take the better part of a day—up to six hours. I usually check the pot on average every 10 to 15 minutes, and add enough water to keep the skull submerged. You may also need to add more bleach, peroxide, or Borax. Elk, moose, or a large muley are obviously bigger than a coyote or an antelope, and may require more boiling. With antlered animals, it’s important to keep the liquid level below the base of the antlers, as discoloration will occur. If antlers do become bleached, touch them up with some matching wood stain. An unwatched pot will tend to either over boil and put out the flame, or evaporate and ruin your trophy. Once all of the connective tissue and anything fleshy either falls away or can be scraped off easily, the skull is ready to be dried. I like to rinse mine one final time with the high-pressure sprayer from the garden hose. Dry for about a day and then spray down with another coat of 3:1 bleach and water mixture to get rid of any lingering odor. Rise once more, then dry for at least a week in a sunny dry spot. There are may YouTube videos of guys who do this whole process with a pressure washer, but if you aren’t very careful, this method can break or shatter some of the more delicate parts of the skull. 

The Warnings
Don’t use any pot or tub that you plan on using for anything else; once it becomes a skull pot, it should always be a skull pot. To reiterate, do this project outside! Discard waste liquid in the proper manner, and be cautious not to get any on your bare skin. 

The Alternatives
Several mail-order companies sell kits that will bleach skulls and come with detailed instructions on the process. Area taxidermists can also prepare your cleaned skull into a European mount for a reasonable price. If you opt not to do your own European mount at home, here are some local fins-and-furs guys that can get it done for you: Berger’s Taxidermy, 586-4244; Big Sky Beetle Works, beetleworks.montana.com.


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