How to Clean, Whiten and Mount a Whitetail Deer Skull

Skull Hooker
From the field to the wall; you’ll love bleaching and mounting your own trophy.

 

By Jason D. Mills and Art Myers

During hunting season, there are three great days for every successful hunter: the day you get your tag, the day you fill your tag, and the day you hang your new trophy. However, shoulder mounts are expensive, costing anywhere from $400-500, and aren’t necessarily suited for every deer. This DIY should take between 1-3 hours of labor throughout the course of 1-2 days.

If you can’t begin the cleaning and whitening process immediately, you’ll want to store the head in a freezer – this will stop any staining. Take the head out of the freezer about 24-hours before starting the cleaning and whitening process to give the meat plenty of time to thaw.

You’ll need

  1. A sharp knife
  2. A high-pressure garden hose with adjustable nozzle
  3. Outdoor propane cooker (with a regulator)
  4. A large pot
  5. Needle-nose pliers
  6. Turkey baster with a bulb
  7. Large container to place to skull in
  8. Rubber gloves
  9. Eye protection
  10. Apron to wear while washing
  11. Bottle of 40 volume peroxide
  12. Oxiclean
  13. Borax (used in removing smaller, more stubborn pieces of meat that’s stuck to the skull)
    (You also have the option of using our Skull Bleaching Kit)

Pro-Tip: Never use bleach when whitening a skull as it could cause serious, irreversible damage to your trophy

Fill a large pot of water; it should be big enough to completely submerge the deer’s skull

Pro-Tip: Don’t get to much water covering the antlers because it may discolor them

Add one scoop of Oxiclean into the water, this will act as a degreaser

De-flesh the skull; you want to clean off the head as best as possible, removing all excess meat

Pro-Tip: Once the water has started to boil turn the burner down just enough so that it does not overflow

Once you’ve cleaned the skull as best as you can, place it into your pot of boiling water. Ensure the water covers all the meat on the back of the skull. The water should be about 1/2″ above the base of the antlers.

Pro-Tip: Keep an eye on the skull through the whole boiling process to make sure it stays submerged. If not any meat on top will be very difficult to remove later on

Leave the skull in the boiling water for about 30 minutes

Pro-Tip: Do not get antlers to hot. Most antlers will rest on the edge of the pot, which can scorch them

Pro-Tip: You’ll know it’s the perfect time to pull the head out of your boiling water when the flesh on the skull cap just begins to split

Remove skull and begin spraying it with a high-pressure garden hose .If the tissue can be easily removed you can start pulling it off with pliers. Once the skull starts to cool down the tissue and fat will start Harding up. If this happens place it back in the water and wait half an hour before removing more.

Pro-Tip: Anytime you will be handling the skull after it has been in the pot wear gloves. Bone can be very hot and holds heat well

Be sure not to get to close to the nasal cavity, as high pressure water can blow right through it.

Once all tissue is easily coming off you can remove the lower jaw bone. The lower jaw is typically easily removed by spreading the mouth open as long as the tissue and mussel have had plenty of time to soak.

Pro-Tip: Although there is some debate on whether or not to remove the nasal cartilage, it’s near impossible to completely clean the skull with it in tact. That said, before beginning the washing process you will want to use a pair of needle-nose pliers or forceps to remove the nasal cartilage.

After you’ve removed 70-80% of the meat from the skull re-submerge it into your boiling water and leave it for another 20-30 minutes

Pro-Tip: On deer there will be two nasal covers that will need to come off while boiling so you can clean all membrane from the nasal cavity. If any teeth or any other bones fall off during the cleaning process do not get worried. All pieces will need to be cleaned and can be glued back on later. Also a lot of times the lower jaw will split in two half’s which can be glued back together if it is to be used with the finished skull.

Pro-Tip: Do no rush the removal of the lower jaw. If it does not want to dislocate soak it longer.

One the jaw has been removed now it is time to remove the brain matter.  I prefer to take a piece of copper wire about 10 to 12 inches long and make a J hook on the end I will be inserting into the skull. The J hook will help grab on to brain mater and pull it out.

Pro-Tip: The Borax will aid in tedious tissue removal. Sometimes the tissue is greasy and neither pliers nor your bare fingers can grab it. Add a little Borax and you will be able to grab right on to it.

Wash off the remaining meat (including any meat you might have missed in the nasal cavities and brain)

Repeat all processes until you are sure that all tissue has been removed. If it has, you now can dry all pieces off and wait about a day to glue any teeth or bones back on. Make sure that you have removed all tissue from the skull. The last thing you will want is to find out that you missed some after it has been hanging in the house.

Allow the skull to dry completely

Pro-Tip: Although you don’t have to, it’s not a bad idea to wait a full 24-hours

Put on your gloves and eye protection, you’re about to start working with the 40 volume peroxide – you do not want to get this stuff on your skin. It will burn you. In fact, it’s a good idea to keep your apron on as well as a long sleeve shirt, just in case.

Set the skull into your plastic container

Pro-Tip: Shrink wrap the base of the antlers to protect them during the bleaching process. Silicone tape works well too; just avoid any tape with adhesive

Pour about 1/2 a cup of the 40 volume peroxide into your plastic cup

Draw the peroxide into the baster

Pro-Tip: Do not get any of the peroxide onto the antlers, as it will turn them white as well

Using the baster, completely coat the skull in peroxide

You can apply as many as four applications, but you will probably only need two

Pro-Tip: Use the baster to draw up the peroxide that drips into your plastic container and reuse the peroxide – this will save you some money

Allow time for the skull to completely dry

Pro-Tip: Putting your skull in the sun will not only help it dry, it will also assist in the bleaching process

To hang your European skull mount

Skull Hooker's Little Hooker
Skull Hooker’s Little Hooker

Take your Little Hooker out of its box

Pro-Tip: When it comes to European skull mounts, Skull Hooker’s Big and Little Hookers are really some of the best products out there. They’re cheap, require no drilling into the skull, hang securely, have full adjustability, and are exceedingly easy to install.

Locate a stud in the wall where you want to hang your new mount

Hang the plate vertically on the stud

Assemble the arm with the prong attachment

Put the arm onto the wall plate

Slide the resting arm into the back main, natural opening in the skull (the spinal cord cavity)

Straighten or angle your new European wall mount to your liking

 

Skull Hooker's Skull Cap in Use
Skull Hooker’s Skull Cap in Use with the Bone Bracket

If you only whitened the trimmings, instead of using the Little Hooker, you’ll want to use the Bone Bracket with Skull Hooker’s Skull Cap.