View Full Version : Cleaning a skull to mount
January 30, 2009, 12:13 AM
I'm a forest ranger, and today, while planting trees I came across a deer carcass that had been killed during hunting season and left by the hunter. The cold weather recently has kept it from decomposing much, but its still smelly and not very good looking.
I'd like to take the skull, clean the flesh off, and mount the skull and anters in my office. I've got a collection of animal bones, antlers, and bird feathers that I've collected over the last few years, and this skull would look great with the others.
I dont have a pot big enough to boil the head, and I have no way to do it outside.
Do any of you have a good way to remove the flesh from the head? I'd prefer the least-nasty way possible, as I'll likely have to do it near the office
Too cold for ants or maggots to do the work for me.
January 30, 2009, 01:36 AM
Fire ants will do the job but you need a large mound and a way to keep from being dragged out (rarely happens) by critters. It can be loosely wrapped in chicken wire and staked down...
Don't tell momma but I use my turkey fryer and pot to boil heads...
January 30, 2009, 02:26 AM
No way to biol it off leaves you with just the ants or maggots option. I've had good (slow though) results with ants by putting the head on the mound and turning a five gallon bucket upside down over the whole kit and kaboodle. Put a cinder block on top to keep the dogs out and wait.
January 30, 2009, 02:38 AM
No insects, no boiling.....
That doesn't leave much. I'm guessing you don't want to pay to have it boiled, either.
So... you may just have to get down and dirty.
My brother has had good luck in the winter, when in a hurry, by scraping all the flesh off. (taking care not to damage important parts of the skull.) That may not be an option for you, though; since you want a skull mount. The scrape marks may show. Even still, the interior of the skull needs to be clean. My brother always had to resort to insects for the brain and sinuses. (he couldn't boil either)
Do you have the option of taking it back out to some of that public ground you patrol and securing it where it can't get drug off, but the insects can do their job?
January 30, 2009, 08:46 AM
If you live in the southeast U. S. and know more than five people you should know someone that has a fish cooker. Buy a twelve pack and go visit one of them, it only takes a couple of hours to boil the scull, make sure to scramble up the brains, a bent piece of coat hanger in a drill works good. Once you get it boiled and cleaned rub it down with some woman's blond hair bleach and let it set an hour or two, rinse it off good and it will be nice and white. I did this with a buffalo scull but had to use a big wash tub because of the size of the scull
January 30, 2009, 09:53 AM
rub it down with some woman's blond hair bleach
If you put a scoop of Borax in the water when you're boiling the skull, you don't have to do anything else.....comes out nice and white.
January 30, 2009, 10:02 AM
Over boiling loosens teeth and softens bones and can deform the skull.
Wild Bill Bucks
January 30, 2009, 10:12 AM
First of all, don't boil or bleach bone! Boiling causes fat to soak into the bone, resulting in a greasy, yellowish specimen. Superficial grease can be removed with ammonia and certain industrial solvents, but this is an unpleasant process and cannot remove deep grease which will eventually migrate to the bone surface. Chlorine based bleach irreparably damages the bone itself, resulting in chalky, weak, extremely porous specimens that will turn to bone meal with age.
So, how do you really clean bone?
Maceration - Using bacterial action to clean bone
This is the simplest method of cleaning bone.
Remove any remaining tissue or hide from the bone
Immerse the bone in a container of water.
Leave the container in a warm location where you won't mind the smell.
Periodically pour the greasy, smelly water out (gardens love it!) and replace with fresh water.
When the water runs clear, the bacteria have run their course.
Soak the bone in regular drugstore strength hydrogen peroxide until it reaches the whiteness you prefer. This also sterilizes the bone.
January 30, 2009, 10:12 AM
Even if you cut all the flesh off, boilling will get in the nooks that you can't. I boiled an antelope head a few years ago and it worked very well. Borox works well and, according to my taxidermist, works to remove the grease from the bones.
I would not attempt to do this inside. The smell isn't the greatest. As far as set up, you can by a big, cheap canning pot and borrow a propane turkey fryer burner from somebody and you are in buisness.
January 30, 2009, 10:14 AM
I got a decent buck this year and decided to clean it myself. After lots of research, I realized it would be easier to let someone do it that had the experience and equipment. A local taxidermist charged $65 bucks for the skull. It came back as white as can be and very clean. He had used the Demestid beetles I believe. For me, it was worth the time and hassle to let him do it.
I would suggest before you buy chemicals or possibly damage the skull, at least check and see what someone will charge you.
January 30, 2009, 02:31 PM
The beetles can be bought online. Still, for your troubles, you might just want to let a "pro" do it. My taxidermist only charged me $40 for an antler-on-velvet mount this year, so if you're looking at under $100, your time and anything you buy to get the job done might come to more than you'd spend for a sure-thing.
Also, when I've tried to let "nature take its course," critters have gotten at the bones. I was trying to save some goose and turkey skulls last year for my girlfriend's much-younger brother and something burrowed under my cinderblock to get at them. Too bad.
January 30, 2009, 03:08 PM
You said you can't boil it so the mentioned soaking in water method is a good option. It works good, but slow, on gator skulls.
And peroxide would be the choice over bleach. My buddy that does a lot of gator skulls goes and gets the stron stuff that they use at beauty shops. Cuts the soaking time to whiten to about 24 hours.
January 30, 2009, 03:44 PM
Whether its correct or not, I don't care, it works for me and it's fast...(6-8 hours)...just like slow cooking a roast in the crockpot, meat will fall off the bone. As far as fat or grease getting into the bone, most of the fat content of wild game and deer is naturally is stored in the bone.
January 30, 2009, 03:53 PM
yeah, you go natures route and you will come back and find the antlers half gone, the critters mentioned earlier like chipmunks,squirrels, racoons love to chew on antlers and bone., damn good source of calcium for the little squirts.i have found half eaten sheds laying in the woods after snow melt here in MI in the spring and i also personally learned the hard way with a pretty 8 pt several yrs ago, ruined it for sure.
January 30, 2009, 08:30 PM
I'm thinking that trying to clean the skull myself may be more than I can do at the moment. I dont have anywhere to boil it, and storing it outdoors in water may be difficult as well.
I'm going to take another look at the deer on monday, and may just take the top of the skull off.
Thanks for all of the advice.
January 30, 2009, 08:33 PM
I tried maceration ONCE. On a warm day I can still smell the stink - don't pour that water anywhere inside.
I like the $65 have somebody else do it option best.
January 30, 2009, 08:52 PM
Let mother nature take it course. I`ve done several skulls in a wooden crate wrapped in chicken wire hung in a tree. Keeps the critters from gnawing on bone. The maggots will totally clean of all flesh. Sterilize with 50/50 bleach and water when done.
January 31, 2009, 09:14 AM
The placer I shot my buffalo at said that they just tie a cord to them throw them in their pond and let the crayfish do the clean up work but I only had a few days so I boiled mine. By the way hair bleach doesn't have chlorine bleach in it, it's peroxide based.
January 31, 2009, 08:37 PM
I wrapped the rack on one and left the skull exposed. Maggots took care of the rest.
W. C. Quantrill
February 1, 2009, 06:39 AM
Any metal 5 gallon bucket can be used, it doesnt have to be a cooking pot. I have cleaned a lot of skulls by boiling, just skin them first, and cut off as much free meat as you can then boil them for an hour or so. I take off the eyes, cheek meat and the tongue from underneath, no use to make soup here. I then take them to the car wash and hose them good with high pressure water to get all the nasty off of them. They are already wet--right?--the car wash detergent gets the excess grease and gunk out. Like Brent says, dont over cook it, you can ruin your mount that way.
February 3, 2009, 10:27 PM
Here's another good thread on this from TFL:
skull mounts (http://thefiringline.com/forums/showthread.php?t=324441#17)
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