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Saturday, July 10, 2010

“Gonna Get Him Mounted?”

by Steve Sorensen
(Originally published in the Warren Times Observer, July 10, 2010.)

Consider preserving your deer, bear,
bobcat or coyote with a skull mount.
You’ve shot a nice buck. It’s your personal best, and they don’t get much bigger where you hunt. Someone is sure to ask the question you’re already asking yourself, “You gonna get him mounted?”

Is he big enough? Yes, but once you’ve settled the question in your own mind you might need to convince a spouse that the cost won’t break the family budget, and that the mount will look great in the family room.

A whitetail head mount generally costs between $300 and $600. But cost isn’t the first consideration. Low-priced taxidermists usually use inferior materials that will not last.

But cost is a consideration, especially in today’s economy, and, there’s a way to bring it way down by opting for a European mount, or what some people call a dry skull, Texas, desert or Western mount.

You’ve probably seen them in those old TV westerns. The Dodge City saloon surely had one hanging on the wall. Ben Cartwright’s Ponderosa ranch house also had one. Certainly, there’s a place in your house for one – or at least your man-cave.

The lowest cost will be a do-it-yourself job. First, the skull must be clean of skin and as much flesh as you can trim off. If you want to keep the lower jaws, remove the tongue and its adjacent muscles by cutting them out from the bottom.

The next step is to remove the brain. Insert a spade bit into the cranium, scramble the brain, and rinse it out – a step best done outside.

Dermastid beetles are the easiest method to completely deflesh the bone, but most people don’t want the trouble and risks of keeping a colony of bugs that want to eat anything that’s organic. As an alternative, you can freeze it until summer and then put the skull into a plastic bucket with holes drilled in the bottom. Anchor it to an ant hill. The risks here are losing it to a thief, a dog, or a wild animal, or offending neighbors with the smell.

Some people soak the skull in water for an extended period, but it’s stinky and difficult to monitor. Others have buried the skull in the ground, but you’ll end up with dirt and stains in places where they’ll never come out.

The most common method, and one many taxidermists use, is to simmer the skull in a pot of water with sal soda, also known as washing soda or sodium carbonate (not sodium bi-carbonate.)

Sal soda turns all the remaining soft tissue to a jelly-like substance which is easily scraped off. It also begins the degreasing process.

The next step is degreasing. Use a strong grease-cutting dishwashing detergent in water. Keep the solution at about 120 degrees with the skull immersed. It can take days, or in the case of a greasy bear skull or a wild boar skull, maybe weeks.

After degreasing, whiten the skull. Never use bleach. It will leach into the tiny pores where the grease used to be and eventually destroy the bone. Soak it in peroxide. Buy the strong stuff used in beauty shops – what’s called “40-volume,” or 12%. Then rinse well, dry, and spray with a clear coat.

It’s likely that you’ve loosened some teeth. Save them, and after the skull is degreased and dried, glue them back in with Elmer’s white glue or super glue.

You’ll find more details on the Internet, but if a D-I-Y job is not for you, the benefits of using a taxidermist are several. First, they have a much faster turn-around time than a mount using the deer’s skin. Second, the cost is much lower because it requires less time and fewer materials. Third, it’s better to stink up his shop rather than your home.

When hunting season rolls around, consider preserving your deer, bear, bobcat or coyote with a skull mount. It’s becoming a popular way to display your trophy, whether you do it yourself, or take it to the taxidermist.


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