European Mounting | The Best Way To Clean a Skull
After days (or even weeks) in the field, you finally managed to put your hit-list buck, or bucket-list moose, elk, or bear on the ground. It’s a great feeling holding the trophy in your hands and you can already see that beautiful European mount up on the wall in your living room. But then you start to wonder about the best way to clean a skull for that kind of a mount. We’ve all heard horror stories of others who have tried and ruined their European mounts. You definitely don’t want to join that club!
Questions are probably swarming through your mind. “What fancy taxidermy equipment do I need? Do I bleach my deer skull or is that bad? Could I even do this all at home?”
There are several methods to clean a skull and finish a European mount, but only one that seems to consistently be the best way to clean a skull. And if you’re going for a trophy you’d be proud to hang on the living room wall, you need to do it right. Otherwise, it will be quickly downgraded to the garage wall. So if you’re wondering how to clean a deer skull (or any other species), this post discusses the pitfalls and drawbacks to the other approaches of cleaning a skull, and then discusses the dermestid beetle method.
Different Ways of Cleaning a Skull
As mentioned, there are a few options to produce a European deer mount or any type of European skull mount.
The first and oldest option of doing it is to simply hang it up somewhere out of sight or bury it in the ground until nature takes its course. While this is the most hands-off approach and does effectively clean the skull, it has a few unpleasant outcomes. First, it can take several months or more to get a mostly-clean skull. Second, burying the skull may cause yellowing as dirt and other chemical reactions in the soil tarnish the naturally white color. Sometimes leaving it out may even turn the skull a greenish color, which isn’t appealing unless it’s part of a camouflage paint job. Strike one.
Another option is to simply submerge the skull into a pot of boiling water, which produces a soup of unpleasant-looking materials. This may work somewhat well, but the hot water leaches minerals out of the bone and softens it, which could cause it to become brittle much sooner than it should. Even submerging it in simmering water for a longer time period can do swell the bones and leach minerals. Plus, you still have to scrape the skull to remove some of the unpleasantness when it’s done. Definitely not the best way to clean a skull. Strike two.
After cleaning it, you may consider bleaching a deer skull to whiten it further and make it look more striking against the dark antlers. Unfortunately, using chlorine bleach on the bone will also break down the bone structure and make it extremely brittle. A deer mount that crumbles within a few years is a pity. Strike three. So where does that leave you?
How to Do a European Mount with Beetles
Now that you know the potential problems with the other methods, here’s why you should consider the Beetle Juice Skull Works method. Though we’re heavily discussing deer skulls here, you can apply the same principles to almost any other species. Dermestid beetles are a type of beetle that eats the flesh of dead animals. Obviously, that makes them very useful for this exercise. Since they are small, they can completely eat (i.e., clean) flesh from the smallest nooks and crannies, including cleaning the nasal cavity of a deer skull. This also makes it the most hands-off and best way to clean a skull.
The first step in the process is to skin the skull and remove as much flesh as you can, which will reduce the amount of material to be removed. The lower jaw, eyes, nose, and neck should all be removed to save you money on shipping, but they can be removed by the company as well. The brain will usually also be removed before placing the skull into the colony since these can break down into juicy problems for the beetles. Check out the step-by-step video tutorial below to prepare your skull.
The skull is then placed into the beetle colony, where the bugs begin to feast. A deer skull can be completely stripped of flesh within 24 hours of being placed in a colony, while larger skulls (i.e., moose, elk, etc.) may take a few days. What’s best about this approach is that the bone remains intact and strong, including the thin nasal cavity bones. That’s very hard to accomplish with the other methods, which is another reason this is the best way to clean a skull.
After the bugs have finished their dinner, the skulls are dipped into a special chemical solution to kill any remaining bugs or their larvae and eggs. Then the process of degreasing bones can happen, which will occur for varying durations (depending on the species). Deer skulls will typically take three to five days, while bears or hogs, which tend to be more oily, can take up to a month.
Why Beetle Juice Skull Works?
You could theoretically raise dermestid beetles on your own for this purpose, but you’d have to be very dedicated. A healthy colony will require a lot of attention, which can be hard for the average consumer to keep up with throughout the year. And since you’ll likely only need this kind of beetle colony a time or two in the fall, shipping your skull to this service just makes more sense. Unless your kids are looking for some new and exotic pets to add to the family.
So if decorating with deer mounts is your thing, you should strongly consider the beetle approach for doing a European mount. As you can see, it’s easily the best way to clean a skull and it will produce the best-looking European mount you can get, regardless of what animal you chase.