How to Clean a Bear Skull the Right Way

Do You Know How to Clean a Bear Skull?

If you’ve never been on a bear hunt, add it to your bucket list now.. It’s a very exciting ordeal that will get your heart pumpingThen after getting a trophy bear (or any bear you’re excited to take), it’s a no-brainer that you’d want to display its skull somewhere. Looking at that pure white bear skull on the wall takes you right back to that hunt where you can relive it over and over. But before you try doing things yourself, familiarize yourself with the proper method of skull cleaning. It’s not as simple as just throwing it into a pot of boiling water. This is especially true if it is a potential record bear! The first step is knowing the best way to clean a skull, which applies to almost any animal. If you don’t do it right, you can damage and discolor the skull so that it won’t last like it should or won’t look good even if you finish it. So to avoid that situation, read on about how to clean a bear skull.

 Record Bear Skull Cleaning

If your bear is a potential record, or close to the Pope and Young or Boone and Crockett Award then you need to take extra precautions and steps to ensure you are correctly cleaning the bear skull. The Boone and Crockett minimums for the awards are as follows: 

  •  Black Bear – 20 
  • Grizzly Bear – 23 
  • Alaska Brown Bear – 26 
  • Polar Bear 27 

In the world of bear skull scoring every inch,or 16th even, is a big deal! Cleaning the skull the right way after green scoring the bear is vital! Using a boil method to clean the bear could cause the skull shrink past its normal amount during the 60-day drying period. Normally you would want the skull to be stripped of flesh, left to dry for the 60-day period then processed. However, one method of bear skull cleaning yields stunning results without the worry of past normal shrinkage!

Risks with DIY Skull Cleaning

While traditional methods are still effective in some regard, newer practices are proving to be better suited when it comes to skull cleaning.. For example, most DIY or hobby taxidermists would simply throw animal skulls into a pot of boiling or simmering water to strip the tissue and sinew off the skull. Sure, it works when you’re cooking soup and the meat just falls off the bone. The problem is that it’s not the best way to clean a bear skull. Aside from the potential excess shrinking you can get by using the boil method, bear tissue and skulls have a lot of oil and fat in them, which will turn the skull a yellow color when boiled. This discoloration can’t always just be bleached away either. That’s probably not the pristine look you’re going for. Additionally, boiling a bear skull for too long can crack the teeth (especially the canines) and weaken the bone structure. Have you ever made bone broth? The idea is to simmer the bones until they leach minerals out of the bones, turning them mushy and weak. The same thing happens when you boil a skull and it’s definitely not the outcome you want. 

Another problem you may run into can happen when trying to remove all the tissue off of an animal’s skull. While most of the cranium is very sturdy, there are weak spots. For example, inside an animal’s nasal cavity are delicate and thin bones that can easily be broken if you’re not careful. If you try to forcefully remove tissue from this region using tools, you can quickly break them. It might not be a deal breaker for you, but it just won’t look the same as a complete skull. And while you might think you couldn’t hurt the outside of the skull surface, you can actually scratch it if you directly run a knife blade across it. It won’t show very much when the tissue is still covering it, but these score marks will definitely show when and if you get it cleaned off.

Dermestid Beetle Skull Cleaning

So if you’re wondering how to clean animal skulls, especially if you’re hoping to have a brown or black bear European mount on your wall, there’s a better way. What is this golden ticket for bear skull cleaning, you ask? Bugs. More specifically, dermestid beetles, a type of flesh-eating insect that excel at this odd job. Beetle colonies that number in the thousands are needed for most big game taxidermy projects. While adults also eat the tissue, the larvae will actually consume the majority of the flesh off the bone. They do such a thorough job that only the bone is left behind in a very short amount of time 

How to Clean a Bear Skull?

So if you’re sold on this approach, here’s the general process you’ll need to follow. It should go without saying, but the fresher the skull, the better things can turn out. Try to skin and clean the skull as soon after you harvest it as possible. If you won’t have time to thoroughly clean the skull right away, put it in the freezer and thaw it later. It will be much better than letting it rot.

The first step is to sever the skull from the first vertebra using a knife instead of a saw (to avoid damaging the skull with an errant saw stroke). Whether you’re keeping the hide for a full bear skin rug or not, skin the skull carefully. Make sure you keep the knife blade parallel to the skull surface at all times to avoid scoring it. Take special precautions around the eye sockets, since a sharp knife blade can catch the ridges and make small nicks that will show in the final product. While you can send the skull in with its hide still on, try to remove as much meat as possible at this stage to help save on shipping costs (since you pay by weight). To that point, you can also remove the eyeballs and the nostril tissue. If you’ve got a question on what you should be doing or aren’t totally sure how to clean a bear skull, reach out to us for some advice on what to do.

When we receive the skull in the mail, we will clean it up a little more and then place it into the beetle colonies so they can get started. It may only take a single day for the colony to completely clean the bear skull. After that phase, we start the bear skull degreasing process. Degreasing bones is a very important step that should never be skipped, since the oils can slowly turn the skull yellow and dirty-looking over time. As mentioned earlier, since bears naturally have more fats and oils in their tissue and bones than deer, for example, the degreasing process takes a lot longer – up to 30 days. After degreasing a bear skull, it is allowed to dry for a few days. Then it undergoes a two-step whitening process to ensure your skull will look white for many years to come, not just for a few months. At the end of all this, it is thoroughly inspected for any areas that may require more attention before being sent back to you.

Now You Know How to Clean a Bear Skull

As you can see, there’s really not much work on your part when it comes to cleaning bear skulls the right way. Most of the detail work falls on the beetles, and then we can take care of the rest. Your European bear skull mount is awaiting you!

 

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