Sealing deer antlers is a challenging process, but not an overly difficult one. The steps outlined below will allow you to take that trophy buck and transform it into a lasting memory as a European mount.
- Remove the hide
- Remove all superficial tissue from the head
- Severe the head from the body
- Completely clean the skull
- Bleach the skull with hydrogen peroxide
- Stain the antlers
- Seal the skull
Clean the Skull
Now the fun part begins, there are three ways this can be done.
The first is to boil the submerged skull for a few hours in a large cauldron. Add an ounce of Dawn dishwashing liquid to the water to facilitate breaking down the meat, fat, and grease.
Some people use a half-cup of Boraxo instead of dawn.
Boil the skull on high heat. An easy method of boiling is to use the burner assembly on a turkey fryer with the cutaway half of a 55-gallon drum.
Hold the antlers underwater with weights so they don’t float.
After a few hours, you should pull the head up by the antlers and test to see if the skin sluffs off. You can hold the antlers in one hand, and push on the remaining hide with a knife. If it’s still connected, you need to boil it a little longer.
The second method and the easiest for the hunter is to take the skull to a taxidermist or to your local high school if they have a “Bugs and Bones” program with their science or vocational education classes.
Carrion beetles will do all the hard work of cleaning a skull. After a few months, these little demonic-looking beetles will have eaten away every bit of flesh, connective tissue, and brain matter from the skull.
It will be completely clean and ready for finishing.
The final method is to place the skull on an anthill. This works best in arid climates, but if you have large, aggressive red ants in your area, they’ll get the job done as well. It takes a few months but these little guys will clean the skull fully.
Bleach the Skull
Your European mount or skullcap might not be bright white after the fleshing-out process is complete. The next step is to take the skull, or skullcap, and submerge it in hydrogen peroxide for at least 12 hours.
Hydrogen peroxide is cheap and can be found at any grocery store or pharmacy.
Depending on the size of the skull you’ll probably need a couple of gallons at least to submerge the skull. If possible, leave the antlers out of the peroxide to preserve their natural appearance.
Once the hydrogen peroxide works its magic, your skull will be a shiny, bright white color.
Stain the Antlers
Many hunters decide to create a European mount years after they’ve harvested a buck.
The years can be tough on antlers. Depending on your climate they can become completely bleached out, white, with large porous openings and far from the natural beauty they once held when they were on the buck.
Here is where a little artistry comes into play. There are many ways to tone a set of antlers. Come advocates use tongue oil, a common woodworking chemical that enhances the natural beauty of wood. It works the same with antlers.
Another technique is to brew a strong batch of tea, and carefully hold the antlers in the tea, without letting it touch the skull. You’ll have to dip each side of the antlers repeatedly to get the final shade you want.
A delicate method is to use shoe polish. A little daub worked into a bleached out antler brings back the natural look. You’ll want to get a light brown can of shoe polish and start with a small amount on a clean cloth rag. Put just a little on the antlers at a time. Too much and you’ll have dark brown stained monstrosity instead of a natural-looking rack.
The final technique involves using wood stain. You can buy small six-ounce cans at your local hardware, home improvement store, or lumber yard.
Choose a color that resembles a deer’s natural antler tint. Something like a light pecan, or perhaps a medium oak stain will bring out the best effects.
No matter what you use, let the stain dry for a couple of days before you begin the final step of sealing the antlers.
Seal the Skull and Antlers
This final step is the most debated part of the entire process. It seems that every amateur taxidermist has their own special technique. As with any process, some work better than others. We’ll walk you through some of the more popular sealing techniques.
Elmer’s white glue is an icon of childhood. We all used it in elementary school projects. It works well as a sealant for deer skulls too.
Take a bottle of Elmer’s and squeeze about three ounces into a standard-sized cup. Fill the remainder of the cut with water and mix thoroughly.
The resulting mixture will be a little thinner than latex paint, but it will apply easily with a brush. The magic of Elmer’s is that it goes on white, but it dries clear.
If you were one of those kids who made “fake skin” by coating your hand with Elmer’s glue, you get the idea of what this process entails.
Coat the entire skull, but not the antlers with the glue mixture. Check for globs, drips, or bumps that can build up on the skull. With the mixture applied evenly, let the glue dry completely.
You can come back in a couple of days with 800 grit sandpaper and shine up your project.
A spray-on finish with high gloss polyurethane can brighten even the dingiest skull. Deft is a popular brand of polyurethane, but you don’t have to go with a name brand to get quality results.
Stop by a hardware or home supply store and visit the spray can section. If you look closely you’ll find clear Krylon or something similar. This product provides the same high gloss finish as name brand products such as Deft, for less than half the price.
Spray the poly onto your skull in light coats, many light coats produce a much better finish than a single heavy application.
You can poly the antlers as well, but be careful, sometimes this discolors the antler if they’ve been stained. Putting masking tape around the base of the antlers can protect them if you think extra poly can alter their appearance.
WD40 is considered a miracle product by many users. It can silence a squeaky door hinge, it is rumored to be effective on swollen knees and it makes a good finish on bone and antlers.
Just spray on light coats, wait for it to dry, and study the finished product. Add more coats as needed.
A final product that seems well out of the comfort zone for most hunters is Mop and Glow Floor Wax. This works exceptionally well with desiccated antlers, bringing those old, weathered points back to life.
Once your color pattern is set, spray on a little floor wax and you’ll be amazed at the results.
There are many paths to creating a beautiful European or skullcap mount from the trophy buck you just harvested. Whichever technique you try, odds are you’re going to create a piece of art that will last for generations.