DIY European Mount
Well folks here is a recap on my first time at attempting a European mount. I had become inspired by the idea after seeing countless images online and mounts along my travels of beautifully cleaned and bleached skulls contrasted with a carefully chosen and crafted wooden plaque. The concept of a European mount was simple right? Simply clean up the skull, apply some bleach, and presto you had yourself a a work of art. Quick, easy, and simple! Well... those three words couldn't have been further from the truth. Having a high level of patience and attention to detail would more accurately describe what this task was to entail. If there was one aspect of the whole process I had to say was the hardest, it was finding the time. As a young entrepreneur and outdoorsman, I had to commit the time to honoring this harvest while working 40 hours a week, being on call literally 24/7, and operating two business that benefit the lives of like minded people. It came down to making the 3.5 hour drive back to my home town to visit family and spending the majority of my visit making this mount perfect. I began early Saturday morning with a cup of coffee, two eggs, some toast, and a computer screen watching videos on how to formulate a plan of attack on getting the job done. After I felt confident, I decided to get started. The first thing I needed to do was let the skull defrost.
Later on in this blog you can read how it was a bit of a rush getting back home after the hunt so I did not get to cleaning the skull immediately.
To defrost the skull, I put it into a large stockpot, added water, and turned on the propane burner. It was important to keep the water level below the bases of the antlers to ensure they didn't lose any of their color. I also kept a spray bottle with plain water close by to spray the antlers. This ensured they kept cool and didn't dry out. Once the skull looked to be defrosted, I gave it time to cool off and removed the hide and as much as the meat as I could. I found that out of all the knifes I owned, the one on my multi-tool seemed to work the best. I made sure to avoid scoring the skull with my knife by making careful and precise cuts with the blade facing outwards and scraping lightly. Once the skull had most of the meat removed by knife, it was time to let heat, soap, and water do the rest of the work.
At this point emptied the pot and refilled it with clean water and a few drops of dish soap. The dish soap helped to remove grease from the skull. I set the burner so that the water was at a light boil, a simmer I guess you could say. Too high of heat meant potential damage to the antlers as well as making the skull brittle. Too low of heat meant I would be there for days. I found a happy medium and monitored the progress closely. Every so often I would spray the antlers with water to keep them saturated and checked how the skull was cleaning up. It took a few hours before I decided to go on with the next step. A pressure washer.
Using the pressure washer, I carefully took off what I could and then put the skull back into the water to simmer again. I repeated this process several times until all the material became loose enough to be removed by the pressure washer. Once I felt the skull was clean enough, it was time to let it dry out. It sat for a number of weeks until I was able to make another trip home and finish the project. In the time that it sat, the skull dried out naturally and actually whitened drastically on its own. I kept the skull in a cool dry place out of the sun so that the antlers would not fade. When I came home I had to ask my dad "Did you bleach this?" He explained to me that he hadn't touched it. I was pleasantly surprised.
In terms of the bleaching process, I had spent a number of hours trying to read and figure out what everyone else was doing to achieve great results. Some people suggested a cream or paste, a combination of baking soda, or regular hydrogen peroxide from your local drug store. What I ended up doing was getting 40 Volume developer which is about 12% hydrogen peroxide. I read the very important safety precautions when using chemical concentrations of that magnitude and began by getting a disposable turkey pan. I used a paint brush to apply the developer directly to the skull and found that it was tedious and wasn't really making any changes to the skull, Next I thought I could wrap the skull in paper towel and soak it with the developer but then it was too difficult to check progress. I ended up adding the 32 oz bottle of developer to the stockpot I used to simmer the skull in and then added water so that the skull could be submersed in it. I took very special care to not get any of the mixture on the antlers as I knew it would turn them white. I used a piece of paper towel to cover the small bit of skull that was extruding from the surface and soaked it so that everything was covered equally.
The last step was checking the skull periodically to achieve the shade of white I wanted. Once I was happy, I took the skull out, rinsed it off with water and let it dry. I mounted the skull to a piece of tiger torched pine using a shelf bracket and I am extremely pleased with how the end product turned out. I look forward to getting another trophy up on the wall in years to come.
About the hunt
I had harvested the deer in the 2017 season. It was my second trip home and the last chance I would have to spend deer hunting with my father for the season. I had planned to leave early that morning back to my current place of residence but when I awoke and walked up the stairs, the coffee was on and my hunting buddy, my friend, and my greatest inspiration was in the kitchen there to greet me. "Good morning son, lets go for one last hunt." I hummed and I hawed... "Alright lets go." So off we went. It had to have been the windiest day I had ever hunted. Every step down this narrow road, my eyes were constantly scanning for deer, patches of glare ice, and widow-maker trees. As a retired forest firefighter, situational awareness in the woods was a skill that came with time. A split second and the top of a tree could come crashing down, ending more than just your hunt. As we reached the end of the road, we walked up a hill and came out to overlooking a beautiful vista, picturesque some would say. "There should be one standing right there." A common line amidst any hunter. Off we went to navigate our return to the truck. No expectations, no regrets, no dissatisfaction, only pure joy to be out there in all of nature's glory. As we walked, I noticed a trail leading up to a rock outcrop. "Hold up, I am going to go check this out." Three steps and next thing that came into view was the famous flag of a white-tailed deer heading for the bush. I sprinted to the top of the rock and whistled. The deer had stopped in a chunk of bush between the rock I was standing on and another outcrop beyond it. I shouldered my rifle, identified my target, identified what was beyond my target and fired. The deer jumped and continued over the following rock. I took a moment to catch my breath and waited for my dad to walk up to my position. We both agreed to wait a bit before going to track the deer. After a moment of rest, I walked down first and found the beginning of the blood trail. I called to my dad to come meet me where I was standing, I asked "see anything?" He replied "sure there's a bit of blood." I replied "What about this?" as I stepped out of the way. A clear smear, shoulder height against a number of small birch trees. My dad spoke "We are going to find your deer here." After following the trail we came to what seemed to be a dead end. The thoughts that any hunter hates were beginning to set in, "maybe I just grazed it." or "maybe I made a bad shot." I started walking at different distances in a circular pattern around the last drop we could find. 5 feet, 10 feet, 15 feet, 20 feet. Nothing. Filled with frustration and yet determination I continued. Finally, I picked up on the trail again I walked about 5 yards and as I lifted my head the buck came into view. Filled with gratitude, I yelled to my dad "I found it." He walked down and gave me a hug with a great big smile. "Congratulations son." Out came the tag as well as my knife to carefully notch the time and date on the game seal before affixing it to the antlers. We made quick but tiresome work of hauling the deer out to a suitable location to field dress the animal. It was at this point I received a text message " Have you left yet?" I replied " Uh nope! Something came up, I will tell you about it when I see you." We got the deer dressed, loaded, and hung back home in the garage in record time. The rest is history.