Got Stink?

Every time I enter my barn I'm reminded of a nasty job I have ahead of me: boiling skulls. After hunting season I kick up my feet and take it easy. If you believe that I have a tropical beach location for sale in northern Wyoming I'd like to show you. I do however; shirk my responsibilities on boiling the skulls from the previous hunting season and preparing them for European mounts.

The stink is telling me it's high time to begin the smelly chore and here's my recipe to get the job done minus the expensive cost.

To get the stink under control you'll need the following.

  • Camp-style propane stove
  • Pot large enough to hold a submerged skull
  • Latex surgical gloves
  • Cellophane and clear packing tape
  • Dawn liquid soap
  • Sharp knife
  • Old tooth brush
  • Scrub pad
  • Small paint brush
  • Bottle of hydrogen peroxide
  • Taxidermy bleaching kit, hair style salon basic white solution, sodium carbonate or magnesium carbonate (only one of these chemical solutions is needed)

Find an area outside or in a ventilated barn to set up. Avoid doing it inside a home unless you wish to be alone...forever. I set up in my barn and use a bulk propane tank to extend boiling time. I've also found that large canning pots work great for deer, but when I do elk or bison skull I need to use the bottom third of a 55-gallown drum for my pot. Before handling any skulls don latex surgical gloves to keep the stink off you and to avoid contact from any possible diseases.

I have my skulls stripped of meat and brain material well before I start this job. Any leftovers have rotted over the winter. That works fine since decomposed meat falls off quickly compared to fresh, red meat in a hot bath. To eliminate hot water from discoloring the antlers if a portion sits below the water line I use cellophane to wrap the bottom third of the antlers from the base up the main beam, covering the brow points. Secure the cellophane wrap tightly with clear packing tape.

Fill the pot to cover the skull completely and add in several tablespoons of Dawn to cut any grease that still may be on the skull. Never boil the water either since too much heat will cause deer skulls to split and fall apart. If any parts do fall off, keep them and super glue them on later. You may have to dump the water several times to keep the stench down.

Next, use an old toothbrush, knife and scrub pad to remove any stubborn chunks on the outside or inside of the skull. Although the nasal cavity will boil clean, some prefer to have the cartilaginous tissue removed completely. Go slow and push it out if that is your wish.

After the skull is clean prepare your whitening solution in an old bowl before removing the skull from its clean, warm-water bath. The easiest route to the whitest skull is to purchase a kit available through taxidermy outlets like Van Dyke's Taxidermy. The chemicals you need are included with detailed instructions. If you can't find a kit you can use sodium carbonate for the bleaching base or a hair salon bleaching solution referred to as "basic white." It has similar properties to sodium carbonate and is easier to obtain. In the past I've used magnesium carbonate, but that is getting harder to find.

If you use the basic white, sodium carbonate or even harder to find magnesium carbonate, mix it with hydrogen peroxide to create a pasty blend. Remove the skull from the hot water and let it drip dry for a minute. Next, take a small paintbrush and paint the entire skull, inside and out with the paste, then place the skull in an area where it cannot be bumped. Let it dry and you're almost finished. My taxidermy friends recommend leaving the basic white or sodium carbonate solution on for nearly an hour before brushing it off. I allow painted skulls to sit for up to a week before brushing away the powder. If you use a bleaching kit, follow the instructions accordingly.

Boiling skulls is definitely a chore, but the results make a great conversation piece and a lifetime trophy.