In Part 1 of this series, I talked about the process of deciding whether or not to do a skull mount, caping it out, transporting it home, boiling it and cleaning it. In Part 2 here, we’ll cover the process of cleaning/whitening with peroxide, rinse/drying, rebuilding the skull, displaying, and most important, enjoying your work.
Step 6: Peroxide Whitening/Cleaning.
After cleaning the skull, it’s time for the final acid bath to get off everything organic that you couldn’t, and to whiten the skull. For that, I use Baquacil, which is a high-concentration hydrogen peroxide used to shock pools as alternative to chlorine. I usually buy it at a local pool supply store. It’s basically the same stuff as you can get at the pharmacy to put on cuts, but closer to 30% concentration vs the 4% at the drug store. It will eat away organic matter, and bubble just like it does on a cut on your skin. It’s still an acid though, and while relatively slow acting, it will burn your skin at this high concentration, so wear rubber or surgical gloves.
Whitetail Skulls Getting Baquacil Peroxide Treatment
For non-antlered or horned skulls with the outer horn removed, I’ll find a container large enough to submerge the entire skull, and cover it in the Baquacil. If more fluid is needed to fully submerge it, I’ll add some tap water. That dilutes the Baquacil, but I’ve found it’s pretty tolerant of it and while I’ve never formally calculated a diluted concentration factor, I’d guess down to 15% still does the job. It just slows it down a bit.
If it’s a deer skull, I’ll usually opt for a deep Pyrex type dish or a plastic meat tray that lets me fill to a fluid level that covers near the eye sockets, but leaves the top of the skull exposed and antlers well above the liquid line. Using a container that fits the skull as closely as possible reduces the amount of fluid needed. I’ll pack cotton swabs or batting, or paper towels in eye sockets and up over the skull areas above water line so fluid wicks up and stays wet, but doesn’t get on the antlers themselves as it will turn them white. The bases of antlers can drop down pretty low, so watch closely as you fill the dish. You can also wrap plastic bags around the antlers and tape around their bases to protect them from the peroxide.
Spooning Peroxide Onto Areas Above Liquid Line (Note antler fading already from cleaning step – Fixed in Step 8)
I’ll use a large plastic spoon to splash and spoon peroxide on the raised areas and to keep the cotton/paper towels saturated, while taking care not to get it on the antlers. I try to refresh everything with the spoon every few hours during the day, but don’t worry about it overnight. Overall I try to soak the skull in the peroxide for at least 48 hours, depending on how concentrated and active the Baquacil is. It doesn’t eat bone, so leaving it longer won’t hurt anything.
Step 7: Rinse and Dry.
After a couple days of the peroxide bath, I’ll remove the skull and any jawbones or loose teeth and give them a good freshwater rinse from a hose or in the bathtub before setting them out in the sun to dry. There will usually be some faint bubbling still going on, and as the skull dries in the sun it will quickly turn white.
I’ll then funnel the Baquacil back into it’s original container for storage and reuse. I’ve found I can get many cleanings from a gallon.
One note if you are using the Behrens steel tub for the peroxide step on really big skulls – the acid will etch the galvanizing away over time. It’s not a big deal, but it means the tub won’t be as weather resistant and will rust if left wet. That may also turn the liquid a little rust colored, but I haven’t had that color transfer to the skull itself.
Step 8: Rebuild Any Loose Parts/Touch-Up.
If the jaw bone is part of the intended skull mount, it will often split in half during boiling. You may also have some teeth fall out. It’s not a big deal, and I use Gorilla epoxy to put everything back together. A rubber band at the jawbones front connection point can help hold it together while the epoxy dries. For teeth its not hard to find the hole they fell out of – they only fit in one place. Just test fit until you find where they all go, then remove them and dab in some epoxy and put them back, one at a time.
Bear and Alligator Skulls Complete with Lower Jaws
If the antlers did fade as a result of boiling or errant peroxide (as in the pic above), it’s not the end of the world. You can use Minwax wood stain and a small foam brush to restore color. Just pick an appropriate color based on the original rack color, and apply and wipe off light coats until the intended color is restored. I’ve found the Golden Oak color to work well on lighter/neutral colored racks, and the Red Mahogany to work well on really dark, rich colored racks.
Aoudad Skull After Drying and Inner Bone Cores Cut
For horned animals, now is the time to put them back on. I just pour out the Borax and shake the horns out. Put them back on the cores and test the fit. You can permanently mount them back on using automotive Bondo, or you can keep them removable by wrapping the bone cores with a fabric like cotton batting or even paper towels to fill the space from the tissue that you removed and press fitting the outer horn back on. Sometimes it’s preferable to cut the inner cores short with a saw, to aid in fitting into whatever you’re using as a container for the peroxide process. It also makes reinstalling the horns easier, and makes it easier to remove the horns in the event of a home move.
Step 9: Display.
For some skulls, you’re done at Step 8. If you want to set the skull on a shelf, it’s ready to do so. Bear, javelina, even aoudad rest nicely if there’s shelf space. If you want to hang it on a wall, there are a few options too. You can tie a strong cord through holes on the underside of the skull, and use that to hang it on a nail or picture hanging on a wall – but be conscious of teeth digging into the wall surface and scratching it.
Dad’s South Georgia ‘Swamp Buck’ on a European Plaque
Our family has always been a fan of European carved plaque mounts. It takes some searching, but you can find some carvers here in the US with various styles. Sometimes getting a nice flush mount on these requires using a band saw and cutting the skull on a line just over the teeth to create a perfectly flat surface to mount to the plaque.
There are also some great metal hangers that space the skull off the wall a little, and give a very nice display, like products from Skullhooker. They make multiple sizes to fit any size animal, and have pedestal or floor display towers too if you don’t want to use up wall space. They do a great job of positioning the skull either straight out or angled to one side, and add some nice 3D relief. Take note of the lighting before determining your final mounting location too, and you can get some great shadowing effects to compliment the mount itself.
Large Rams Require Spacing Away From the Wall Due to Horn Curvature
Aoudad Ram on Large Skullhooker. Note Complimentary Lighting/Shawows
Step 10: Enjoy It.
You’re all done now, and have a nice memory reminder to look at before going to bed, and conversation piece as you enjoy some wild game meat with friends and family. The mount will last for generations, and they are easy to move and/or replace if you feel the need to down the road.
Pedestal Whitetail Mount
That’s my methods. Hopefully it proves helpful. If there are any questions, feel free to post here.
Good luck out there.