The concept of a European mount is a simple one, but it requires care and attention to detail.
Three skulls, including two deer and one bear, that Bangor Daily News columnist Chris Sargent recently finished as European mounts. Credit: Courtesy of Chris Sargent

After a long, tiring hunting season and with the holidays behind us, I was looking forward to a break. Our shotguns and rifles were cleaned, oiled and tucked in for their long winter’s nap. Totes of hunting clothes and gear were stacked neatly in the basement and tree stands leaned up against the shed in orderly fashion, ready for next year’s deployments.

While a break in action is necessary, the “in between” is always a bit depressing for a passionate hunter, myself included. Though preparations for the next season have already begun in the form of scouting, procurement of new equipment and dreaming of things to come, I often find myself grasping for ways to squeeze the last few drops from the most recent one.

A cast iron pan filled with deer steak and onions usually does the trick for me, but as I opened the freezer door, I was reminded that I still had a bit of work to do that could scratch my itch.

From the second shelf of our stand-up freezer, two deer heads stared blankly at me — a beautiful eight-point buck taken by a family member and a cool-looking, five-point, first buck taken by a friend. Often, heads and hides are relegated to a frozen limbo until well after the season, waiting on their owners to figure out how to memorialize them.

In the last few years, I began dabbling in skull work and have turned out a few decent European mounts. It’s dirty, stinky and tedious, but I enjoy it and welcome most opportunities to practice. So when the requests came this fall, I agreed. Digging through our other freezer, I found a bear skull of mine from two years ago and added it to the pile. I’d never done more than one skull at a time, so three seemed ambitious and I figured it would take a long weekend to process them, excluding total drying time.

The concept of a European mount is a simple one — remove anything that isn’t skull, including hide, meat, cartilage, eyes, brain and whatnot, then clean, degrease, dry and preserve it for presentation. The process isn’t all that hard, though there are nuances requiring care and attention to detail.

Spend any amount of time perusing how-to forums, YouTube videos or articles and it becomes clear there are a number of differing opinions, views and subjective expert testimonials related to proper process or products to use. Largely, however, it’s generally agreed that the best and most practical DIY process is to remove the hide, eyes and majority of flesh by hand then simmer (not boil) in a pot of water with a degreaser such as Dawn detergent, Oxy Clean or Zote soap for around an hour. Then take it out then remove as much tissue and other matter as possible with tools such as knives, pliers, picks or the more popular method, a pressure washer, which works both quickly and efficiently. Repeat the process another time or two with shorter simmering times until the skull is fully clean inside and out.

Most suggest letting the skull soak overnight in a pot of clean water and degreaser to pull out any remaining oils then rinse off the next day, let dry and with a paint brush, apply a whitening agent. This agent is commonly Volume 40 liquid peroxide, often mixed to a paste with Basic White powder, both of which are available at most any beauty supply store for a few dollars. A 24-hour sit usually achieves the desired level of whiteness but if not, the process can be repeated. After rinsed and dried fully, the skull can be sealed with products such as Mop & Glo or polycrylic to protect and add a bit of luster to make it really pop.

As is true with just about everything, especially outdoor related topics, I am in no way, shape or form an expert and absolutely claim no such title in the realm of European mounts.

What I do possess is a willingness to learn, to try and to dive into projects where others show reluctancy.

The method I use for processing skulls is fluid, ever changing and exploratory as I search for just the right system that works for me. I can’t provide a solid set of how-to instructions, as I too am still learning, making mistakes and figuring things out little by little. Instead, I offer encouragement to do a bit of research, take a leap and give it a whirl. Once you’ve got the hang of it even a little bit, I’m willing to bet it becomes another part of the season you’ll enjoy and look forward to.  

Many people shy away from trying their hand at European mounts and with good reason. It can be intimidating at first and the reality of damaging or ruining their own or someone else’s trophy is enough to deter most.

Reputable, licensed, professional taxidermists are your best bet when it comes to preserving an animal with the highest quality and integrity but that often costs several hundred dollars.

If you’re willing to get your hands dirty, though, have a little time, basic tools and simple products, you can create a trophy to be proud of.

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Chris Sargent, Outdoors Contributor

Chris Sargent is an avid outdoorsman, a former Maine Game Warden and lover of anything wild and tasty. Chris’ passion and appreciation for hunting, processing and preparing wild game has become more...