I wrote a column for Sunday's newspaper about the highly refined skills of Storm Amacher of St. Paul and her business, Remains to be Seen.
Storm employs tiny bugs to clean skulls of deer, elk and bears, among other animals, for European style head mounts, in which the skulls appear cleaned and whitened. This type of mount is hundreds of dollars cheaper than a traditional mount, takes up less room on a wall and has a definite appeal.
Storm does great work on her skulls. But I had long wanted to try to make such a mount myself, by boiling the skull at home. So, using a dandy set of antlers from a road-killed deer I wrote about earlier this fall, I'm giving it a try.
At this point, I'm just completing the boiling. So I'll write a couple more blogs about the other parts of the process, specifically the bleaching.
A few observations:
• Despite what some people might say on YouTube and other places online, you really want to do this outside. Unbelievably, one guy online takes an unskinned, unboned deer head and drops it in his wife's "pasta pot'' on the kitchen stove. I don't think so.
• Plan for plenty of boiling. I'm just winding up the process, and I probably have 10 to 12 hours of boiling into the project.
• Pay attention to warnings about protecting the bottom of the antlers from changing color (darkening) during the boiling process. Because I didn't shoot this deer and am viewing this project as a type of experiment, I didn't wrap the bases of the antlers to protect them, as some people advise. And it does appear that the bottoms of the antlers will be darkened somewhat by the boiling process.
• Some people advise using electric tape around the bases of the antlers (don't know about this, but might use this method when I whiten). Others suggest plastic wrap (can't believe this would hold up against the steam and heat) and still others suggest tinfoil.
• Throughout the boiling, I've used a knife to pick out some of the stubborn pieces of meat, and also have employed a tooth brush.
• It's a good idea to use Dawn dishwashing liquid in your boiling water.
My plan next is to square off the back of the skull better than I did earlier, when boning the head. If I'm going to mount it on a decorative board, it'll have to be cut better than it is. I should have done this before boiling, because the skull is more fragile now.
I'm also going to wash the skull in Dawn and ammonia after I'm done boiling, then whiten it either by dipping it in a combination of bleach and peroxide (I have to research this a little more) or by painting it with peroxide. Also I need to attach a dowel to the back of the skull to insert into the mounting board/plaque.
If you have any suggestions, offer them. I'll write again in coming days.