How to Whiten a Deer Skull?

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For hunters, it makes a lot of sense to have remembrances of what they catch. Apart from enjoying deer’s meat and storing all the valuable nutrients, one needs something to remind him/her of great hunting experiences. The best souvenir to gift yourself is a white skull for a trophy.

Deer skull is an excellent trophy to be proud of.  Such skulls command more respect than those of smaller animals.  Some hunters hire taxidermists to clean and whiten the skulls. However, it is cheaper and even an exciting opportunity to clean and bleach your own trophies.

This article takes you through a procedure of how to clean and whiten a deer skull.

Why Whiten a Deer Skull

Before mounting your deer skull on the wall, whitening is one of the essential things you need to learn. Like all other types of furniture, a deer skull should look clean and bright. This means making it look brand new. It should be free from dirt and all forms of grim, which it may have caught during hunting.

Deer skulls are also not originally white. In fact, there is always a lot of blood and fur around them, thus losing their creamy white color. For better enhancing when cleaning, proper whitening is mandatory.

Besides, knowing how to bleach deer skulls saves up on time and the efforts of looking for a taxidermist. There is also no need to spend quite a considerable amount of money on something that you can do yourself.

Skull Whitening: Bleach vs Hydrogen Peroxide

When skull whitening, people often refer to it (wrongfully) as skull bleaching. If you want to add a white deer skull to your collection, bleaching is the procedure to follow. You can actually clean the skull all day long and every manner but fail to attain the desired pristine white. Therefore, treating the skull first is crucial.

The term “skull bleaching” is somewhat misnomer. It creates an impression/perception of using literal bleach to little-informed hunters. However, it would be best if you never used literal chlorine bleaching agents on a bone.

Without a doubt, bleach removes any excess tissue from bones but will definitely damage your skull permanently. Treating your deer skull with bleach makes it porous and chalky since bleach breaks down its (skull) structure. Eventually, the skull will deteriorate into dust. To make it worse, bleach does not deliver the expected beautiful bleach-white color. Instead, it turns the skull into a pretty funky yellow color. This is how to tell when someone mistook skull cleaning for literal bleaching.

The perfect reagent to use when bleaching a deer skull, on any other bones for that matter, is hydrogen peroxide. It effectively saps color out of bones without damaging their bone integrity. This is because hydrogen peroxide is less abrasive compared to bleach itself.

Although it offers the safest whitening channel, it takes relatively longer than chlorine-based bleaches. There is also a glaring risk that your containers’ tops might blow off from pressure, since the containers must be tightly covered when soaking the skull in hydrogen peroxide. 

Why is Bleaching Bad for the Skull? How to Tell a Deer Skull Is Bleached

Below are signs that your deer skull is bleached;

  • Tiny white pieces start flaking off when handling the skull.
  • The skull becomes very fragile. There is a high likelihood the thin sections will break and crumble compared to a well-processed skull.
  • The skull is very porous. The topmost layer is eaten away hence exposing underneath more porous layers.

How to Clean a Deer Skull

Before whitening your skull, cleaning is also an essential part of the process. That said, there are several ways to clean deer skulls. 

Steps to Follow When Cleaning a Deer Skull.

Prepare the Skull for Boiling

This involves removal of the hide and as much flesh as possible. It’s recommended when the animal is still warm to prevent grease from entering into the skull. Nevertheless, it can be done at any point after taking down a deer. See our article on How to Cape Deer for a detailed procedure.

Boiling the Skull

Although it sounds simple, it can make or break your desired result. Avoid boiling at very high temperatures to prevent the bones from   drying and driving grease more in-depth into the skull.

Add some detergent (300ml) and ½ cup of laundry washing powder. This should be done every time you change the water in the boiling pot.

Ensure a slow simmer to draw as much grease as possible. In fact, more boiling time equals whiter skull and less degreasing time.

1st Pressure Cleaning after the First Boil

After a few hours of boiling, remove the skull and wash it with pressured-clean cold water. Remove as much meat as you can together with all loose teeth for gluing at the end of the process.  Don’t use a lot of pressure on the skull to avoid blowing any bone out. Just enough pressure to wash away the cooked meat.

Ear Bone Removal

One will need a screwdriver for this. It is a crucial procedure to keep the skull grease-free. Remember, there’s so much grease in this area. Removing the ear bone will also give you easy access to the brain cavity. Remove the ear bones by placing the screwdriver in the ear canal and levering back and forward.

Brain Removal

One can use screwdrivers or coat hangers to remove the cooked brain. However, blowing the brain with a pressure washer for a few minutes works the magic easier and quicker.

Boil the Skull for the 2nd Time

At this point, the skull is relatively clean. Put the skull in a fresh pot, add water, and 300ml detergent and begin to boil again. Remember to adhere to the low-temperature rule. You will see grease start forming on top.

2nd Pressure Wash

At this point, blow all visible meat out of the skull and ensure the brain cavity is clear of any material. At the bottom of the eye sockets, double-check two small pockets since meat gets tapped therein often.

Degreasing

With the entire skull now visibly clean, soak it and macerate the remaining hidden meat. Also, ensure you get rid of the last grease in the skull.

During summer, soaking the skull in a bucket of water, adding 300ml detergent, and leaving it in the sun is enough. Over the winter, add an aquarium heater to fasten the process. Occasionally, you might get some smell coming from the bucket. When there is much of it, the pressure will burst the head, changing the water into a fresh batch.

Final Pressure Clean 

At this point, the skull ought to be meat and grease-free. It is one last pressured blast to ensure all hidden materials are removed, leaving a scent-free skull.

How to Whiten a Deer Skull with Hydrogen Peroxide

By far, this is the most common and successful method of whitening bones. The good thing is that hydrogen peroxide is readily available and cost-friendly. At about $1, you can purchase a 3% peroxide quart size bottle, which is fit for the job – for a small skull, though. The 3% peroxide can be used when diluted or straight but straight is given preference.

Although there are higher percentages of liquid peroxide, e.g., 50%, they are extremely strong, which would raise safety concerns. However, anything beyond 12% adequately strong, and you would need to dilute.

The whitening process gives the best results on a warm day, next to the fire, and especially when the skull is heated. This is because peroxide gets activated with heat, and therefore a hotter skull allows better peroxide penetration and faster performance.

Put your skull in boiling water for about 5 minutes and then apply your peroxide. If the skull is dirty or has a lot of bacteria, bubbles will begin to form immediately. Nevertheless, if the bubbles don’t appear, it does not mean it is not working.

Cover the entire skull with a thick layer of hydrogen peroxide and let it react for about an hour. Heat the skull again and repeat the whole procedure until your desired tone of white is achieved.  

Alternatively, covering the skull with hydrogen peroxide, rapping it in a glad wrap while and placing it in the sun will give you similar results. Also, repeat the procedure until your desired color is reached.

Rinse the skull in hot water, glue the removed loose teeth and front nose parts back in.

Safety Measures for Deer Skull Whitening With Hydrogen Peroxide

Concentrated hydrogen peroxide is highly reactive. Not only does it react with metals but also human skin. When it pours on you, it burns the skin turning it white for a few hours. In such an unfortunate scenario, run hot water on the affected areas to relieve the burn.  This is because the heat speeds the reaction stopping it from burning you further.

Strong peroxide has also been reported to cause instant blindness. Therefore, when carrying a deer skull whitening procedure, be in protective gear, especially gloves and eye protection.

Most Popular Deer Hunting Accessories

Before all these processes, you first need to go deer hunting and you’ll need a set of accessories. I prepared a simple table with deer hunting accessories that you might need to take down a deer.

Conclusion

Deer skull whitening is a simple DIY process that you can successfully perform at home. If you follow the above explained procedure to the latter, the result is a professional euro mount. Let nothing stop you from giving yourself a great deer skull ornament to celebrate your success in the field.

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