After the Shot: Considering Your Options
By Robert Shaw
By Robert Shaw
Just about every Huntin’ Fool has a stack of deer and elk horns in the corner of their garage. Now with Skull Hooker’s unique design we can all display them on the wall in their natural position. What a great idea! Thanks Skull Hooker!
It is hard to believe that the 2013 hunting season is already upon us! By the time you are reading this article some lucky hunters will already be in the field and the rest of us will be anxiously waiting for our seasons to begin. However I want to focus on what comes after the shot — memories. The size of the animal doesn’t matter when it comes to memories and hunting. For me it doesn’t matter if it’s a forked-horned buck or those rare 200" elusive monsters. A rag horned bull or 400" of bone simply should make no difference. They are all trophies in their own right, and each and every one of the memories from these special creatures is perpetually burned into our brains. Eventually their antlers or horns are all that physically remain. Their places or displays within our homes, at our offices, or in our garages are deserving and serve as a constant reminder of the details of each and every hunt. As we look up on the wall, every one of these majestic trophies has the ability to spark a memory and put a smile on our face, even on the worst of days.
With that said, no matter the size of your castle or the bulge of your budget, one cannot shoulder mount each and every animal, so the underlying question is what options do you have once you have your trophy down? Many hunters elect to chop or cut off the skull plate and call it good, but before you do that I would respectfully ask you to read on and consider all your options.
One option becoming more popular today is the European mount. There are many forms or variations of the European mount, hence the name and skull cut stemming from Europe. For the purpose of this article I am discussing the North American version of displaying a European skull. This would entail a full skull, inclusive of the upper teeth, displaying of the lower jaw being optional.
There are many good reasons to consider a Euro. The most obvious reason is economics. The cost of doing a European mount can save hundreds and even as much as thousands of dollars, on larger skulled species, versus the cost of a shoulder mount. Also many other hunters are gravitating toward Euros to complement their shoulder mounts and because they don’t require the space of their shoulder mounted counterparts.
If you decide you want to consider doing a European mount this year, here is your first decision to make — do it yourself or have it professionally done? Let’s keep this simple. Taking the time to do a European skull yourself can cost less than $30 to complete. I personally know a few people who do all their own European mounts and do a very good job. It is very doable, and everyone likes to save a few bucks. The more you do it, the easier it gets and the better you become.
The skull cleaning process is an article in and of itself. I would suggest utilizing YouTube as an easy and valuable resource for educating yourself on this process. I recently partnered with a group that has a step by step video on cleaning a skull yourself and is available for your review within the video section at www.skullhooker.com. If you prefer a typed step by step version, they are readily available on the internet as well. With some easy research you can steer clear of the common pitfalls, such as avoiding the use of bleach. The phrase “bleaching skulls” is a bit misleading because utilizing peroxide to whiten your skull is a much better alternative to bleach as it is not as harsh on bone. Finally not only will you save money by doing it yourself, you can also customize the level of whiteness to your liking. However it goes without saying that the skull cleaning process is not for everyone. If you are short on time and don’t care to experience all that is involved with cleaning a skull yourself, you can take your skull to a taxidermist.
There are pros and cons to having your mount professionally done. The upside is that you don’t have to deal with it. Here is a tip — find a taxidermist who offers skull cleaning with Dermestid beetles. This should not cost much, if any more, than a taxidermist who boils skulls the old fashioned way. Utilizing Dermestid beetles is the premier method for cleaning and preserving skulls. These little beetles eat away all that is edible around the skull. The end result is a perfectly preserved skull, inclusive of all the cartilage and detail that would have been lost during the manual spraying and boiling cleaning processes.
The downside of utilizing a professional is twofold. First is the additional cost, and second is the time you will have to wait for it, which could be 1-4 months, depending on your taxidermist. Regardless if you are going to have it done professionally, speak at length with your taxidermist about how he processes his Europeans and what your expectations are with the finished product (time, color, method) so there are no misunderstandings.
Compared to a shoulder mount, which typically runs anywhere from $400-$1500, paying $75-$150 to have a European skull professionally done is a bargain. Even so, there is one possible way to offset some or all of this cost. Contact your taxidermist prior to your hunts and determine if he or she is looking for a quality cape, which many times they are. If so, ask if they would trade a Euro for the cape itself. Most taxidermists will require you to cape it, and most importantly, cape it correctly. However your taxidermist may also take the head whole and prefer to personally cape it, which is a nice bonus. Regardless quality capes of certain species are in demand, and you can now trade your cape in return for a finished European skull. The value of the trade, quality and type of cape, is negotiable with each taxidermist individually. Nonetheless this is a viable way to get a beetle cleaned skull at little to no cost — a win-win for both you and your taxidermist.
With an increase in demand the European skull finishing options have also evolved in recent years. For instance many hunters are electing to camo dip their skulls. Another relatively popular finish option is the new metalized finish, like the bronze bison and alligator shown. I am partial to white skulls, but I do like these colored options on occasion. It can help highlight certain features, like the teeth on the gator skull.
Hanging and properly displaying European skulls have been problematic in the past. New and innovative hanging options are now available. Let’s take a look at the wall mounting options because, let’s face it, a perfect European skull mounted trophy doesn’t look right if it is not displayed correctly. Yes, you can certainly hang that beautiful skull flat off the wall on a nail, but I, for one, have never been a fan of this downward or “fighting” type display. To be honest, this is the very reason I was disenchanted with European mounts for many years, they just don’t look right. This presentation is NOT a natural, upright look. You can take a 14" antelope and it will look 10" mounted flat off the wall. The two antelope mounts that are pictured are the same size. Which one looks bigger? Simply put, a downward displayed trophy hanging flat off a nail just doesn’t show the true size or the natural look of the animal.
A second and more traditional display option is the wood plaque. They are bulky in appearance, but the good news is that some newer wood plaques are now angled to provide a better upright look. For those who don’t want the fixed look of the bulky wood plaque there is now a powder coated steel Skull Hooker bracket. This option provides a more streamline approach or presentation to your trophy. Unlike the wood plaque it requires no drilling or damage to your skull and also allows for complete customization, up and down and left and right, so that you can display your trophy at any angle for that natural, upright look. The no drilling feature appeals to head collectors, but that feature is popular with the average hunter as well because with the Skull Hooker bracket they can take their heads on and off to show their buddies or even swap out heads when the wife isn’t looking.
Another popular trend driving demand for European mounts is that many hunters are electing to Euro out their trophy for immediate display in their homes rather than waiting the many months that it takes their taxidermist to get their shoulder mount done. I agree. Why let that rack sit with your taxidermist? European mount it, hang it, and enjoy it until your taxidermist is ready for it!
For species like bears, cougars, and hogs the skull is available to you regardless of whether you mount the animal or not. These are keepsakes, and it astounds me that a person would not keep each and every skull. Whether you have a bear, a cougar, or a hog, their skulls and teeth are impressive. Another cool feature of the Skull Hooker hanging option is that you can customize the jaw opening by securing a small amount of bondo at the pivot joints to show off those chompers.
The cleaning, the finishing, and the display options associated with the European mount are better than ever. When you get that big buck or bull down this year you might just keep that saw in your pack and consider your options before cutting the skull.