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Cleaning Skulls

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  • Cleaning Skulls

    I heard that if you bury a skull once you've taken the hide off the bugs will clean it up quite nicely for you.

    First of all... This seems logical to me, but has anyone tried it?

    The next step would be to polish up the skull for displaying, I heard Elmer's glue works. Does anyone have any experience with this?

    If so, I'd really like to know. I buried a skull of a black bear in May back home in Alaska but unfortunately have to work in Oklahoma this summer and am anxious to see how it works and what the next step would be.

    Thanks in advance!

  • #2
    Sea Lice

    If your near the ocean, sea lice will clean a 17-18" black bear skull in 3-4 days. Just drop them down with the shrimp pots and let her sit.

    DO NOT over do to get every little piece off. Too much soaking and the teeth might fall out. Placing it in a burlap bag will help.

    Patriot Life Member NRA
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    • #3
      clean & bleach skulls

      I use Sodium Carbonate, and/or a little bleach to clean my skulls.

      1) Use a good presure washer as your first step. If you don't have one, go to the local car wash.

      2) Gentle boil the skull in water w/ a little bleach added. Or if you want to get fancy use some Sodium Carbonate.

      3) Wash throughly by hand w/ hot soapy water and then rinse well.

      4) There are several products on the market that will turn the skull "white", or "very white", or so WHITE it looks brand new! "Basic White" is one I've used that seems to do a fine job. You'll need to look through some taxidermy supply catalogs, like; , or look online...all the info is easy to find. Try a google search for "taxidermy supplies".

      good hunting..>Byron


      • #4
        I put a black bear head wraped in chicken wire under a brush pile in the back yard skin and all, end of September. Took it out near the end on November, clean. The hide, what was left of it had dehyrdated and was on not on the head, bugs ate the rest. Only problem I had was some of the teeth fell out. Super glue works well. soaked the cleaned skull in straight bleach for a couple hours.......


        • #5
          Great thread.
          Not to hijack this thread but I have a question .
          This is my spring black bear this year .It has been boiled in water and bleach.
          What can be done to make it white and shinny ??
          First try at a skull .


          Practice does not make perfect !!!!!
          Perfect Practice makes perfect !!!!!!!!!!

          USS SARATOGA CV-60


          • #6
            Whitening Skulls

            See the above post to whiten the skull....Can also try H2O2 (Hydrogen Peroxide) Clear spray acrylic will make it nice an shiny. Use very light coats....letting it dry well in between coats. I used 6-7 on my caribou skull and it looks great.


            • #7
              European skull mounts

              I do not have any experience of using bugs to clean up animal skulls for European mounts. However, I have used the following procedures:

              1. Remove as much of tissue and brain matter as possible.
              2. Boil the skull in hot water w/ some dish detergents added
              -- if the skull has antlers or horns, take caution so those antlers or horns do not come in contact w/ boiling water.
              3. Touch up the skull further to remove any tissue that's still left on it
              4. Wrap the skull in cotton then soak it w/ hydrogen peroxide for 2-3 days or until you are satisfied w/ the whitening effects.
              -- I usually leave the cotton wrapped skull in a basin w/ ~1 in of hydrogen peroxide so the cotton works as a wick and equally saturate the skull. (obviously I do this out of reach from children and pets).
              -- Again I make sure hydrogen peroxide does not come in contact with antlers or horns if applicable.

              I hope this helps.




              • #8
                An additional Step

                That I haven't seen posted in this thread yet is to soak the skull in white gas. Especially for bears, this really pulls the oils out. I'd leave a bear skull in for 3-4 weeks. Bear skulls will yellow over time if you don't get the oils out.


                • #9

                  The U museum soaks skulls for several days in 10% ammonia. Cheap, easy. Seems to work pretty well. Keep soaking, dumping, adding new, until you don't see grease on top of the water. White gas is great. Whitening powder from your hair dresser.... come on. don't you guys all have a hair dresser? : ) ... whitens pretty well. A taxidermist told me that bleach whitens, but it also weakens the bones so he never uses it.


                  • #10
                    White Gas

                    I am unfamiliar with "White Gas" even though I am a chemical engineer... If you don't mind explaining what it is and where I might be able to pick it up.



                    • #11
                      Dermestid beetles and such

                      Be careful about boiling; if you overdo it, you could soften the skull itself. This is especially true of the thinner areas around the nose.

                      An excellent alternative is the use of Dermestid Beetles. They eat flesh and will have your skull cleaned out pretty quickly, including the brain area that is so hard to deal with. The brain has a thin layer of fascia between the skull and the organ itself that can be difficult to remove.

                      There are several folks around who can clean it up with beetles for you. If you're near Anchorage, you might give Jed Crabb a shout. He's been doing this a while.

                      I would be extremely leery of burying it in the ground; that's where things rot. There are tannins there from leaves, and all sorts of other things that will discolor the skull permanently.

                      Several treatments for whitening the skull have already been listed, so I'll not comment there, except to say that some animals that have a higer level of body fat (bears, for example) may discolor in the thicker parts of the skull. I have a grizzly skull from a bear I shot in the high Arctic about 15 years ago, and the back part of the skull near the Atlas vertebrae is all brownish. The rest of the skull is white.

                      Hope it helps!

                      Michael Strahan
                      Site Owner
                      Alaska Hunt Consultant
                      1 (406) 662-1791


                      • #12
                        Michael, great read on the dermestid beetles. thanks for posting that. near the bottom of the page they also cover degreasing bone.

                        a few years ago i wanted to start a colony of beetles. when i mentioned it to my taxidermist he was against it. he claimed escaped beetles will ruin my game heads. that article touches on it a bit, but it still leaves the question if they would or not. my game heads right now are primarily whitetail deer. the last one i took that was a "trophy" i ended up boiling and have never really been happy with it. this fall it will be mounted.


                        • #13
                          Oxy Clean works well

                          While gently boiling I add some Oxy Clean as it helps break down some of the oils in the bone. After the boiling is complete and the skull is clean I then soak 2-3 days in a Oxy clean solution. It really whitens them up. I then use about 3 coats of elmers glue and water to give it a nice protective clear coating.
                          For a do it your self job, mine have come out nice.



                          • #14
                            HunterTom...White gas = Coleman fuel. Soak a skull for 3-4 weeks as suggested and all the oils come right out...go from the gas to a 30 volume peroxide overnight to a day and your skull is white as can be. Works every time.


                            • #15
                              Having done 6 deer, 4 coyote, 2 javelina, and an elk skull my favorite method is to put to head in a 1 gallon ice cream bucket(keeps all the teeth in a specific area), fill with dirt, come back 3 months later, pressure washer. Then I do a series of boils with the skull only in the water 20-30 mins tops. I also put dawn dish soap in the water as it helps to pull out grease. Then with a hard bristled plastic brush I scrub the outside clean. I like to use a flathead screw driver and some needle nose pliers for the nose/brain cavity. The membrane around the brain after those 3 months has shrunk down off the skull and compressed the brain to a much more easily managed size as well. After I get everything off the skull, I soak it in gasoline overnight(does the same thing as white gas, but a bit cheaper.) After that, if it is horned/antlered I absolutely use vandykes basic white/peroxide paste all over the skull, after covering the bottoms of the antlers with painters tape. Set it up next to a heat lamp or really bright spotlight(10 million candlepower+) for 1-2 days. Rinse it off, let it dry, elmers glue any teeth back in.
                              For javelinas, coyotes, and soon to be bears(going in 2 weeks!) I do the same cleaning method, but instead of the basic white, I put them in a black garbage bag and cover them in hydrogen peroxide and then do the heat lamp thing for 1-2 days.

                              As was mentioned NEVER use household bleach! I did my first euro mount on a deer 6 years ago with bleach. It not only goes yellow, but now that skull is in roughly 8 pieces and crumbly, like bones that you find that are 15+ years old out in the field!


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