Updated: Jun 14
Try listening to the podcast episode while reading along to the transcript. The photos will help paint the picture of what I was trying to communicate in the episode. As usual, the transcript is weird to read. I need to learn to talk better.
There are a lot of folks out there who clean skulls and do a really great job and have different methodologies. This is simply how Kevin and I clean ours. This is less of a how-to and more of a how-we explanation.
John: Hey everybody, this morning it is Saturday morning and I've decided to tackle caping out my mule deer head and prepping it for a Euro mount. So I'm just going to go through how I do that and hopefully, it's entertaining enough. That you'll listen to it. . What I'm doing right now though, is, so I've just got the mule deer up on the counter, the head, um, it's facing upright, so the antlers are up in the air.
And then I just start. The easiest way that I've found to skin ahead when you don't care about preserving the cape, obviously for mounting, is to just take and slice right up the nose, the top of the nose, all the way to. Top of the head, and then I make a T out to either antler base. So that's what I've done so far.
So I've got a big slit up the nose. Then it's really easy to just peel it down off the nose on either side, you know, just slowly start feeling your way around, uh, around the head. So it's actually pretty easy. The hardest part I found is to get around the base of the antlers and make it clean. So I've done it in the past with a knife, but you really wanna be careful with that because if you're using a high carbon steel knife, for instance, then you're doing a lot of prying and that's not very good.
That's not gonna make your knife happy. So usually what I do is, um, one of two things. I'll just sacrifice an old cheap knife, um, as a pry bar sort of thing. But what I'm doing today is I've got, uh, an old chisel and it's a little chipped and frayed, but I've sharpened it up to the best I can.
So what you can do there is just get the chisel down and it's about. Hmm, maybe three-eighths of an inch across. So it's a smaller chisel. And so what I do is I just sort of pry down and try and, and work around the antler base, just prying the skin away from the antler base and it seems to work all right.
So I'm happy with that. Yeah. So just going to continue down the face here. Uh, you, the goal here isn't really to, uh, get it clean, although it doesn't hurt to have that goal. What you're doing is just trying to get the skin off, and then we'll go to the next step. After that, you can actually feel the cartilage where the cartilage of the nostrils meets the skull itself.
Um, you an just cut that, cut down into that, and that'll get the nose, the soft tissue of the nose. The one thing I'd caution people about when you're doing this though, is sort of be careful with your knife. When you are working the bone of the skull, uh, it is possible to make cut marks into the bone, you know, or even chip, like if you're working around the nostril especially.
So one thing I'm noticing with the chisel, right? Is that, uh, it seems to work okay, especially if it's sharp. But if I just take the knife edge and cut straight into the base, so right underneath the birds of the antler and cut straight in towards the base, the skull where the antler meets the bone or the skull, then it seems to make it easier to get.
Chisel in and, uh, and pry away. So that seems to be working fine. And again, I'm trying to be careful with this chisel even. I don't wanna leave big scrape, or pry marks over the bone. There is a membrane that covers the bone. You know what's working best? I, I found just experimenting with this is I thought the chisel.
Would work better. But actually what's working the best is when I take the knife like I just described, and I go in underneath the burs of the antler with a straight cut, and then I come in at it from an angle like underneath as I'm skinning it away, you sort of meet that cut. So when you cut straight.
To the base of the antler underneath the bur, and then you come up underneath as you're skinning it, the two cuts sort of meet each other, and that seems to be working best. So scrap that idea with the chisel. Um, this idea works better and there's less prying, as in no prying. All right, so I've got basically the top half of the skull exposed. I still have, well that's not quite true. I've got half of the skull, um, exposed. I still have to get the other, uh, ear off. I'm not explaining this very well, am I? So I started with that slit up the nose, like I said, and then I just peel the skin away from the top of the skull.
I've worked my way around both antlers. I've cut the ear off, um, and I've gotten down to the bottom jaw on the front of the skull. So now I'm gonna take off that other ear at the back and just work my way around. The other thing I've noticed as I'm doing this is the Cape of the Mule deer has some really short hairs, uh, on the bridge of the nose, the front of the face, and those are going to make excellent fly-tying materials.
I can already see that they're gonna make great tails forward. Nph. Flies. Um, some of the longer pieces are going to make great, uh, elk care, or in this case, mule deer, hair cas flies as well. So, yeah. So I am going to preserve some of this hide. What I'll do is I'll cut off the chunks that I like the best in patches.
Let's say four inches by four inches. And then I will apply a really heavy dose of salt to the, to the skin side. Let that dry out. And then it shouldn't stink too bad in my, in my fly tying room. , one of the things that I've noticed, um, whenever I'm keeping out box, is they spend so much of their life rubbing their heads on things. Each other. Trees, the ground. So, you know, I put a, a brown paper bag on top of the counter and I can see that it's just filled with grit and dirt, dust, um, bark chips, things like that. So it's really hard on my knife. I find that I have to touch it up quite often. Um, so yeah, it's a lot different than skinning out the body of a deer.
Okay, so, I've got the hide off the skull completely and now I'm just doing the best job I can at fleshing out, well, all of the flesh. I'm just trying to get all of the flesh fat. Membranes off of the bone as best I can. Again, I'm being careful with my knife against the bone, especially around the eye sockets.
The other thing too is like, I think the hardest part about doing this whole skull are the eyes. They are very fibrous and they run extremely deep way back into the brain cavity, so the optic nerve. Big and strong. All of the tendons and, and nerves and muscles that are attached to the eye run really deep into the socket and deep into the skull.
So they're kind of hard to, to get out. You just have to get your knife down in deep and dig around and carve out, uh, as best you can, but, I did find a little trick that seems to work. Is that chisel? I'm glad I have it. I thought I would use it around the antler bases. Um, but instead I used it around the eye socket.
So I get the chisel after I got the eye out. There's still a lot of fat. Um, this is only the second dear skull that I've done actually, and this is the first one I've done on my own. Uh, Kevin helped me with the first one, and that's where I learned how to do this. Anyways, what he told me was, you know, you have to get rid of as much of the fat as you can.
The fat is what will stain the skull ultimately. So, um, what you want when it's dry. So we're just trying to get rid of as much of the fat as we can. Of course, the brain is a huge, uh, is a huge chunk of fat and protein. The other, the, the major source of. Fat. Fat are what you would recognize as fat is behind the eye.
Surprisingly, there are huge globs of fat behind there, so you have to dig all that out. And again, the chisel nice and sharp down into the eye socket and then prying up against. The edge of the eye socket, again, I'm being careful not to pry too hard, um, really works all that membrane off the bone, makes things much looser, so then I'm able to pull it out.
Works quite well.
All right. The hard part is done. I've got the skull cleaned up as best I can. It takes a while. It took me about an hour to skin the cape off the skull and then clean it up. Like I said, the, the harder parts are the eyes. I would say that is the hardest part followed by the, the antler basis. But still, having said that, it's not that hard.
Um, you just take your time, you go at it slowly and get it cleaned up as best you can. You don't have to be perfect with it. But I think I remember Kevin saying, you know, the more work you do, At the front, the better the results. So we'll see how good of a job I did. The whitetail buck that I killed last year, that's the one that I did.
That was the first euro mount that I did with Kevin in his kitchen. It turned out really nice, like super happy. We didn't use any bleach or peroxide or anything like that, and it comes out perfect. It's more of a natural color. It's still bright white. Well, is it a bright white? It's certainly not as bright a white as you'll get if you bleach.
But anyways, I, we just don't see a need for that. Kevin's done multiple heads. They all look great hanging on his wall. I love the way my whitetail turned out, so that's what I'm doing here. I. The next step after you get the skull all skinned out is to find a pot that's big enough to hold it. In this case, I have an old canning, uh, kettle or a canning pot that I'm using, and it fits perfectly, and then the antlers rest on the edges and the skull is submerged.
When you are doing this method without the bleach or peroxide in the water, you don't have to worry about whether the antler bases are submerged or. Um, it will not discolor them, at least not to our experience. Um, but of course, if you're using bleach or peroxide, which is a really common method, then you have to be really cautious about taping up the antlers and making sure their water sealed so that that bleach doesn't get up into the antlers.
And, you know, frankly, I just don't see that being worth it. Just, again, my personal preference is, Care about having it bleached bright white. Um, I like that natural ivory color, and then I don't have to touch the antlers. The head is in the big pot and I've got water that has completely submerged the skull.
It has gone up the base of the antlers, so now I can pour myself a folding mountain beer and it is a lager, which is my favorite, and I can sit back. And relax and spend the next several hours just picking away at it. So what, we'll, what it'll do is, um, I'll leave it to simmer a very low simmer. You don't want it boiling and bubbling.
You just want the odd little bubble coming up. And then just test it. Um, there'll be little chunks of meat that are visible from the top. So just pull a skull out and see how that membrane comes off. If any membrane comes off easily, or if any part of the meat that you've left behind comes off easily, well then take it out and put it on the counter and just start picking.
Pick away at as much of the meat and membrane and tissue as you possibly can. Do that until you can, you've gotten all you can inside. The brain cavity is important as well. Get all that out as it melts and cooks. And then put it back in the pot and repeat. And you might have to do that 4, 5, 6 times until you get it perfectly clean.
And it's just a good way to spend the afternoon, and especially in a winter's afternoon, just, uh, put some music on, have a drink, sit and relax. Whatever else you're doing, and, uh, it's a fun, it's a fun way to spend the day. This episode of the Food Appealed podcast is brought to you by our friends over at Folding Mountain Brewing, folding Mountain Brewing Tap Room, and Kitchen is located 10 minutes west of Hinton, Alberta at the edge of Jasper National Park, overlooking the beautiful Rocky Mountains.
So the next time you're headed to Jasper National Park, stop in and visit Folding Mountain Brewing and make sure to order their lager. That's my favorite beer. And it recently won a gold medal at the 2022 Alberta Beer.
All right, well this is hour number four, I wanna say.
And, um, it's turning it. Okay. This one was tough. Um, there's a few things that I haven't mentioned yet. One is like clearing the ear canal out. You have to get a screwdriver in there and, and sort of pride around and break that canal loose. A bone or a series of bones inside that will sort of spin loose and come out, and then you can get a lot of other junk out of there.
Um, but the other thing is the nostrils. Um, inside the nostril is all of, uh, like these big ribbons of cartilage and. Wrapping around that cartilage is really fine, thin bone, and so the goal is always to try to get that cartilage out without breaking that bone apart. And it's really hard, actually, the best tool I found for that, or needle nose, PLIs, because you can reach in there a little farther and grab them and if you just pull slowly, The whole thing will just slide right out.
So it's kind of neat. But, uh, these ones were a little more difficult. They sort of came out in pieces. I don't know what I've done wrong there, but, uh, it's been a little difficult, but it looks okay when it comes out of the water. It'll have a real brownie color to it, and you'll think, oh no, that's no good.
Um, but then once it dries, it dries white hour number four, like I said, and it is, Maybe the fifth time, fourth time. I think this is the fourth time that I've taken it out of the water and have scraped away at it. And I don't know, it seems like you're never gonna get there, , but eventually you do.
Eventually you, you bring it out and you go, oh, that's looking pretty good. There'll always be little tag ins clingons sticking on. Um, but just do your best. Um, I think there is such a thing as over boiling it, which you don't want to do. Um, but again, that's why you keep the water. You don't just that boil, right?
You don't want a rolling boil. You just want it hot and. And it sort of cooks the gelatinous stuff off, uh, or at least makes it easier to scrape off, um, without disrupting the integrity of the skull. If you just throw it in hot, in boiling water, like a rolling boil and you leave it in for four or five hours, uh, there's a good chance the skull's just gonna come apart in certain places.
So anyways, I don't think I've done that. It looks. I'm feeling like I've boiled it for too long, but I don't know, for whatever reason, this one was hard. It, uh, it took a while to come clean. Like I say, it's looking okay now, but man, it's been a lot of scraping.
Um, the one thing I did too on my white tail box last year was I brought it out of the boil. Um, and I did my very best to scrape it, and then I let everything just dry and then you can sort of, uh, Uh, you can pry the dry chunks off, um, and or a wire wheel on a drill, like a wire brush. Um, did a good job for me as well, so, So I figured out a way to get the ear, I don't know what I'm calling them, the ear canals.
The way I did it was I took a Phillips screwdriver and I just jammed it down into the hole. Not, you know, maybe I'm gonna say maybe an inch and a half, you know, pretty good and, you know, just pounded on a bit to get it down in there. And then I just worked it up, um, as if the skull is upside down and you pry that screwdriver up.
Um, away from the skull, there should be a. Chunk of bone and, and other stuff that comes out, um, that will separate away from the bottom of the skull. And that is the ear canal. And it is a, there is a bone attached to it, but that bone isn't necessary. And once you get that bone lifted out of there, little bit of effort, but not too bad.
It should just come out, especially after it's boiled for a while. Um, then it makes it easier to get the bottom of the skull. And then another thing that I used on the other side, I just tried something different where I took the chisel and knowing how. How that ear canal comes out of the skull, you can just, uh, pry down the side of it and sort of, and then pry , I'm not explaining this very well.
Um, you can pry it and lift the whole unit out, away from the skull, from the sides as well. So it worked. It works both ways. Once you get 'em out, you have another access to the, uh, cranial cavity, um, the brain cavity. Um, so that's another way to get things a little cleaner in there as well. All right, so just finished up, that was the last boil, I think I'm gonna call it a day on this one.
Yeah, I think I covered everything. I mean, like I mentioned before, you it, you're just gonna pick away at it and you're gonna think that you're not getting anywhere or that it's a, it's a, an overwhelming task that you'll never be able to finish. But, uh, you'll be surprised after maybe the third dip. So what I do is just.
Dip it in the, uh, in the slow boil, in the simmering water for, you know, at first you're gonna have to have it in there for an hour, maybe two hours even, I would say. But then after that you can just dip it in for half an hour and pull it out and then pick away at it. Um, put it back in. Bring it out, pick away at it, and you'll notice before too long, um, you just start to get a finished product and it looks like it's gonna be okay.
This skull turned out a little different from my whitetail skull. I'm not sure why. Both were treated about, about the same. Um, this is what, a week after I've shot this mule deer if a week and a half. Um, trying to remember on the white tail, but I think it was about the same on the white tail. Um, And for some reason the whitetail just came out, you know, really clean and white and um, and, and really quite nice.
Um, this one has come out more modeled and Gray definitely has more character to it, but I think that I'm going to like it. I'll let it dry out. Over the next day or two. And then it'll, like I said earlier, it'll lighten up. Um, and I wouldn't be surprised if it just went white and I, and it's okay, but if not, I'm kind of thinking I'm going to enjoy it.
If you don't like that discoloration or, or the, the, um, what's the opposite of uniform? Uh, you know what I like? If you, if, or, you know what I mean? If you want that uniform, Color or that uniform look to the skull, then yeah, I can see why you would want to apply some sort of peroxide paste or even, you know, a spray paint, uh, or even a spray paint to the skull to get it white and, and get it uniform.
Like I said, on the whitetail, didn't really need that, but on the mule deer, We'll see the jury's out on that, you know, that might be a candidate for doing something like that. I'm not gonna do it because I just like it when it looks natural. But, uh, that'll be up to you. So anyways, that was a good little afternoon project.
Um, I'm happy that I was able to do that. Now that it's clean like I said, I'll let it dry. And actually, I'm gonna give it back to Kevin because Kevin wants to score it and just. What it comes out at. It's a, it's a weird buck. Um, it is a lot bigger than it looks. But yet I don't think it's all that big. And again, not that it really matters.
The trophy is in all of the meat that is in the freezer right now. Um, but still these antlers and these racks are. Pretty cool things to play around with and, and to enjoy for years to come. So it's always fun to just know, uh, as much as I can about the anatomy of these deer and, and what does this buck score as far as inches, just outta curiosity so that you can kind of compare it to other bucks that you see, um, around, you know, at other times of the year or when you're out hunting.
So it's just fun. So anyways, thanks for joining. I hope you enjoyed this and I hope you learned something. I'll throw an article up on the blog with some photos and you can get a better idea of what I'm talking about. Thanks a lot.
Next week on the Food of Field Podcast,
You see right there, that shot was just dead where I was looking, so I don't know. I haven't shot the bow in, I don't know, a couple of months.
So, like I say, it's November 23rd and I'm just getting started with my bow hunting season, so that's kind of weird. In years past decades passed,
I've bow hunted, you know, from the beginning, you know, from September, usually, by November 23rd I'm done. So it's kind of fun to be starting right now. Oh, there's a, what is that? There's another one. It's a, there's a buck following him.