How to Bleach a Deer Skull

How to Bleach a Deer Skull (complete step-by-step guide)

Maybe you just captured a prize deer or just happened to find an old deer skull in the woods while out for a hike. There are several popular methods for skull mounting, and this DIY project can be a cost-effective alternative to paying a taxidermist to do the dirty work for you. So, let’s find out how to bleach a deer skull. We’ll walk you through the steps and tools you’ll need to get good results.

Creating a skull mount is a relatively simple process. All you’lll need are a few simple tools and some patience. Let’s start by going through different methods for cleaning the skull and getting it ready for bleaching.

5 Methods of Cleaning a Deer Skull

There are several methods and techniques to choose from that will give you an almost perfectly clean, oil-free deer skull.

Methods of Cleaning a Deer Skull

There are five methods for cleaning a skull to prepare it for bleaching. They are:

  • Boiling
  • Maceration
  • Beetles (yes, really)
  • Burying the skull
  • River soaking

Let’s take a closer look at these options.

Boiling (Our Recommended Method)

This is by far one of the quickest methods. Boiling the head and pressure washing it after a few dunks is an excellent option if you’re pressed for time and only want to spend one day cleaning the skull.

Boiling Deer Skull

Maceration

If the skull is fragile or just needs a gentle clean, you can use the maceration cleaning method. Maceration is the process of placing just the head into a large bucket of warm water and giving the bacteria a chance to decompose and digest the flesh off the bone.

It’s one of the most straightforward practices in terms of just allowing it to sit. But be aware that the bucket will start to smell if the water isn’t changed every 34 to 48 hours.

Beetles

Another method is to use a specific breed of beetles (Dermestids) to do the dirty work. These beetles are bred to target skulls to clean them fast, as they eat the meat.

This isn’t for the faint of heart, though. These beetles are difficult to care for.

Burying the Skull

If you’re okay with waiting a few weeks or even months, you can try burying the skull. That is how long it will take for all the meat on the skull to decompose down to the bone. That is, of course, if no animals dig up the skull first.

Burying the Deer Skull

You could bury the deer skull in your backyard. If you have an ant mound, you could bury it there.

Burying your deer skull could also mean just right in your backyard or if you have an ant mound in the area. Many suggest leaving something on top of where you buried the skull, such as a bucket or wood so that wildlife cannot access it.

River Soaking

Similar to the maceration method, this method uses water. River soaking is a great way to clean your deer skull if you have moving water on your property.

All you need to do is tie the skull to a rope and throw it in the river; after securing it to shore, allow the running water and its bacteria to clean away all excess meat until the bone feels baby smooth.

Boil and Bleach Your Deer Skull (here’s how)

Here’s the how-to for cleaning a deer skull with the boiling method and then bleaching it.

Boil and Bleach Your Deer Skull

What You’ll Need

Make sure you have the following supplies:

  • 1 newly sharpened knife
  • 1 large pot that will fit the deer skull (for boiling)
  • An outdoor propane cooker or firepit set up
  • 1 pair of tongs
  • Needle-nose pliers
  • Rubber gloves
  • Eye protection such as large goggles or face shield
  • 1 apron to wear during skinning and washing
  • 1 garbage bin to throw away any excess meat
  • Detergent, which will be used at the degreaser
  • Bleach or bottle of 40 peroxide
  • Water for boiling purposes

How to Boil Your Deer Skull to Prepare it for Bleach

Prep work

If you haven’t done so already, use your knife to remove the animal’s head from the rest of its body.

Skull cleaning is easier if you do it as soon as you can after killing the deer, while everything is still soft and fresh.

It will be a bit more work if you leave the head outside for a while or freeze it.

Boiling

Bring water to a full boil and place the skull in the water for around 30 minutes to an hour. Continuously check on it.

Once that’s done, bring the water to a simmer (fewer bubbles than a boil). Try not to let the antlers get into the water, as it can discolor them and take away their natural shine.

At this point, you can do your best to take off any excess meat or hair around the base of the skull as it begins to soften up.

After picking off as much as you can, continue dunking the skull and letting it sit before pulling it back out to repeat the process at 15-minute increments.

Use your small needle nose pliers and knife to get any remaining bits of meat and tissue out of the hard-to-reach areas before moving to the next step.

Pressure Washing

This is one of the fastest techniques you can use to remove all leftover pieces of meat and gunk that are stuck in hard-to-reach places.

Pressure washing can also help remove the brain matter inside the cranial cavity after its initial boil. You’ve got to be careful to shoot the skull gently from the backside forward to avoid damaging the fragile nasal bones.

It’s good to mention that this step will also get pretty dirty, so be sure to wear your apron to keep your clothes as nice and clean as possible.

Once the skull is relatively free of matter, change the water while adding a little bit of detergent to start the whitening process.

Whitening

Bones are naturally oily, with yellowish fat sitting deep inside the bone’s surface.

Once you’ve thoroughly cleaned the skull, you should do a final soak in a pot of hot water and dishwashing soap. Some experts even like to use detergent to get the job done.

Let the skull sit in hot water for a few hours.

After that, it’s time to bleach the skull. Bleaching provides the pearly white appearance you’re looking for.

Most professional cleaners choose to use hydrogen peroxide rather than true bleach to whiten the skull. Hydrogen peroxide doesn’t leave chlorine residue behind.

Rinse the peroxide off once you finish dunking the skull in the water. After that, give the skull time to dry thoroughly.

You can repeat this step as many times as necessary to get the skull as white as you’d like.

Coating      

This is an option for those who wish to keep the skull looking white and clean for an even more extended period.

While this step is not needed to continue the process, some recommend giving the skull a coat of polyurethane to help keep its pristine condition.

Mounting

Now that you have completed your DIY skull mount, it’s time to display it.

Mounting Your Deer Skull

I always like to search Pinterest to view custom mounting options, including designs with barn wood, driftwood, and other eye-catching backdrop possibilities.

Mounting the hardware can be quick and easy to install because you can use natural crevasses and holes in the back of the skull to hold the deer head upright without causing any damage.

Once you find the sturdy piece that you want to use for your backdrop, line up your skull for how you want it to look and use a drill to secure it.

After that, you just need to find the perfect place to hang it on your wall!

Summary of the Whole Process

  1. Detach the skull from the body
  2. Clean the skull. We recommend the boiling method.
  3. Carefully pressure wash the skull from the back forward, so you don’t damage the nasal bones.
  4. Do a final soak with hot water and dishwashing soap. Rinse the skull.
  5. Whiten the skull using hydrogen peroxide. Rinse the skull.
  6. We also recommend adding a polyurethane coating.

Bleaching Paste vs 40 Peroxide for Deer Skulls

Be aware that directly putting bleach on your deer skull can cause irreparable bone damage.

Peroxide for Deer Skulls

Using 40 volume peroxide (mainly used for hair bleaching) and allowing it to sit for a few days will whiten the skull at room temperature as long as the grease has been completely removed.

Both are decent products when lightly diluted in water, but 40 volume peroxide is the best option.

If you don’t have access to either of these, you can use Arm and Hammer’s Super Cleaning powder. It should do quite a bit at whitening your deer skull.

Tips & Recommendations for the Best Results

  1. Never directly use bleach on a skull as it can cause damage.
  2. Hunting rules and regulations are different in every state. Both state and federal laws protect some species of deer, and displaying the skull of an animal you weren’t permitted to shoot could get you in trouble. It’s always best to do your research.
  3. We would always recommend cleaning and bleaching your deer skull outdoors. If it has to be done indoors, make sure it’s at least an open setting with excellent ventilation. You must wear PPE when bleaching a skull. This is because the chemicals, especially when whitening, can be pretty intense. Never underestimate what these harsh chemicals can do to your body, and always make sure to wear protective gear (including a respirator) when handling anything potentially harmful.
  4. If you happen to use hydrogen peroxide for the whitening process, the best way to dispose of it is by diluting the chemicals and pouring them either down the toilet or sink drain. If you have a septic system, you may not want to do this all at once. If you’d like to get a bit more use out of it, you can leave the peroxide in your toilet bowl for a little while before flushing (might as well get that white too while we’re at it!).

Creative Options Beyond Bleaching a Deer Skull

Hanging your deer skull can be an exciting experience, especially after all the work you put in. But are there alternatives to skull bleaching? Yes, there are. There are several alternative ways to jazz up a deer skull before placing it on the wall.

Bleaching a Deer Skull

Wood Burning

Do you have a steady hand? Try wood burning to put new life into your display.

This involves using an electrically heated tool to burn a design into the deer skull.

Most who decide to use this method usually tend to stick with the classic mandala style, which is geometric designs and patterns that interconnect and weave into one another.

All you need to succeed in this process is a wood-burning tool, some patience, and an artistic eye.

Painting

Painting is a trendy way to customize your deer skull.

Whether by hydro dipping or freehand using acrylics, painting the skull is a great way to let your imagination fly and become a great side business.

Macrame

Are you good at braiding and enjoy working with string? Try macrame to add interest to your deer skull.

If you want to add macrame for your deer skull, you’ll probably want to create a flat, fringed wall design using string and then loop it around the deer’s antlers.

Final Thoughts: How to Bleach a Deer Skull

Now you know exactly what you have to do to bleach a deer skull, step by step.

Once you’ve cleaned the skull, you’ll want to whiten it so that it looks attractive and ready to display.

You’ll do well if you follow the steps we’ve set out here. Just make sure you have all you need at hand. This is quite a labor-intensive process!

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