Exploring DIY Taxidermy: A Beginner’s Guide to Preserving Wildlife Memories


Embarking on the journey of DIY taxidermy opens up a fascinating world of preserving the beauty of wildlife and creating unique pieces of decor. Whether you are an avid hunter, nature enthusiast, or someone seeking a hands-on project, taxidermy allows you to showcase the essence of animals in your home.

This article is a beginner’s guide to thinking about a DIY taxidermy project. It is not considered an all-inclusive step-by-step project and is good reading to get one motivated to move forward in a DIY project or choose to have a professional do the work.

This is a quick conversation into a Full DIY Head and Shoulder Mount, a European Mount, and a Skull for home decor.

Antelope Head and Shoulder Mount

Full Shoulder Mount on Elk or Deer

For those aiming to capture the majesty of a hunt, a full shoulder mount on an elk or deer is a rewarding project.

The process of doing your own head and shoulder mount should not be taken lightly. It is long and tedious to get a final product that can be proudly displayed on the wall. If you cannot commit many hours and months for the finished product you may choose to leave this one to the professional Taxidermist.

Begin by carefully skinning the animal and making as few cuts in the hide as possible. The Head and Shoulder Mount will need the neck and chest areas of the hide in one piece.

If you are skinning the animal in the field and need to cut the neck area, cut up the back of the neck from the center of the back of the hide. DO NOT cut up the front of the neck area as you will need to be precise with your sewing technique to bring the hide back together and make to exposed area of the animal on the wall look correct.

If you can leave the animal hide on and take it to a processor, they may, for an additional fee skin the animal to preserve the hide for the taxidermist.

Materials Needed for DIY Head and Shoulder Mount:

  1. Deer head and hide
  2. Form or mannequin for shoulder mount
  3. Antlers
  4. Sharp knife and skinning tools
  5. Borax or salt for preserving the hide
  6. Fleshing tools (fleshing knife, wire wheel, etc.)
  7. T-pins or staples
  8. Epoxy or adhesive for attaching antlers
  9. Paints and brushes for finishing touches
  10. Mounting board or plaque (optional)

Elk Bull Head Being Boiled for a European Mount.

Steps:

  1. Field Dressing: Begin by field dressing the deer immediately after the hunt. Remove the hide carefully, making sure to preserve it for later use. Take care not to damage the hide, especially around the head and neck area.
  2. Skinning the Head: Once the deer is field-dressed, focus on skinning the head. Cut along the back of the neck and around the antlers, separating the skin from the skull. Be cautious to avoid damaging the hide or the delicate features of the face.
  3. Preserving the Hide: Liberally apply borax or salt to the flesh side of the hide to preserve it. Ensure that all areas are adequately covered. Fold the hide carefully and store it in a cool, dry place for a few weeks to allow the preservation process to complete.
  4. Preparing the Skull: Clean the skull by removing any remaining flesh, membranes, and brain matter. Use a sharp knife, scraping tools, or a wire wheel to ensure it’s thoroughly cleaned. You can boil the skull or use dermestid beetles for more efficient cleaning.
  5. Attaching the Antlers: Once the skull is clean, position and attach the antlers securely. Use epoxy or another suitable adhesive, following the manufacturer’s instructions. Ensure the antlers are aligned correctly, and hold them in place until the adhesive sets.
  6. Mounting the Hide: Prepare the form or mannequin for the shoulder mount according to the deer’s size. Carefully position the preserved hide over the form, ensuring it fits snugly and looks natural. Use T-pins or staples to secure the hide in place, adjusting it as needed for a lifelike appearance.
  7. Finishing Touches: Fine-tune the position of the head and hide, making any adjustments necessary for symmetry and realism. Once satisfied, allow the mount to dry completely. Use paints to touch up any areas that may have lost color during the preservation process.
  8. Mounting on a Plaque (Optional): If desired, mount the finished deer head and shoulder on a plaque for display. This step adds an extra aesthetic touch to the overall presentation.

Remember to follow all local regulations and ethical guidelines when engaging in DIY taxidermy, and always prioritize the humane treatment of animals. Doing a head and shoulder mount is intense and involves hours and patience while completing the job. Don’t start if you think the process will get intense and you may lose focus. Go directly to a professional and have them do the job if you at all think the process will be more than you can handle.

The cost of a head and shoulder mount from an experienced taxidermist could be anywhere from $500 – $750. That is not cheap, but if your trophy is nice it may be worth the money. But, if you have a nice trophy but want something less expensive that can also look good and be mounted to your wall then the European Skull and Antler Mount may be a good choice and is a job you can do at home.

DIY European Mounts on Deer or Elk

A 5-Step Process: European mounts offer a minimalist and modern alternative to traditional full mounts. Follow these five steps for a successful European mount on a deer:

  1. Carefully remove the hide, ensuring to preserve the skull, remove the lower jaw bone and any flesh possible from the head (do not remove the antlers from the skull)
  2. Boil the skull in a mixture of water and peroxide, removing any remaining tissue. The use of a power washer will quicken the removal process.
  3. Bleach or apply a peroxide mix paste to the skull to achieve a clean, white finish.
  4. Attach the head and antlers securely to a mount for display. You can use a board or there are several different offerings for mounts on Amazon that can display your trophies.
  5. Optional: Seal the finished European mount for added durability and longevity.

Cleaning Skulls for Decor (Bear, Racoon, Bull)

For those seeking a rustic touch to their home decor, cleaning skulls can be an engaging DIY project.

Start by removing any excess flesh from the skull using a knife or scraper.

Next, boil and soak the skull to remove any fine flesh particles. I’ve found that using a high-pressure hose works great during this process. I boil for 20 minutes then spray off whatever comes clean, boil again, and spray again. If you don’t boil too much then the cartridge won’t weaken and the pressure washer works great to get all those spots hard to reach. If you don’t have a power washer then you will need to use a wire brush, knife, or scraper to work off any flesh.

Allow the skull to dry thoroughly. Then you can whiten by using either bleach or peroxide mixture.

Apply the mixture multiple times to get the desired whiteness that you desire. If the skull is small enough you can submerge the skull. If the skull is bigger you may need to brush on the mixture several times for the desired result.

Once the desired whiteness is obtained, you can choose to apply a protective sealant or leave it in its natural state for a more weathered appearance.

Cleaned skulls make for striking pieces when displayed on shelves, mantels, or as unique wall decor.

Final Thoughts on DIY Taxidermy

Engaging in DIY taxidermy takes your hunting to the next level. You took the time to hunt and kill the animal and now getting back to our roots of the old trappers you can process your meat and proudly display a finished mount.

The mount whether a head and shoulder or European, provides me the opportunity to relive that excitement from the hunt that provides me the meat to feed my family. While some see the mount as more of a glorious “I killed that” memento I see it as an opportunity to share the excitement and story that the animal provided.

Whatever the reason you choose to show off your success, going through the process of preserving a mount can give you more satisfaction and pride than just having a taxidermist do the work.

Start your DIY taxidermy with something easy, a bear skull, a square head, a turkey fan, whatever the item start small and then move to a European Mounted Deer Head and when you get really good, move on to a head and shoulder mount.

Good Luck on the Mount!