Best way to clean up a dead head?

Iowaguy

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Mar 7, 2019
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15
Attached is a picture of a dead head I found in CO last year elk hunting. Some hide on the head is very tough and dried out. What is the best way to clean the head up?Resized_20200628_191229.jpeg
 

Spoonbill

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Jan 15, 2020
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I know people who will soak the head in creek water. Tie a stick to keep the antlers out of the water. Not sure how well it will work with dried out hide but worth a shot.
 

Ownthewest

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Apr 1, 2019
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180
Soak in water for a few days until the hide softens. Cut the hide off the best you can. Boil the head until at a slow simmer until you can scrape the rest of the meat/hide off. Its going to smell!
Soak in peroxide afterwards to whiten.
 

BadEarth

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Dec 4, 2017
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Eastern Montana
Agreed on the soaking! Let it soften up for as long as it takes, and then boil. Sometimes I’ll add a little oxy clean. Stuff eats away quick and leaves it white so be careful not to get on antlers
 

TSAMP

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Jul 16, 2019
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117
Dish soap in the water helps clean/degrease without risking the bleaching of antlers. It also helps the smell if you end up simmering it. If its a old one i like to remove it dry with a havalon and vice grips. Then a trip to carwash to power wash what i can.
 

Sccritterkiller

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Apr 8, 2019
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377
Soak it for a few days in water...then put in boiling water and oxy clean...scrape/clean. Bleach skull with peroxide once that is complete dry it well and brush on a coat of mop and glow on it and let dry. Good Luck!
 

Touchdown88

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Jul 24, 2014
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Ogden, UT
I would soak it for two weeks then change the water and soak for an additional 2 weeks. Pull the hide off the head after the first couple of days. You can continue this process until everything but bone is left.

Deer bones are fairly fragile and if you boil too long, you risk the sun damaged bones disintegrating.
 
OP
Iowaguy

Iowaguy

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Mar 7, 2019
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15
I would soak it for two weeks then change the water and soak for an additional 2 weeks. Pull the hide off the head after the first couple of days. You can continue this process until everything but bone is left.

Deer bones are fairly fragile and if you boil too long, you risk the sun damaged bones disintegrating.
Thanks! I was worried about the fragile parts of the skull. It's a decent rack and dont want to mess it up!
 

Panhandler80

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Mar 31, 2019
Messages
173
As some said, begin by soaking. I wouldn't recommend boiling, or even simmering. Especially on a skull that's already been weathered. It simply leads to further boat degradation.

I'd soak in plain water and let bacteria do it's thing for a few days. Should clean right up.

THEN... get some dawn and put it in fresh water. Drop a $20 aquarium heater in there. Change water every 2-3 days until it pours clear. This very low heat (under 100 degrees) and degreaser will remove the fat from the bone. It is this fat that eventually leads to spotting and potentially yellowing.

Last step is to whiten. There are lots of products out there. Just don't use bleach. What I like doing is getting a gallon of pool shocker. It's like 80% H202, or something crazy. Be very careful, as a drop to the eye might mean permanent damage. Even a drop to the skin results in almost immediate peeling. Find a vessel that roughly fits the shape of the skull. Fill remaining voids with filled plastic water bottles, or marbles. Then fill mostly to the burrs. Don't let it hit the antler bases, as it will whiten them. Prior to putting skull in vessel, I wrap each pedicle with stirps of white t-shirt material. I also leave a section that covers the dome of the skull. All pieces then have long skirts that will hang down into the H202. These will wick the solvent up and around the entire skull without ever getting to the burs or antlers.

One gallon will probably do 15 whitetail.
 

nephewjephew

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Sep 7, 2017
Messages
140
Location
WI
For less to zero work, I just burry it. I just find an out of the way spot in our fenced in garden and leave it alone for a couple months and let the bugs do the work. It turns the skull an earthy brown color, (you can tape the antlers, helps with discoloration) hose it down when you pull it out. Leave it out in the sun and it will turn white again. Time vs expended energy. Its great if you have the time to do nothing
 
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Iowaguy

Iowaguy

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Joined
Mar 7, 2019
Messages
15
As some said, begin by soaking. I wouldn't recommend boiling, or even simmering. Especially on a skull that's already been weathered. It simply leads to further boat degradation.

I'd soak in plain water and let bacteria do it's thing for a few days. Should clean right up.

THEN... get some dawn and put it in fresh water. Drop a $20 aquarium heater in there. Change water every 2-3 days until it pours clear. This very low heat (under 100 degrees) and degreaser will remove the fat from the bone. It is this fat that eventually leads to spotting and potentially yellowing.

Last step is to whiten. There are lots of products out there. Just don't use bleach. What I like doing is getting a gallon of pool shocker. It's like 80% H202, or something crazy. Be very careful, as a drop to the eye might mean permanent damage. Even a drop to the skin results in almost immediate peeling. Find a vessel that roughly fits the shape of the skull. Fill remaining voids with filled plastic water bottles, or marbles. Then fill mostly to the burrs. Don't let it hit the antler bases, as it will whiten them. Prior to putting skull in vessel, I wrap each pedicle with stirps of white t-shirt material. I also leave a section that covers the dome of the skull. All pieces then have long skirts that will hang down into the H202. These will wick the solvent up and around the entire skull without ever getting to the burs or antlers.

One gallon will probably do 15 whitetail.
Great advice! Thanks!
 

Panhandler80

Senior Member
Joined
Mar 31, 2019
Messages
173
For less to zero work, I just burry it. I just find an out of the way spot in our fenced in garden and leave it alone for a couple months and let the bugs do the work. It turns the skull an earthy brown color, (you can tape the antlers, helps with discoloration) hose it down when you pull it out. Leave it out in the sun and it will turn white again. Time vs expended energy. Its great if you have the time to do nothing
All depends on what kind of final product you're after.
 

AK_Alpine

Junior Member
Joined
Sep 15, 2015
Messages
10
As some said, begin by soaking. I wouldn't recommend boiling, or even simmering. Especially on a skull that's already been weathered. It simply leads to further boat degradation.

I'd soak in plain water and let bacteria do it's thing for a few days. Should clean right up.

THEN... get some dawn and put it in fresh water. Drop a $20 aquarium heater in there. Change water every 2-3 days until it pours clear. This very low heat (under 100 degrees) and degreaser will remove the fat from the bone. It is this fat that eventually leads to spotting and potentially yellowing.

Last step is to whiten. There are lots of products out there. Just don't use bleach. What I like doing is getting a gallon of pool shocker. It's like 80% H202, or something crazy. Be very careful, as a drop to the eye might mean permanent damage. Even a drop to the skin results in almost immediate peeling. Find a vessel that roughly fits the shape of the skull. Fill remaining voids with filled plastic water bottles, or marbles. Then fill mostly to the burrs. Don't let it hit the antler bases, as it will whiten them. Prior to putting skull in vessel, I wrap each pedicle with stirps of white t-shirt material. I also leave a section that covers the dome of the skull. All pieces then have long skirts that will hang down into the H202. These will wick the solvent up and around the entire skull without ever getting to the burs or antlers.

One gallon will probably do 15 whitetail.
The aquarium heater for de-greasing was a real game changer for me. This is all great and proven advise for skull cleanup.
 

Panhandler80

Senior Member
Joined
Mar 31, 2019
Messages
173
The aquarium heater for de-greasing was a real game changer for me. This is all great and proven advise for skull cleanup.
In a perfect world I'd have a beetle colony in a controlled / clean environment., and then would degrease. I've simmered a few and just never been happy with the end result. Even at low temps, the bone develops a somewhat porous and textured surface. A) That surface accepts dust / dirt more easily that it would naturally. B) The simmered skulls I have, all have a grease spot here and there. My go to-method past few years is entire head (hide, eyes, tongue, brain) into a rot bucket. It stinks, but it leaves the bone so pretty. Then degrease.

I recommend hide, hair, tongue etc for two reason. One, it's a whole lot easier to not mess with removing them all. Two (and of equal importance), I have noticed that heads WITH hair actually clean themselves up quicker. I suspect that all of the surface area that each hair brings to game provides tons more bacteria to kick off the rotting process. A clean head into a clean bucket of water actually seems to take longer. For what that's worth.

For folks who aren't degreasing, I'd highly recommend this step. Even if you'd simmered the head. It goes such a long way in terms of a uniform color to the skull. By the degreasing step, you should be past the stinky part. So for those in cold environments, you can put bucket in a garage with aquarium heater. Insulating bucket might be necessary for some.

Oh, one thing I learned the hard way. I was rotting on head and I decided to put a trash bag over the system. This was a whitetail. Well, I take the bag off one day, and my antlers are pretty severely discolored. The bases and burs almost a translucent material, tips the same thing, and then even portions of beams and points had lost some color. I suspect that the bag essentially created a sauna. 100% humidity and a lot of heat trapped in there... ie: greenhouse. I wont' do that again. Definitely keep the antlers in open air during maceration and degreasing. Some potassium permanganate had the color in decent shape afterwards, but I still lost some accumulated debris from rubbing, plus other material on antler that keeps that more natural look with three dimensional colors.
 
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