Prepare Your Hog Skull – A Guide
Many folks who take a trophy hog either get it mounted by a taxidermist or prepare the skull. Getting a mount from a taxidermist can run you between $400-$600 and is usually reserved for giants or memorable kills. The basic skull prep provides a cost-effective alternative to preserving your kill.
I have been preparing my own skulls for over 2 years now and through a lot of research and working with fellow hunters, I think I have finally perfected the process. It takes a while but it’s well worth the time and the effort.
There are several steps; each of which I will expand upon:
- Fleshing the Head
- Cold-Water Maceration
- Boiling (simmering)
- Bleaching (Whitening)
This is simply removing the skin and as much meat from the head as possible – this helps the whole preocess go much more quickly. I have prepared a video on this process here. So, give it a watch. It’s easy as long as you have a sharp knife and take your time.
2. Cold-Water Maceration
Once you’ve fleshed the head and it looks something like this; you’re ready to begin the next step. Get a container/tub that is big enough to put the whole head in and allows it to be completely submerged. Cold-Water Maceration is a process in which water is used to separate tissue from the bone. I like this method better than a full boil as it reduces stress to the bone and is really easy – plus you don’t have to babysit it. Also, if you can’t start the process soon after you flesh the head – freeze it up until you can do this step – flesh comes off of a moist skull much easier and faster than a dried skull.
You simply take the head – which has been fleshed – and put it in a tub. Fill the tub with water, being sure to cover the skull completely. Then cover the tub – this keeps the water warmer, reduces evaporation and helps bacteria grow. Put the tub in a place where it gets direct sunlight. This is the longest step in the process and depending on the weather, it can take anywhere from two weeks to several months depending on conditions. Warmer weather makes this step go much faster while cooler temps will retard the decay process and take longer. The key here is to be patient. You’ll want to check your head every week to make sure there is enough water in it (you will need to add from time-to-time as it will evaporate). Also, make sure you put the tub in a safe place to avoid animals getting into it. Lastly, and equally as important; put it somewhere where the smell won’t bother you or your neighbors. This is a smelly process and as it progresses, it gets worse. You end up with a soup of decay that can be smelled from a distance.
Once you’ve macerated for the right amount of time, you proceed to a simple and short boil. Wait as long as you can before moving to the boil step since the more flesh you have on it, the longer you have to boil.
This is a pretty simple step but requires a lot of attention. You don’t actually boil the skull – rather you ‘high simmer’ it. The water doesn’t boil but rather gets frothy and moves around a lot – hence “simmer”. You don’t want to simmer the skull too long as the bone will crack and the sensitive nasal area will come apart. I call this a short boil since technically, you don’t have any paying clients waiting for their head. You’ll need a big boiling pot – at least big enough to cover most of the skull. I use a slightly smaller one so I have to turn the skull a few times but I prefer this as I can use a stick to scrape off the flesh on the end that just came out of the boil. You’ll want to use a propane stove or the exterior burner on a grill to do this as you need to be outside. The smell ain’t all that great.
I simmer it until most of the flesh comes off and the skull is pretty much clean. This process also helps with degreasing as it pulls the fat from the bone. You’ll have a nasty film as the simmering progresses so I change the water every twenty minutes or so. Be careful not to burn yourself – the steam coming out through the skull is HOT! You will simmer between 2-3 hours with a few water changes in there as well as skull turning if you use a smaller pot like I do. Once you’re satisfied with the boil, you’re ready for a soak. Remember not to lose your teeth!
One final note here – if you want to skip the maceration phase you can go directly from fleshing to simmering but be aware that you will simmer for the better part of a day and have to babysit it the whole time. That’s why I like maceration. I usually have 4-6 skulls working at a time so maceration works best in terms of dealing with volume.
Once you remove the skull from the boil, you’ll want to let it air-cool for a good 10-15 mins. This prevents the bone from cracking when you put it in cold water. Grab the tub you used in the maceration process (cleaned of course) and put your freshly boiled skull in it. Fill it with water. I let it sit in this water for a good 3-5 days. It helps to get any small bits of flesh that remain and gets it ready for the last few steps.
Hogs are notorious for being greasy as their jaw bones and upper nasal areas hold a lot of fat. The method I use to degrease is simple. Go to Wal-Mart, in the camping section and get CLEAR/WHITE lantern fuel. They usually sell it in 5 gallon jugs. Don’t get the pink stuff – it will stain your skull! Get enough so that you can fully submerge your skull in it. Fill a tub up with the liquid fuel. Do a last review of the skull to make sure ALL flesh is gone. Once you are sure it’s spotless, put the skull in the fuel. DISCLAIMER – this is flammable liquid so treat as such. Read the warning label and follow all precautions. No smoking or open flame and be sure and store it in a location while it soaks that is NO WHERE near any ignition sources! TXHOGSLAYER.COM is NOT responsible for any damages or injuries that occur from the mishandling or mis-use of the lantern fuel. You’re on your own here. If you don’t want to use the fuel, use water with a ton of dish soap and soak for a few weeks. Rinse real well before going to the bleaching step.
Before moving to the bleaching step, rinse the skull in fresh water for a few days – fully submerged. Change the water every other day. Once rinsed, proceed.
This is a step that is fairly subjective in terms of how long it takes. If you want a really white skull – you’ll soak for more than a week. I usually let mine soak for about a week or 10 days as I like them very white. To get the more natural, bone-hue look, soak for no more than two days.
You will use a peroxide solution – 20% clear – you get this from places like Sally’s Beauty Supply. DO NOT USE BLEACH – it will damage the bone. Refer to the pic to the right for the peroxide. Don’t get creme – get CLEAR – they make two and you want the clear. Pour the peroxide in a tub and put your skull in – include the loose teeth too! Make sure it’s completely submerged. It will bubble and froth – that’s normal.
In about 2-5 days, depending on your white gradient preference, you will have a great looking skull.
Give it a good rinse again once you are done with step 6. You then only have to glue in the teeth once it’s dry. From there you can spray a clear coat if you want or just leave it natural.
Here are a few pics of some of my finished skulls using this exact process.