Preserving the memories: affordable options exist
Let’s face it. Hunting has become more than just bringing home the meat. Who among us doesn’t dream of bagging that buck of a lifetime every time the season opens? If we get him, how do we preserve the memory? A good taxidermy mount can be an expensive option, but for me there’s a more practical and far less expensive way to make the memory last.
I have a wall full of deer antlers I’ve accumulated over 50 years of hunting and each one serves to remind me of a particular hunt. I didn’t have to spend a lot of money to preserve these trophies and, in fact, I made each one for just pennies. More importantly, in my opinion, they look great. If I can do it anyone can. If you want to preserve the antlers of the buck you shot this past season, or if it’s a youngster’s first buck it’s worth the effort. Here’s how I do it.
After harvesting a buck, I saw off the antlers to be used in the mount. To make the mount more impressive I begin sawing at the back of the skull and angle down to the nose so that I have the longest amount of bone possible. Avoid cutting the skull with only an inch or two of bone on each side of the antlers because it won’t look as good as one sawed down to the nose.
Next, as soon as possible after removing the antlers, work the hide off the skull plate. Don’t wait a week or even a few days to do this because doing so when the hide is fresh will make it much easier to detach. Once the hide is removed, scrape or cut away as much flesh as possible, especially around the base of the antlers.
Once the skull is roughly cleaned, take a large pot and submerge the skull, but not the antlers, in water and simmer it on the stove. Don’t let the water boil. The idea is to cook the remaining meat off the bone. After an hour or so, remove the skull and scrape any meat still attached. Do this as many times as necessary until all the meat has been removed from the bone.
Following this procedure, let the skull dry overnight. To make the bone bright white, place the skull back in the pot with fresh water and a few ounces of Clorox laundry bleach. Let it soak for a few hours, but be careful the bleach solution isn’t too strong or the bone may begin to dissolve. Once the skull has been bleached to the shade you want remove it and let it dry.
The final step is to mount the antlers to a plaque that you can make or buy. I prefer to make my own plaque, so I stop at a local sawmill and ask for a few pieces of scrap hardwood such as oak or maple. I’ve never been turned down. I cut the hardwood to the desired shape, sand it to a smooth finish and give it a few coats of varnish. When the plaque is done, I secure the antlers to the plaque with some epoxy glue and a small finishing nail to hold it securely in place.
As a finishing touch you can glue the broadhead or cartridge case used to take the animal below the antlers and don’t forget to write on the back of the plaque the date and place the animal was taken. What better way to finish a successful season than completing a simple project like this and keeping the memory alive for years to come?