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4 DIY Steps to Cleaning Deer Skulls Down to the Bone

Here's how to effectively wash skulls when hunting in CWD zones.

4 DIY to Cleaning Deer Skulls Down to the Bone

Clean deer skulls on your own for transport in CWD zones. (Shutterstock image)

The curse of chronic wasting disease (CWD) affects all of us in more ways than the possibility of drastically decreased deer densities. It also affects how we proceed with our tagged animals after a hunt. Now that intensified regulations require us to transport our meat and trophies safely to avoid increased spread of the disease, we all need to be CWD-aware. In brief, your meat needs to be packaged for transport and your skull, or skull plate, needs to be as clean as a commercial kitchen.

THE CWD DILEMMA

This devastating disease could be in a deer for 16 months to 4 years before symptoms become visible, and it is 100-percent lethal after infection. That’s bad enough, but the prions that affect deer species can remain active in soil for years, resulting in the possibility of continuous infection.

This is why wildlife agencies do not want deer remains traveling between states or provinces, potentially creating more infection sites. There is one bright spot, however. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there still are no connections between CWD and human infections despite CWD being documented in 29 states, two provinces and a few locations globally.

deer skull being washed
After simmering, secure the skull to something solid and use a pressure washer to remove remaining tissue. (Photo by Mark Kayser)

To be legal with meat, the easiest approach is to drop off your deer or deer meat at a certified meat processing facility. Once processed, the meat should be legal to transport, but read all rules and regulations carefully. The skull can be a bit trickier to make travel-ready, but the following method, combining a simmering bath and pressure washing, has worked well for me.

STEP 1: PREP WORK

For starters, you’ll need some latex or protective exam gloves and a different knife than you use for meat chores. Protective eyewear, a face mask and old rain gear are also suggested to keep any flying debris off your skin when pressure washing. Prior to the hot-water bath, remove as much meat as possible, take the eyes and detach the lower jaw. Many wildlife agencies list certified disposal sites for these leftovers.

STEP 2: SIMMERING BATH

Next, wrap the bases of the antlers to avoid diminishing the natural stain at those spots. Aluminum foil or cellophane wrap secured with heavy tape will do. You’ll also need a large canning pot and propane stove or hot plate to create a simmering bath of water. Skull cooking is best done outside or in a shed due to the associated stench. Add a dash of Dawn dish detergent to the bath as a degreasing agent. Simmering is suggested over actual boiling; too much heat can cause a skull to split.

STEP 3: PRESSURE WASHING

Pressure washers rated for 3,000 to 3,500 psi are best. Secure the skull to a board, fence or pallet. Outfit the washer wand with a rotating nozzle for the most efficient cleaning. Proceed to power-wash at a reasonable distance to test the pressure effect since deer skulls are fragile. Wanding most of the meat off will take approximately 30 minutes. Another hot bath with detergent for 15 minutes aids in degreasing the skull before a final pressure wash.

If you do not have a pressure washer handy, consider simmering at a level just under boiling. Depending on the skull’s condition, the chore may take several hours or all day. Occasionally remove the skull and scrape meat away. If the water gets too goopy, dump and refresh the bath until the skull is meat-free. A final bath should again include a degreasing agent.

STEP 4: Cleanup

After the hard work is done, disinfect your knives and any tools involved in the chore. Wash every instrument with soap and water to remove all organic material. Rinse with hot water and then use a 40-percent solution of household bleach to soak everything again for 5 minutes to decontaminate surfaces of all prions. Air-dry your equipment and you’ll be ready for the next hunt.




AN EASY ALTERNATIVE

  • Use a faux skull kit for a quicker, cleaner Euro mount process.
deer skull and antlers
Photo courtesy of Mountain Mike’s Reproductions.

If all this cutting, scraping and disgusting soup has you queasy, there is a quick and efficient way to transition your antlers to a European wall mount after you return home. For a traditional European mount, purchase a faux skull kit like those manufactured by Mountain Mike’s Reproductions (masterofskulls.com).

Simply cut off the antlers after the hunt according to instructions, and reattach the antlers to a skull or skull base reproduction with the hardware provided. The skull plates can also be used for taxidermy, but always consult with your taxidermist first if you plan on just bringing him or her antlers.

  • This article was featured in the September 2023 issue of Game & Fish Magazine. Subscribe now.

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