The clerk at the beauty supply store was impressed with Tim Preator’s purchase of hair bleaching products normally reserved for women. Then he set her straight.
“I went in yesterday to buy some, and the lady was pretty much going to give me the Husband of the Year award because she thought I was there to get it for my wife,” he said. “I explained to her what I did with it … and she just couldn’t believe it.”
Preator bought a bleaching powder and bleaching cream, which he mixes into a paste then paints on deer skulls for European mounts.
“There’s other methods,” he said. “There’s a peroxide method, but this is the best one for me.”
While he’s only been at it for a year, Preator’s startup hobby/business is beginning to gain momentum. His first mount, of his buck taken last year, hangs proudly in his living room, and it along with word of mouth has prompted others, who might not have the time, tools or inclination, to ask him to do theirs.
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“You can do it yourself in your garage,” Preator said. “Anybody can do it. It’s meticulous, but it’s not hard at all to do.”
The National Guard veteran who served in Iraq is involved in Arkansas Freedom Fund, an organization that gives wounded warriors outdoors opportunities. Those contacts are helping bring in business. He’s completed several mounts already this deer season and more are coming in each day.
Preator noted that European mounts are becoming popular with hunters who either don’t have the display space or already have a shoulder mount of their largest deer but still want to honor that buck and the hunt. And instead of waiting months and paying around $500, the hunter can get a quick turnaround for a fraction of the cost.
“I did a complete job yesterday in daylight hours,” he said. “I started it when I woke up and finished it last night, and he picked it up in one day.”
After cutting off the hide and as much meat as possibly with a knife, Preator goes to the power tools. He straps the heads with bungee cords to a rack he built then as carefully as he can blasts them clean with a pressure washer.
“After I get as much off as I can, then I boil the deer as long as it takes to get all the meat off of it. You don’t want anything left inside that deer skull or outside,” Preator said.
If the business thrives, he said he’d consider buying dermestid beetles to clean skulls. A colony of the ravenous insects can eat away all the tissue and save him the boiling process. Some say the bugs leave a slicker, more attractive appearance.
Once the skull is dry, Preator begins his bleaching process, tailored to the customer’s desired bone color.
“I use a two-part bleaching process,” he said. “It’s a powder and a cream. I mix them both together to make a paste and put it on the deer with a paintbrush.”
Then he washes that off, inspects it again before sealing it with a thin coat of clear lacquer that “just gives a little bit of a shine and seals it.”
His price for a skull cleaning is a reasonable $75, and $100 with a plaque. That’s comparable to many prices quoted on deer hunting forums, and cheaper than an online business like skullcleaning.com, which charges $135 for a whitetail. And that doesn’t include shipping.
Preator would like to continue learning the trade. His father-in-law ran a taxidermy shop in Little Rock for several decades before moving north to Mountain View recently.
“He went over everything and told me what I needed to do,” Preator said. “We’ve talked a lot about it. There’s a market here in Little Rock for this, but there’s more of a market spread out from here.”
Having contacted several friends who are Arkansas Game and Fish officers, Preator learned his only legal obligation was to keep records of the deer he’s worked on, including the hunter’s name, contact information and the deer tag info.
“In case a deer ever comes into question, you want to keep a record to cover yourself legality-wise,” he said. “If anybody ever brings me a deer that doesn’t have a Game and Fish check tag, I won’t take it.”
While doing European mounts doesn’t require a permit, most states require taxidermists to attend a program and receive a certificate before they will issue a license. If working with migratory birds, taxidermists must obtain a federally issued permit.
“In order to be what you would call an official taxidermist, you’d need certification,” Preator said, “but anybody can do this in their garage.”
He does have loftier aspirations.
“I want to learn how to do shoulder mounts,” he said, “and I want to learn how to do ducks.”