Head prep

BASC measurer Andy Lovel takes us through the stages of preparing a European mount roebuck trophy from start to finish

When it comes to trophy preparation, a lot of people lack the confidence to do the job themselves. In reality it is not that hard – it certainly isn’t as exact a science as some would have us believe. However, some people have an aversion to turning a sometimes smelly and bloody head into a clean trophy to display proudly on the wall. This is a great shame, because a treasured trophy is so much enhanced when you have taken the time to clean and mount it yourself.

Over the years I have learnt ways to do the job quickly and cleanly. This is not to say my way is the only way – but it works for me. No doubt others will adapt the technique to suit them and their facilities.

First, I skin the head. I find the easiest way is to have it suspended from a meat hook through one nostril and out through the other. Place the knife in the corner of the buck’s mouth and cut both skin and meat all the way to the jaw joint and along the bottom jaw on both sides. Grab the lower jaw in one hand and the upper in the other hand, and start pulling in opposite directions. Cut through any connecting tissue and dispose of the lower jaw (unless you want to keep it for ageing purposes, in which case set it aside and boil along with the head). Skin the rest of the head starting with the lips, and work the flesh and skin off the head up towards the pedicles. Use a sharp knife, and always watch your fingers.

Once complete, the skin and most of the flesh will be cut away around the pedicles. At this stage I usually cut the head, unless of course it is to be a full skull or I don’t know the cut wanted by the hunter. Incidentally, it is easier to cut before boiling – areas such as the nasal bones are much more brittle post-boiling.

Next I submerge the skinned skull in a bucket of cold water for a few days, changing water when bloody .This allows most of the blood to seep out and actually starts the whitening of the bones. A lot of people place the head in water unskinned. This certainly still works, but it makes removing the flesh much more difficult. Furthermore, I think removing the skin first really helps the water to penetrate and the blood to seep out, ultimately creating a better finished product. After a few days of soaking, the trophy should become pale. Then it is ready for boiling.

 Any pan big enough to hold a head will suffice for this kind of work, but be warned: boiling in the kitchen could be considered grounds for divorce. I have a boiling copper and a garden shed that are fit for purpose and marital understanding. A couple of tablespoons of soda crystals added to the boiling pot help degrease the skull – this is also an aid to the final whitening process. I normally work on between 30-40 minutes’ boiling time on roe heads, depending on the age of the beast. This isn’t exact, but working within this timescale is about right.

After a quick drain and as soon as the trophy becomes cool enough, it is time to clean off the remainder of the flesh. I used to take a blunt knife and keep scraping away at the boiled skull until I had a clean trophy. Thankfully I don’t subscribe to this kind of dedicated but tedious practice anymore, as I now have a pressure washer.
Using it is much faster and definitely more efficient. But be warned: if you do decide on using a pressure washer, be gentle with it, especially round the nose. Also, take care not to leave any eyeballs lying around the garden – let me tell you, this is grounds for much more than divorce.

 After an intense but careful pressure washing, one should now have a skull devoid of any flesh at all externally. The only place the pressure washer cannot totally clean out is the brain cavity, so the brain will have to be removed separately. Placing the jet of the washer into the hole at the back of the skull will get rid of most brain matter, but it is very messy and you expect an occasional mouthful of roe brains. A pair of long-nosed pliers should remove the rest.

The nasal cavity may need attention as well. This has to be done meticulously or your new trophy will soon stink like a hidden corpse when it is mounted and placed on the wall. After all is finally removed, a quick swill down with the washer should finish that job.

6    At this stage you should be left with clean bone that is off-white in colour. If you want that brilliant white look, it needs bleaching. In former times I used to cover the skull up to the antlers in cotton wool and pour on 9 per cent peroxide. I now use 12 per cent cream peroxide and paint the skull with a brush. Another word of warning: Do not get peroxide on the antlers as this will whiten them.

Leave for a few hours or overnight if you can, and wash it off under running water, after which you should now be left with a clean, white trophy anyone would be proud of. The trophy will dry out over the next few days and will get much lighter.

So there you have it. Cleaning and boiling roe deer is not that daunting after all. Give it a go – you know you want to.

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