For those who don’t live in elk country, taking a bull elk can be the trophy of a lifetime. Mounting the entire head makes for an impressive wall hanging; however, it is expensive and requires a large space to hang. Mounting the antlers is less expensive and takes up less room, and the hunter can mount them himself. It does require work, but the cost remains small. Finishing the mount using the elk’s natural scalp gives the mount a rustic look. You can purchase all of your supplies from a taxidermy supply store.
Items you will need
Carpenter’s or bone saw
1 lb. salt
Large plastic pan
1-inch-thick pine board—8 by 8 inches
Two 1/4-by-6-inch flat-head machine screws
Two 1/4-inch hex jam nuts and washers
Taxidermy modeling clay
Instant preservative powder
Waxed dental floss
Wall panel—approximately 18 by 14 inches
Two 1/4-inch hex jam nuts and washers
Semigloss clear finish
Removing and Preparing the Antlers
Skin the scalp off the elk’s head by cutting completely through the skin and around the upper portion of the head. Follow a line from the upper base of the ears, across the eyes, halfway down the muzzle and around the back of the head even with the ears.
Remove the scalp by cutting it free from the skull, taking care not to cut the skin. Cut a slit from the outside base of each antler, directly down the side of the scalp to the cut around the head. Cut the skin loose from around the antler burrs. Drop the scalp in a sealable freezer bag, and put it in the deep freeze until the time comes to use it.
Saw the antlers off the head by making a cut parallel to the antler base, through the eyes, halfway down the muzzle and around the back of the head. Cut completely through the head until the antlers, along with the portion of skull to which they attach, are free from the rest of the head. You should come out on the opposite side on the same line on which you started.
Clean all the flesh off the skull portion and set the skull portion, antlers up, in a large plastic pan and cover the skull portion with salt. Work the salt into the underside of the skull portion, then leave the antlers as is with salt covering the skull bone for 24 hours to draw out the moisture.
Lift the antlers out of the pan of salt after 24 hours, and brush off the now wet salt. Don’t wash the salt off, which would defeat the purpose of the salt drawing out the moisture. Hang the antlers in a dry interior place until the skull bone has thoroughly dried; this process can last several days, depending on the weather.
Creating the Mount
Trim the dry skull bone by cutting the front portion down to 3 inches from the antlers and the back portion even with the back of the antlers. Use a wood rasp to level off the bottom of the skull portion until the antlers set flat and level without rocking.
Set the antlers on the piece of 1-inch pine board, and draw a line on the board even with the back of the skull portion and both sides. Draw the line down in front of the antlers in a rounded heart shape ending 3 inches below the skull bone. Cut this drawn piece out of the board.
Drill two 1/4-inch holes through the skull portion, horizontal to each other and 2 inches apart. Mark through these holes down to the board backing, and drill the same-size holes through the board on the marks.
Slip the 1/4-inch machine screws into the skull holes and through the board. Put a washer and nut on each screw, then tighten the nuts and keep tightening until the nuts and washers sink into the back of the board. Leave the remainder of the screws sticking out the back of the board.
Push the clay into the front and back openings of the skull portion, and continue filling all around and over the bone, building up a symmetrical reconstruction of the natural head. Mold the clay on all sides until the board backing and skull becomes one smooth unit in the shape of the board. Leave enough room under the antler burrs to fit the skin back against the antlers, and let this set until the clay has hardened and dried, which should only last a day or two.
Finishing the Mount
Remove the scalp from the freezer and let it thaw. Once it thaws, liberally rub the flesh side with the instant preservative and lay the scalp down on the dry clay. Slide the scalp back into the natural position and up against the antler burrs.
Sew the slits on the sides of the scalp by using the needle and dental floss, starting just under the antler burr. Stitch by pushing the needle through the skin from the flesh side, coming up and out on the hair side, come across the split and repeat on the opposite side. Sew in this fashion making stitches 1/8 inch apart all the way to the bottom of the split. Repeat on the opposite split.
Pull the ends of the scalp around the head portion to the back side of the board. Snug the scalp, and begin driving tacks through the skin and into the board. Work around the edges of the scalp; put a tack in every 1/2 inch while pulling the scalp tight. When finished, trim off the excess skin hanging out past the tacks.
Center the antlers on the panel, pressing down hard to leave the screw marks on the panel. Drill two 1/4-inch holes through the panel on the marks, then drill depressions over the 1/4-inch holes the width and depth of the nuts on the back of the panel. Push the ends of the screws through the holes in the panel.
Slide the washers onto the screws, spin the nuts onto the ends of the screws and countersink them into the depressions. Cut off the ends of the screws flush with the panel. Attach a hanger to the back of the panel, and lightly paint the antlers with semi-gloss clear finish. Once the scalp and finish have dried, the antlers are ready to hang.
- “Shooter’s Bible Taxidermy Guide;” Russell Tinsley; 1967
Dave P. Fisher is an internationally published and award-winning Western novelist and short-story writer. His work has appeared in several anthologies and his nonfiction articles in outdoor magazines. An avid outdoorsman, Fisher has more than 40 years of experience as a hunter, trapper, fisherman, taxidermist, professional fly-tyer, horsepacker and guide.