How to clean a deer skull found in the woods

What is the first thought that comes to mind when finding a deer skull in the woods? Usually, most hunters or outdoor people want to see it hanging in a barn, camp, or in their homes. There is a slight problem with this. There are tons of bacteria on the skull that requires the skull to get sterilized with boiling water, bleach and appropriately cleaned with light brushes, rags, or pressure washers.

Why Keep the Deer Skull?

The processes in sterilizing and cleaning cover both finding the skull in which the deer has been deceased for an extended period or if the hunter made the kill. It is considered to be the trophy that keeps the story alive for most hunters with the memories. The deer skull makes a great wall ornament that shows the love of the hunt for all of us hunters.

The Steps to Cleaning and Sterilizing a Deer Skull

The steps listed below will ensure the safety of the handling of the deer skull. It will remove all bacteria if the skull has the hide or if the body is already decomposed. There are three methods to try that are up to the user on which suits them best.

Method 1: Removing the Remaining Hyde

Step 1: Use a Sharp Knife and Pliers to Remove the Hyde

It will take a good knife to cut off any facial features without damaging the skull, I use and recommend the Benchmade Saddle Mountain Knife. We recommend the users wear gloves to keep any harmful bacteria at bay. Pliers will be helpful to remove large chunks of flesh that may be stubborn to remove. The eyes and tongue will definitely take pliers for removal if the features are there.

All that would remain will be the red muscle tissue after the skinning process is completed. If only the skull is found, void this step and begin at step 2.

Step 2: Boiling and Simmering the Skull in Water

Take a large pot of water that will cover the skull and bring it to a boil. Use the antlers to lower the skull into the boiling water. When the water boils again, turn the fire down to a simmer. This process should take two to three hours.

  • If the skull was frozen, add another 30 minutes to the simmering time.
  • Do not over-boil. Doing so will crack the teeth and other small detailed features of the skull.
  • When the flesh is falling off the bone, move on to step 3.

Step 3: Remove the Remaining Muscle Tissue and Flesh

This step is required to do while the skull is warm. Remove the skull from the water. Using a smaller knife, remove the remaining chunks of tissue. Be sure to remove any brain tissue from the inside as well. We recommend if the brain tissue is difficult to remove, use a scalpel or a spoon.

Step 4: Wash In Cold Water

When all the tissue that can be removed is taken off from inside and outside the skull, rinse off the skull thoroughly. We recommend using a spray nozzle with pressure to do this properly.

Step 5: Soak the Skull for Three Days

Find a container to fit the skull into where it is completely immersed in water. Use 3/4 cup of enzyme-bleach power to every gallon of water used. Keep the skull soaking in the solution for three whole days.

All of the remaining stubborn pieces of tissue will come off after the soaking process is completed. Enzyme cleaning power can be found at any local market. The solution will also kill any and all remaining bacteria on or inside the skull.

Step 6: Finish Taking Off Any Excess Pieces of Tissue and Examine

There should not be much left if any pieces of tissue are on the skull at this stage. Use a scalpel or small sharp knife to remove whatever is left. Thoroughly rinse the skull off again and inspect it to make sure everything has been removed.

Method 2: Using Hydrogen Peroxide

How to clean a deer skull found in the woods

This method will replace step five in the first method. It is an alternative to the enzyme cleaning method. All of the other steps should be followed in the same manner and order.

Hydrogen peroxide comes in three different concentrations, 12 percent, 9 percent, and 6 percent. We recommend using the 12 percent to save time. The liquid version works better than the cream version. This method will take several liters to complete.

For safety purposes, always wear plastic gloves when using hydrogen peroxide or any chemical, even if it is natural. Hydrogen peroxide is a chemical liquid that should not touch bare skin, especially with 12 percent concentrate. It is also recommended to have overalls or some sort of protection for clothing as well.

This method is best used for the skulls where full decomposer has taken place. The hydrogen peroxide will remove all the remaining bacteria, tissues and remove the dirt that has also been embedded into the skull. The deer skull only needs to soak for 24 hours instead of three days. Equal parts of water should be added to the concentrate of hydrogen peroxide.

Method 3: The All-Natural Way

This process may not be the best way people find intriguing, but it works. It lets nature take its course, and it comes in a few easy steps.

Step 1: Find a Place for Dermestid Beetles to Feed on the Remaining Flesh

Dermestid beetles feed off of dead carcasses. It will take a place off to the side where no one can disturb the beetles. It also has to be away from the home and other buildings. Once a spot is found, place the deer skull in a box or container with holes in the cover for the beetles to breathe. A few notes are listed below to assist in this step.

  • Dermestid beetles are used by a taxidermist and can be purchased through them or online.
  • Any missed spots of tissue, the beetles will take care of it.
  • It is best to leave them with the skull for up to a week.
  • When the beetles are finished with the feast, release them back into the wild.

Step 2: Let the Skull Simmer

On the lowest heat possible, add the skull to the simmering water (7.7 liters) with 8.5 fluid ounces of washing soda. Leave the fire burning low for 12 hours and check on the skull every hour. Any residue and dirt should come off quickly. All the bacteria will be eliminated after this process.

Step 3: Use a Toothbrush

Take a soft to medium-grade bristle toothbrush and use it to scrub off any excess dirt or debris. We recommend using hydrogen peroxide on the brush to speed up the process and add to the effectiveness.

Other Methods of Cleaning a Deer Skull

How to clean a deer skull found in the woods

There are other methods people have used in the past, but we find that it damages the bone structure in some cases. Extra precautions should be taken when doing these procedures.

  • Bleaching
  • Pressure Washing
  • Hard Boiling


Bleach is a hard chemical that can do more damage than good. It does its purpose in cleaning and killing bacteria, but it can disintegrate any material it comes in contact with. However, if all a person has to clean with is bleach, the recommended amount is as little as possible. No more than a cup of bleach per gallon of water.

In some situations where the skull is older, bleach will finish off whatever is left of the skull. Yes, it can put a good shine and excellent finish to the product, but if the bleach is not rinsed off well, the damage will be irreparable.

Pressure Washing

Pressure washing would be the best way to get the bleach off completely. However, there is a significant problem with using a pressure washer. One small mistake can shatter the skull in weaker places. It can knock out the teeth and areas around the nose and eye sockets.

We recommend the lightest setting with a special tip to fan out the disbursement of water. The skull is one of the hardest bones in the deer’s skeletal structure, but it also has the smallest and most delicate features.

If the user is a master at the pressure washer, they will know how to handle the cleaning. The skull will come out with the white and shiny look that deer hunters love. It will also finish eliminating the harmful bacteria and other contaminants that will continue to decompose the skull.

Hard Boiling

Hard boiling was the old method that hunters used to clean skulls. There is no telling how long a skull and the bones of a deer have been out in the wilderness.

Sometimes the skull may fall apart when picked up. These are the most disappointing. Hard boiling will definitely destroy the skull if it is already beginning to fall apart.

Since heat makes things expand, the skull will crack, beginning with the teeth and other small features. It is a measure the user should use for their better judgment. Hard boiling for two to three hours will work if the precautions are met. The question should always be, can the bone structure handle it?

Cleaning the Deer Antlers

Like the skull, the antlers are part of the trophy. Mild detergent, warm water, and a lot of elbow grease will clean off any mold, mildew, and dirt embedded into the antlers. Once the mixture is used, rinse them off and let them dry outdoors. Your trophy is now ready to hang high!

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