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How to Prepare Pronghorn Horns

The Pronghorn Antelope is known as the only horned animal to actually shed its horns.  While this may be an interesting fact, it can be problematic for the taxidermist.  With other horned game, since they never shed, their horns fit more snugly to the inner bone core of the skull.  Once you remove the horns from the skull for preservation, they can generally be re-fitted for the mounting process, without too much difficulty.

But the Pronghorn, because it does shed, the inner bone core is covered with a thick, heavy gristle. If the gristle is not removed, you could be asking for possible odor problems and even bug infestation.  So to properly mount a Pronghorn antelope, you must remove the horns and replace the gristle with Bondo.

Now here’s the problem…  Once the horns and the gristle are removed, the horns will no longer fit back nicely into their original position.  The gristle can measure over a quarter of an inch in thickness, so when removed,  the horns will now move all over the place.  And with all that new space inside there is no way to know for sure where to properly re-set the horns, particularly the height of the horns above the eye socket.  There is a lot of natural variation here.  I have seen horns as low as 1/4 of an inch above the eye socket, and as high as a full inch above, though the average is more likely around 3/8″ or so.  Because the distance above the eye is so shallow compared to antlered game, it is far more critical on an antelope to get the horns in the right place so that the skin will reach.

So while the problem does exist, there is a way that you can get the horns back precisely where they belong.  The following has been my preferred method for many years:

 

The first step, and key to the whole process, is to buy or locate some small 2″ nails and a drill bit that is just smaller in diameter than the nails.  I use a 3/32 drill bit. See below:

Now, drill 4 holes into the base of each horn, angling toward the center of the horn so that you don’t miss the inner bone core.  And drill deep enough to get well into the the cores.

In the following two photos I placed nails into the holes I just drilled only so that you can see the location and angle of the holes.

Drill both horns.  As noted, these holes will be the key in getting the horns re-located, so be sure to start with this procedure and don’t forget!

With the holes drilled, you can now feel free to remove the horns and clean the skull. Boiling water is the simplest way to accomplish this.  I use a single burner propane cooker with legs and boil the water in a 15″ x 9″ deep galvanized stock bucket. This size will work for average horns but I do have a deeper version for larger trophies (its best to submerge the the full length of horns into the water). Allow the water to come to a boil before you put the horns into the pot.  If the horns are fresh, it only takes about 15-30 minutes to soften the horns enough to remove them from the core.  You are much better off to boil as soon after the animal is taken as possible, UNLESS it is to be measured for the record book!  In this case you will have to wait until after the horns have been measured.

So to get the horns off, drag them from the boiling water with a pliers and stand the skull upright on the floor. Put one foot on the skull in front of the horns and one on the back of the skull behind the horns, grab the hot horn nearest you with a towel and twist.  If you can’t get the horn to pop off, try twisting in the opposite direction. If it still won’t come off, you will need to boil a bit longer until it will.  The thing to remember here is that you are not really trying to pull the horns off, but rather, it’s only necessary to twist, and they will pop off by themselves.  Twist off both horns in the same way.

With the horns off you will now be left with a skull that still has the gristle solidly attached to the bone cores.  Slice the gristle full length with a knife and then throw the skull back into the boiling water.  Continue to boil the skull (only) for another 30 minutes plus, until the gristle and meat can be removed.

The cleaned skull will look something like the above.  You can easily see the drill holes.  I like to let the horns and cleaned skull dry at least overnight before attempting to Bondo the horns back onto the cores.

But before you mix any Bondo, take a nail and make sure all the holes are open and you know where they are.  If the holes in the horns are hard to see, wrap a piece of masking tape around the horn just above the holes and then mark the holes with an arrow. Do a dry run to make sure it all works.

The above photo shows the “dry run” with all the nails in place and everything looks good and ready to go.

I do both horns with the same batch of Bondo, but if this is your first try you may want to do just one horn at a time.  Also, if your nails fit tightly in the holes (this is why I originally noted that the drill bit should be slightly smaller than the nails) you can start the nails before you even mix the Bondo (see below). This will save you time and reduce the “urgency” once you do mix the Bondo.

So let’s do it!  Now mix up some Bondo (don’t mix it too hot), smear some on both horn cores and also inside each horn.  Slide a horn over the appropriate core and pick a specific nail to push through the horn and into the underlying hole.  You might have to move the horn around a bit to get the nail to line up.  But once you get one nail in place, the others will line up quit easily. The Bondo should ooze out the bottom of the horns as in the following photo and while it appears to be quite a mess, don’t worry about that at all.

Now,  don’t walk away to do something else!  Stay right there so that when the Bondo starts to harden you can trim it!  It will trim easily before it sets completely, but if you let it set… well, there’s nothing worse!!

Here (above) I have trimmed the right horn.  Below is an underside view so you can see how thick the Bondo is on both trimmed horns

You can also see in the above photo that the Bondo is a nice even thickness all the way around each core. This is exactly what you want.

Pull the nails and you are done!!  And one thing is for sure…

the horns are now back exactly…
where they were when you started!

 

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