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Newbie - First Time Questions

Discussion in 'Skulls and Skeletons' started by WeekendWarrior00, Jan 5, 2022.

  1. So I’m just getting into doing some of my own skull whitening…. Feel like I’ve read thread after thread for hours and have done my best to learn without starting a new one to cover the same info, but each case presents unique circumstances of its own I guess.

    This year I killed two bucks, and also recently took a couple of coyotes, so decided to save some money and try to clean up the deer myself… and then figured why not play around with the coyote skulls while I’m at it.

    Long story short, in regards to the deer: I skull-capped both of them, so there wasn’t even much bone to clean up. But it’s still been a nightmare to get the smell out. I boiled, got all the flesh off, macerated in ‘water only’ for weeks with an aquarium heater (changing water every couple days), and then, once all flesh was 100% removed:

    (all with aquarium heater)
    -soaked in Borax 3-4 days
    -soaked in dawn dish soap for 4-5 days
    -soaked in oxi clean for 2-3 days
    -soaked in 10% ammonia “1/2 diluted” for 2-3 days

    Just kept trying different things because there was still a pretty strong odor. When all was said and done, one of the bucks in particular *still* really has an odor to it.

    I think I’ve pinpointed the odor to primarily up around the antler base…. But even though I’ve wrapped the antlers in foil/electrical tape/plastic wrap when I soaked them in ammonia and oxi clean, the bases of the antlers still faded badly because the solution crept its way up. So I know the bone was getting exposed to the solution since the antlers obviously were too.

    Basically, my question is: how do I further degrease/deodorize the bone at the base of the antlers without getting the antlers further faded/damaged? Like I said I’ve wrapped the antlers as tight as I know how and the solution is still leaking underneath a bit.

    Now, onto the coyotes… lol.

    One of the coyotes laid in a field for a month, probably Nov 20-Dec 20 or so. The other was killed on Dec 19, so on the 20th I took them both and started the process…. Boiled both heads, pulling and cutting away flesh every 15 mins or so.

    Macerated in plain water and aquarium heater for 4-5 days and got remaining flesh off. The skull that laid in the field was brown and the fresher one was white, even before degreasing.

    Then I basically did the same thing as I did with deer… Borax, Dawn, Oxi, and Ammonia soaks, same number of days, 2 days or so for each.

    I just took the next steps on the coyote and submerged both skulls in 3% peroxide for 3 days (in a dark room).

    Just pulled them out, and the one that laid in the pasture for a month is still pretty brown despite 10+ days of degreasing and 3 days of peroxide. Not sure if it’s grease, or iron, or just discoloration from the ground, etc…. But trying to learn what it is, and if it can be whitened or not — or if I am stuck with a brown skull. Picture attached.


    thanks in advance!
  2. Sea Wolf

    Sea Wolf Well-Known Member

    You have been having way too much fun with chemicals. #1 Stop Boiling. That is a huge part of your problem. Were the antlers in velvet or were they hard antler? Macerating after boiling isn't going to do much of anything. Macerating is done with raw tissue in warm water. For your degreasing part, you are doing days when you should be doing weeks. If the bone on your antlers is clean, try soaking in water at 120 degrees that you have added some Dawn detergent and a couple of cups of ammonia. Let them sit for a couple of weeks and check. In boiling, you have most likely forced contaminants up into the softer core of the antlers, cooking it in there. Makes it all the harder to get it out. Get the solution up above the antler bases. At this point, you are going to have to recolor them anyway so it isn't going to matter. Make sure you have the right Oxi clean. There are two, OxY clean and OxI clean. I don't use the stuff but I know one of them will damage bone. After the antlers have sat submerged for at least a week .. maybe two, take them out and rinse off in hot water and let them dry for a couple of weeks. If the inner cores of the antler are wet, you have to wait until that is completely dry before any odor vanishes.

    Coyotes are easy. Same thing, forget about the boiling. Trim all the flesh you can and drop into a bucket of water heated to 80 to 90 degrees. Remove the brain and eyes before doing so. Read the post (Tutorial) that I did with a mountain lion. You will be doing the same thing. Coyotes will degrease at 115 degrees. Your brown skull will whiten if you give it a soak in a solution of Iron Out. Should only take a few hours before it turns white.
    WeekendWarrior00 and Skullery like this.

  3. Thanks for the advice…. I did go a little bit “Breaking Bad” on all the chemicals :D…. Being my first time doing this and reading so many articles, I kinda decided to “try them all”, especially when I started to see clear water after changes and it didn’t seem like one was doing much anymore, I’d switch and instantly get more fat floating at the top the next day. So seems like alternating them up was doing something anyway.

    Plus, to complicate my situation, I live in suburbia and the smell was extremely unpleasant in the initial phases so I kept refreshing to minimize that. Neighbors could definitely smell it.

    The antlers are hardened, not in velvet, but one set especially (unfortunately the smelliest one) has a really nice dark natural color to it, so I hate to have to fix/touch up too much of it…. But is what it is I guess.

    Is there something I need to do to clean/descent the exterior of the antlers themselves? Or are you saying most of the smell is likely up inside the antler bone?

    Regarding the coyotes, you’re telling me I get to play with another chemical?? :cool: I like it…. Lol.

    Photo of the smelly set of deer antler attached. You can see where they’ve started to discolor around the pedicles/burrs.

  4. QBD

    QBD Active Member

    Most of the coloration on antlers is a result of the trees and bushes they rub, the sap and bits of bark, etc. When degreasing the skulls, the soap/water solution dissolves some of that sap/bark and that is what you are calling discoloration. This is especially true around the burrs and just above them where the texture of the antlers is very uneven and the sap/bark is in the crevices. Sometimes you can tell what kind of trees they have been rubbing, especially the pines or cedars.
    WeekendWarrior00 likes this.
  5. everything Sea Wolf said !!!!!
    WeekendWarrior00 likes this.

  6. Interesting…. I didn’t realize that at all. Is there any good way to preserve that coloring at all? Or will it change over time as that sap/tree bark coloring ages or dries out?

    I really like how it looks, if putting a sealer of some type on it will preserve it I would do it, but I don’t want it to be something that distorts/yellows over time…. or makes it look unnatural.

    Thanks for the info.
  7. Sea Wolf

    Sea Wolf Well-Known Member

    The color should stay put as long as it isn't parked in sunlight. Sunlight ruins everything in time. The bases might get lightened but recoloring them to match is not hard and there are a lot of posts on here how to do it. Do a search for "Chocolate Antlers". Hard to see color in your picture as you are blocking the light. :) There have been a few cases where the antlers were a chocolate color and everything went South very fast.
  8. 3E612E57-0D7B-4A48-94AC-014781B191B6.jpeg A0F2B044-2869-4754-AF93-6D6ED465B97F.jpeg Lol…. Touché, add photography onto the list with taxidermy of “things I’m not good at”.

    Not sure if these pics are any better, but you can see how badly around the burrs it got bleached out, and that was all during degreasing when I had the antlers wrapped in foil/plastic wrap/tape and did my best to keep the antlers out of the soak. Somehow some liquid still crept up…. And yet the pedicles smell awful…. So it was a Lose-lose.

    In regards to recoloring, I’ve read everything from Potassium Permagnate to Minwax to Boiled Linseed, etc…. Not sure what would best to re-color the bases.
  9. QBD

    QBD Active Member

    I have been seeing the discoloration of burrs from the first heads I ever did. Some of it was from degreasing as I explained in an earlier post but most of it was from peroxide in the whitening cycle. I tried lots of things to try to prevent the discoloration but finally concluded that it was much easier and quicker to touch up/recolor them.

    And your comment about the smell of the burrs and the fact that you tried to keep them out of the soak makes me wonder if you do not still have some soft tissue under the burrs or in the crevices of the burrs that is causing the odor. I will say that I have never experienced the lingering odor but I did not try to keep the burrs out of the soak either. Yes, they stunk coming out of maceration but after the first degreasing water change, the odor was gone.

    And my preference for recoloring is acrylic paint. I have completely recolored found dead head antlers that were sun bleached white when they were found.
    WeekendWarrior00 likes this.
  10. Whitening in this case, I feel like I actually did okay with…. I taped off the discolored burrs with painters tape and then used an artist/painters brush to carefully detail all around the pedicles, and then a bigger brush to do the remaining portion of the skullcap. I used 40V mixed with whitening powder…. Seemed to whiten well, didn’t make the burrs worse - they were already this bad.

    Do you have a specific brand / color(s) you like when working with the acrylic paint?
  11. blindluck

    blindluck Active Member

    Raw umber, burnt umber
  12. blindluck

    blindluck Active Member

    Thin with windex
  13. QBD

    QBD Active Member

    Most of your questions have been addressed in earlier posts. Using the Advanced Search in Skulls and Skeletons only for terms like antler discoloration, antler staining etc. will pull up threads with lots of info.

    Here is one on Antler Staining where I show an example and described the colors I use:
  14. Sea Wolf

    Sea Wolf Well-Known Member

    As QBD stated, use the Advanced Search (mouse over "Search" and then click on "More"). There are a lot of posts on restaining antlers. Many with very good pictures and walkthroughs. Try restaining antlers or retouching or recoloring for search terms. I think there is at least one tutorial on doing it if you look in that section. Potassium works but you need to practice on clean bone or an old antler before you go for the ones you want to keep. You build up the color in layers. It isn't a one application thing. as for the lightened areas, if you didn't add peroxide to your degreasing water, the addition of the Oxiclean is what did that. Oxiclean basically breaks down into peroxide.