It was 4 a.m. on opening day. My brother had a trophy unit elk tag in Colorado and we were eager as we headed out early. We gathered our gear and loaded the ATV’s for the journey to our hunting spot. We arrived in the dark, slung our packs on our backs, and started up the hill in high hopes of hearing some bugling bulls. As the sun began to rise, we heard a bull let out a high-pitched scream directly below us. We swiftly got into position and I started calling to coax the bull out into the open so my brother could take a shot. “There he is,” I whispered. He was roughly 450 yards away with an estimated score of 340. I told my brother, “It’s up to you if you want to take him.” The gun sounded, echoing across the canyon; a direct hit on a trophy bull. As we walked up on his trophy my brother had an important decision to make; shoulder mount or a European mount. In this article, I will discuss the major differences, good and bad, between both options including cost, time, and space.
One of the biggest factors to consider is the amount of space required. Do you have space in your house to hang the shoulder mount of an elk, deer, pronghorn or whatever your trophy might be? I have a bull elk shoulder mount in my house that sticks out four feet from the wall. His antlers nearly touch the top of my ten-foot ceilings, putting him face to face with my guests and I. Deer and antelope are much smaller and closer to the wall, making them easier to place in almost any house or room. So, if space is limited, a European mount is the way to go! Space in your home is something you should strongly consider and plan out before you bring home your mount. You don’t want to pack out the cape for a shoulder mount just to realize there isn’t a place to hang it. Measure out some areas in your house and make sure that your trophy will have plenty of room to fit.
The second thing to keep in mind when choosing the style of mount for your trophy is the cost. You can expect a deer or pronghorn shoulder mount to cost you between $350-600. An elk shoulder mount will run between $750-1200 depending on the taxidermist. I suggest researching and reading reviews on taxidermists before choosing one. I have seen some awful mounts from “professional” taxidermists. Look at pictures of their mounts online, or visit their shop to make sure you like their style. A European style mount will cost considerably less. You can expect to pay between $150-350, with larger game on the higher end of that scale. Personally, I like to do my own European mounts. Since I harvested the animal DIY, why not mount it DIY? Most of us aren’t set up to do shoulder mounts, but most of us have access to the supplies needed to do a European mount. (Tips on completing a European mount below.)
Not only should you consider the time your mount will take at the taxidermist, but you should also think about the time it will take in the field to prep your animal for the style of mount you want. If you want a shoulder mount, you will spend extra time in the field saving your cape. Whereas a European mount does not require saving the hide so your field dressing will take less time. Additionally, packing out your harvested animal can take an immense amount of time and effort. The cape, head, and antlers are very heavy, not to mention all the meat you will have to pack out as well! It could take multiple trips to pack everything out, so take that into consideration as well.
If you are getting a shoulder mount, you will want to get your cape and antlers to the taxidermist as soon as possible so the hair on your hide does not slip. If it does slip, you will have to purchase a new cape from your taxidermist. This means the long pack out was all for nothing and you now must spend extra money for your mount. When you do get your antlers and hide to the taxidermist you can expect a shoulder mount to take from six to eighteen months for completion. All my mounts were completed in nine to ten months. A European mount takes significantly less time and a taxidermist will usually have it finished within three months.
As mentioned above, I enjoy the European mount because it is a great DIY project. I can usually complete a European mount for less than $50. This equals faster completion and saving money at the same time! I have had European mounts finished and on the wall within three days of harvesting the animal.
The DIY European mount can be messy and a bit time consuming, but the cost and efficiency are worth the mess. The supplies you will need for a European mount are a turkey fryer base, propane, a galvanized tub big enough for the size of skull you are mounting, sodium carbonate, bleaching compound, and peroxide. To start, bring water to a boil with a quarter cup of sodium carbonate per gallon of water. The sodium carbonate helps cut down on the amount of time you have to boil the skull because it helps loosen the tissue and meat from the skull. Once the water is boiling place, place the skull in the water. Do not boil more than one hour without checking because the bone can weaken and fall apart if boiled too long. I remove my heads at the hour mark and spray them with a power washer to remove any more tissue that is still on the skull. If there is any meat left over you can use a knife to cut it free. You may even need to continue the boiling process and use the power washer until the skull is free from all excess meat.
When your skull is free from all meat, it is time to bleach it. Do not use actual bleach or it will eat away and destroy the bone. There are several ways to bleach your skull, however, I prefer using peroxide. Peroxide is a little pricey and you tend to need a lot of it to get an elk skull fully covered. If you choose to use peroxide, then you need to let the skull soak in it. Some people soak the skulls for up to two weeks to get them bright white. Another option is to buy a kit that has a bleaching agent and peroxide in it. You can buy these for less than thirty dollars and they also include the sodium carbonate for the boiling process. Mix the bleaching agent and peroxide into a paste, paint it onto the skull and let dry. Once the paste has dried completely wash it off with clean water and let it sit in the sun for twenty-four hours. Afterward, your mount is done and ready to hang on the wall! It really is simple and cost-efficient to create your own DIY European wall mount.
The Wrap Up
There are many things to consider when it comes to choosing between a shoulder or European mount. Both are good options and can be done to accommodate your taste, budget, timeline, and wall space. It is helpful to have a well thought out plan before you harvest your next animal so you can prepare it as needed to help you save time and money in the long run! Use this list to help you decide which mount to go with on your next trophy.