Bugs, Skulls, and Deer

Bugs, Skulls, and Deer

At a recent Archery Trade Association show, I originally was attracted to Ghost Camouflage's booth in search of western camo. But what caught my eye wasn't for sale. It was the camouflaged, European elk skull mount hanging in the booth. As camouflage products flood the outdoor market, someone finally figured it would be cool to dip a cleaned European skull mount in camouflage film material, much as manufacturers film-dip bow risers/limbs and gun stocks.

With hide, brain, and eyes removed, a fresh deer skull goes in with the beetles. 

As I conversed with the folks at the booth on the unique skull, I learned that a guy in Pennsylvania called "The Bug Man" just started creating these unique European skull mounts. Instantly I wrote down the information on The Bug Man, but upon returning home, I promptly lost it.

Fast forward two years when I found myself speaking at the Pennsylvania Bow-hunting Festival in Forksville, PA, the old-est bowhunting show in the nation, going on 52 years. After giving a deer seminar, I started to wander the many aisles of vendors, and guess who I came across -- Jeremy Boyd, The Bug Man!

We talked about taxidermy and the best ways to display hard-earned trophies. With the rising cost of full shoulder mounts, and with wall space at home or in the office often at a premium, many hunters are finding European mounts to be the logical way to display deer antlers and other big game trophies. And camouflaged European mounts, besides being less expensive, are attractive and will definitely bring attention to any skull.

Before long, the beetles eat every speck of flesh, leaving an immaculate skull ready for whitening and camouflaging.

If you're thinking of saving money by preparing your own European skull mount, let me tell you from experience, the smell (which your wife and neighbors will never let you forget), and the time involved, are minor compared to the challenge of making your skull as white as possible. My skulls never have attained the whiteness of professionally bleached skulls, perhaps because all I can buy at the store is a 12-percent solution of hydrogen peroxide.

Some argue that you do not need higher concentrations of hydrogen peroxide to bleach skulls white, but this has not been my experience. I think taxidermists can get skulls gleaming white because they use the proper degreasing techniques prior to whitening, and they have access to a 30-percent solution of hydrogen peroxide for maximum whiten-ing results. Of course, they buy hydrogen peroxide in large quantities, which is beyond the scope of the average hunter. In short, although you might save a few dollars by preparing your own skulls and European mounts, you probably will never equal the perfection attained by a taxidermist. And you'll never match The Bug Man's cool camo.

Anyone can buy Dermestid beetles over the Internet in colonies of 30-200 adults. These beetles are late-stage decomposers, meaning they do not eat fresh meat. Since each female can produce several hundred eggs within 45 days, the beetle option might seem like a good alternative to the smells of boiling or the ever-present chance of over-boiling and ruining a skull.

Jeremy Boyd, The Bug Man, displays a European mount he beetled, whitened, and camouflaged.

However, sustaining a beetle colony is no simple task. Jeremy tells me his wife, Danielle, keeps the bugs in a semi-darkened room within a perfect temperature range of 75-80 degrees.

Even under perfect conditions, beetles won't start cleaning skulls efficiently until they multiply into sufficient numbers --about six months. And they must be fed regularly. To keep his colony thriving, Jeremy generally feeds his beetles one dried skull per day. Clearly, maintaining a healthy colony of Dermestid beetles is a science and, in truth, The Bug Man owes his well-earned nickname to his wonderful wife, Danielle, the true Bug Lady.

Many taxidermists don't have their own beetle colonies because keeping beetles requires so much work. Most taxidermists send skulls and other bones that need cleaning to Jeremy and Danielle or other individuals across the country who keep beetle colonies.

Jeremy and Danielle Boyd can turn new deer skulls into works of art through beetling, whitening, and camouflaging, and they can restore old skulls through the same processes. If you want to preserve and display your trophies, consider European mounts. They're far cheaper than full shoulder mounts, and you can choose from an assortment of camouflage patterns to turn any skull -- or other bone, for that matter -- into a work of camouflaged art.

For more information on skull whiten-ing and camouflaging, contact: Swarthout's Skull Works, 4874 Ogdensburg Road, Roaring Branch, PA 17765, 570-673-5052

C.J.'s Summary: Dermestid eggs can hatch in three to four days. The larvae go through seven molts, reaching the pupa stage in about 45 days. Adult beetles are fertile for about two months and die within five months. Oh, one more important note: Dermestid beetles smell, because the larvae actually consume the manure of the adults, which, of course, eat decomposing meat. If you choose to purchase a Dermestid starter kit, more power to you! As for me, it's just one more product I would have to keep from my wife.

All bowhunters love to put fresh venison on the grill, and they also love to display the antlers of their hard-earned deer. European mounts cost much less than full shoulder mounts, and they can be just as attractive if the skulls are cleaned, whitened -- and even camouflaged --properly. You can do these tasks yourself, but for a truly professional job, leave the job to the professionals.

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