Since I was doing a couple of heads I thought I'd take the opportunity to take some photos of the process. As always, this is just the way I do it, there are plenty of folks on here who have been doing it a lot better and longer than me, so please chip in with suggestions etc. if you know a better way.
- Find yourself a good work area and open up a newspaper and place on top of your work surface. As you remove skin and mess you can roll it up in a sheet of paper and bin it thus keeping your work area clean layer by layer.
- Also get a nice sharp knife. A slender boning knife is ideal. The blade is narrow enough to get up the sides of the jaw and behind the eye.
- Get a knife sharpener handy. The sharper the knife the easier and safer the process. The blade can dull quickly, especially when you are working around bone and the antlers. Keep it sharp.
One roe buck head. Start by cutting down the base of each side of the jaw bone and remove the skin from under the head.
Then start skinning up from the jaw bone on each side towards the eye.
Keep going over and past the eye towards the pedicles. Don't panic if your blade seems to cut slightly into the skull around the edge of the eye. There is a ring of cartilage around the eye which will come off after boiling so your knife marks will disappear.
Around the base of the pedicles is the trickiest bit, especially on roe with the pearling and pronounced coronets. The skin is extremely tough, almost like leather. This head had been frozen for a long time and some drying had occurred which made it tougher still.
A good tip for very tough skin is to use a flat blade screwdriver and tap it gently like a chisel and it will pull the skin away from the pedicles.
Once it's free around the pedicles work the skin from between the antlers. Again, on roe the coronets might be almost touching so some cutting and pulling may be necessary to pull the skin from between the antlers. Pull it back and remove the rest of the skin from the back of the skull.
Next cut down the insides of the mandible to release the tongue and pull the whole lot back. You will feel the slender hyoid bone on each side behind the larynx. Just keep pulling the tongue back and snap the hyoid bone on each side if necessary. Then cut away the tongue making sure you put your blade through the point where the hyoid has snapped or you'll be dulling your blade against bone. The remaining ends of the hyoid bone will come out after boiling if they haven't already come out.
The next step is to remove the jaw. This is where the narrow blade comes in handy. Remove the flesh and sinew where possible on each cheek on the outside of the head then place the blade up each side of the mandible, give it a wiggle, turn the blade, wiggle again. This will free up tendons and ligaments holding the jaw in place. Do this on the inner and outer sides of the jaw on each side of the head.
The jaw should now be relatively easy to force open, dislocate and pull free with some cutting where required.
Move onto the eyes next. The connective tissues holding the eye in its socket are surprisingly tough. Take this opportunity to sharpen your knife, particularly at the tip. Work your way around the eye. The tissues are layered and you'll need to keep cutting until you have worked your way all the way through and all the way round.
You can gain access to the rear of the orbit by putting your blade in from behind. This allows you to cut the remaining tissues and the optic nerve. The eye should now pull free.
At this point take the opportunity to trim off any excess flesh you can all around the head and then you are ready to boil.
For this I use a stainless steel Burco boiler with a mug full of washing soda to dissolve the grease. Note: washing soda (sodium carbonate), not caustic soda (sodium hydroxide)!. Also, do not use aluminium pans with washing soda (or caustic soda for that matter) because it will attack the aluminium!
Now this is where my technique will probably vary from others because my boiler does a simmer rather than a rolling boil and therefore my boiling times will be significantly longer than others will quote. You can modify the thermostat to get a rolling boil on the Burco but I haven't got round to it, and to be honest I get good results the way it is so I haven't bothered.
The head is secured in a purpose clamp at such an angle that the water line covers all the head but as little of the coronets as possible. Depending on the shape of the head and pedicles sometimes you just can't avoid getting the edges of the pedicles wet. Bare in mind that boiling water will clean off the dark colouration (caused by the animal fraying from tree sap, dirt etc) and some recolouring might be necessary afterwards.
In my boiler I will simmer for about two hours. If you have a rolling boil it will be significantly less than this! Try not to over boil or the nasal bones tend to fall apart. A tip here is to tie the jaw bone on a piece of string and boil with the head. Occasionally pull it out by the string and examine it. When the flesh is falling off the jaw and the meat has a slimy appearance it's usually a sign that the head is boiled enough.
If you are going to cut your trophy you can cut it now, opening up the brain cavity and reducing the amount of work you need to do with the pressure washer. If the head is going to be measured then it's probably better to keep it whole.
Give the head a good going over with the pressure washer stripping all the flesh off. Be particularly careful around the delicate nasal bones and keep the jet off the antlers or you will lose the nice brown patina. If the meat isn't coming off (it can be stubborn around the ear canals and on the back of the skull) then boil for a few more minutes and have another go. If a bone does come off don't panic, they can be carefully glued back afterwards. If you haven't cut the head then you will need to jet into the brain cavity and wash all the brain contents out. Careful here, this can be messy! Also pay attention to was out all the cartilage and tissue from inside the nasal cavities.
With persistence and care you should be able to create a perfectly clean head although a bit of additional scrubbing/scraping may be necessary.
If you want to bleach the skull now is the time to do it while it is still damp. A good method is to buy cotton wool pads, soak them in Hydrogen Peroxide (35% food grade available on ebay) and carefully cover the head with them. Wear gloves or you will end up with white blisters (they do fade after a while)! Leave for a few hours and then peel the cotton off.
Let the head dry naturally and you are done. Note that it won't show it's true whiteness until it has dried out properly. In the photo above it hasn't been bleached and you can see some colour, however once it dried it looked perfectly white.
Here is the same head having dried out
Hopefully this will be of use to someone looking to prepare their first head. Also feedback from old hands welcomed.
(Credit to EMcC for shooting the subjects )