Elk NetworkPreparation… after the shot. Skull Hooker

Gear 101 | November 6, 2019

With hunting seasons in full swing, the preparation for the hunts we have been thinking about all year are complete. Preparation for me, is almost as exciting as the hunt itself. I love doing the research into new areas, daily practice with my bow and making sure I have all the equipment necessary to survive or be comfortable on each hunt. What many hunters do not prepare for, are the decisions that need to be made after your buck or bull is on the ground. The obvious needs after a kill is making sure you are equipped in the field with knives and game bags to ensure that the meat is well taken care of. However, what I am speaking of, is the decision that needs to be made with the trophy head itself.

Preparation and being skilled as a hunter, certainly improve your odds for success. Now, if you happen to be lucky enough to harvest a buck or bull of a lifetime, the decision of what to do with your trophies’ horns or antlers is relatively simple.  For most who can afford it, a shoulder or even life size mount would be the obvious choice. Regardless, today there are other options for every hunter to consider.

European (skull) mounts have become increasingly popular for many reasons. First and foremost, the cost of a European mount is substantially less than the cost of a shoulder mount. Shoulder mounts just seem to get more and more expensive every year. For those who have the discretionary income to shoulder mount every animal, many still choose not to. The overriding reason for this is because wall space is a scarce commodity within many homes. Others, simply like the look of a clean white skull to showcase their trophy. Yet, some are complimenting their game room full of shoulder mounts with European mounts. The alternative is simply cutting off the horns or antlers for a skull capped display.

In the field, critical decision needs to be made. Do you cut the skull or plan for a European mount? The decision to cut the skull is irreversible, so careful thought prior to the hunt should be taken. If a European mount is on your mind, there are a few factors that need to be considered. First, if you are in the back country, are you willing to add the extra weight of that skull for the pack out? For me, this is an easy answer. I believe the packing of the animal is part of the deal. I actually enjoy having an 800lb elk to be quartered and packed out. The sense of accomplishment once we get to the truck is like no other. So, adding the weight of a head isn’t going to sway my decision. I actually have a tradition of packing out the lower part of an elk leg for my Labrador. He loves it and proudly carries it around for weeks.

As a tip, when the situation allows, I will cape out the head as if I was going to do a shoulder mount. I will do so if the cape is unique in color and/or in good shape. Taxidermists are always looking for good capes for their customers who need one.  I will then trade the cape for the full or partial cost of the European mount. At the very least I will outright donate it to a taxidermist because I feel its important for us as hunters, to utilize as much of every animal we kill as possible. Many forget that rugs and various leather goods can be made from the cape as well. I have a few whole bodied elk rugs and love them.

Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) is a larger and more important consideration to selecting a European mount. Careful attention needs to be made regarding processing and transport of the head and other parts given the CWD issue that is prevalent in many states. We as hunters need to respect the laws regarding this and do our part in not spreading this deadly disease. Admittedly, not much is known about the spread of CWD. Many States have gone above and beyond with their laws, but for good reason. Therefore, we all must abide by each States’ laws for transport and disposal. A minor inconvenience, especially if hunting across State lines, but a factor to consider when choosing a European Mount.

Some people simply prefer the look of European mounts. I am not partial to one over the other. For me, it simply depends upon the size of the trophy and the species. For a  commonly hunted animal like deer for instance, I will only shoulder mount a unique or close to my largest animal. If I am hunting a species that I may never hunt again, I am more likely to shoulder mount that species. For some animals, I simply prefer the look of a Euro over a shoulder mount. For example, I prefer pronghorn European mounts over a typical should mount.

The clean look of a white skull showing every inch of those black horns seems to catch my eye more so on a European mount. I do agree, a room full of shoulder mounts is impressive. However, I do think a scattering of European mounts to the room can also add additional interest and wall space can be a factor to consider as well.  For the typical hunter without a designated trophy room, not everyone has the room or the ceiling height for an elk, moose or bison shoulder mount. A European display could help get that trophy displayed in your house or business to be enjoyed every day.

Alternative display methods are now available to simple wall mounts. If wall space is filled, many are turning to a desk or table display and these are my overall favorite, if you have a place for one.

As another alternative, many hunters have turned to floor displays that solve many display problems within a home or office. First, these floor displays could free up some wall space (and certainly less holes in the wall), but more importantly they allow for an unlimited amount of display options for a wide variety of trophies. It is always interesting to see what people are hanging on these floor displays and how they are arranging them.

Why not a European mount? Interestingly, I have had very few European mounts until recent years. The reason for this, I believe, is because I have never liked the way they were displayed flat off the wall and I was never a fan of the old bulky wood plaques. Ten years or so ago I had a few European buck and bulls in my garage. I found myself tying back the antlers to the wall for a more natural upright look. Those days are gone as now there are brackets available to securely hang all trophies and many allow for customization of the head up and down and left and right for that perfect presentation.

Skull capped displays is the alternative choice. If a skull cap is the route you decide to take, the minor issues associated with CWD and packing out a head are not of concern here. However, the display of your trophy is somewhat less appealing especially within a home or business. Fortunately, the old skull capped wood plaques are not the only option any longer. Metal wall brackets along with cover plates are now available for those sawed-off skull caps. These allow for a much more streamline presentation and allow for customization of the antlers or horns, so they are not displayed flat off the wall any longer.

So, times have changed, and sometimes change is a good thing. For those of us who like to preserve the memories of our trophies, today there are many more mounting options to consider. But remember, before your next hunt, the preparation and thought needs to be taken prior to the hunt to make the right decisions are made in the field.

Learn more about Skull Hooker at www.skullhooker.com.