Earlier this week I showed you the gruesome beetling process used to turn a postmortem whitetail skull into an elegant European mount. I promised to share more dirty details with you about the skull-cleaning business, so here goes. …
Skull beautification is an insanely huge money-maker, and Skulls Unlimited in Oklahoma City is at the top of the cranial kingdom.
It all started when Jay Villemarette was laid off from his auto-body repair job in his early 20s. “Skullmaster,” as he is now commonly known, had collected skulls for years. He was forced to begin selling his collection to pay the bills. Well, hell, skulls were selling pretty well, he thought. Everything took off from there.
According to Jay Villemarette Jr., the Skullmaster’s son, Skulls Unlimited now has the largest collection of dermestid beetles (the carrion buggers responsible for eating skull flesh) in the country. They were also the first company to go commercial with skull cleaning.
It’s a small, family-run company with only 15 loyal employees, six of whom are family members. With such a minimal staff, it’s amazing they’re able to manage the 4,700 sq. ft., state-of-the-art facility, complete with a multi-species skeleton museum containing everything from small varmints up to a 40-foot humpback whale. At any given time, 40-50 beetle colonies are dining on a flesh buffet in two different rooms. How long does it take for the beetles to wipe their plates clean? Well, a bear skull is typically clean in a short 3-4 days.
It’s not necessarily a glamorous way to make a living. “The smell is horrific. It changes every 3 or 4 hours,” said Jay Jr. “We’re working on 30,000 skulls at any given time. Everyone is really used to it. You just want to make sure you don’t wear your good clothes. It’s just kind of one of those things you have to experience for yourself.” But the Skulls team must be a happy bunch—most employees have been there for more than 10 years.
The Skulls employee job descriptions would make most people cringe. Dale Dorsey, their “master flenser,” is responsible for removing brains and flesh from specimens. His favorite skull is that from a domestic cat.
Skull cleaning makes up a large part of their craft, but they handle full skeleton cleaning as well. They’ve handled everything from humans to gorillas, from shrews to elephants.
You’d better believe they get their fair share of attention from hunters, too; approximately 40 percent of their business comes from wild game care. “We receive packages daily … anywhere from three to 20 packages a day during fall hunting seasons,” said Jay Jr. And they regularly see monster bucks that most hunters would drool over. “We get record bucks in all the time from different states,” said Jay Jr. “A 14-point buck isn’t really a big deal, but with a lot of the big ones, the shop will talk about ‘em for a couple days.”
If you want the topnotch professionals at Skulls Unlimited to take care of one of your trophy kills this fall, go to SkullCleaning.com. Include a small note when you ship your skull and tell ‘em I sent you—they’ll return your finished product with a free Skulls Unlimited T-shirt. Send them a photo of you wearing the T-shirt and they’ll give you a Skulls gift certificate for $9.95. And don’t forget to share the love with your fellow hunters … post photos of your trophies at Facebook.com/HuntingClub.