Things to Consider Before Buying a Cow Skull

Moving Forward

I’ve come to realize after reading through a whole mass of comments yesterday that I get roughly the same questions time and time again with a few slight variations. In the coming weeks I will spend some time addressing those questions but I would also like to start showcasing skulls from the community. I’ve had hundreds ask me about skulls they are working on – so let’s seem them! Leave me a comment on this post and we can talk further about getting your skull featured on here. 


Before Buying A Cow skull

  1. Put Your Nose To The Test – whether you’re at a flea market, found a dedicated bone shop, or you’re visiting a local rancher the best way to ensure you’re getting a clean skull is to get personal with it and smell it. I’m not talking just a light sniff from a few feet away – pick the skull up, put your nose in the eye socket and take a big whiff. While I come across a lot of skulls that are “clean” on the outside, more often than not it has a putrid smell when I get in the socket. This is an indication that there is still flesh on the inside that has not fully decomposed. Unless the skull is extremely unique (exotic animal) or it’s extremely cheap (under $15), then I recommend you move along. I like to buy these for experimentation, not for customers. I also recommend that if you purchase to make sure it’s smaller and not a monster bison or anything of that nature – it’ll be easier to clean, but we’ll discuss that in a moment. 
  2. Inspect and Sniff the Horns! – I know, the eye sockets sniff test is weird enough, but the horns are often neglected and can be a significant source of odor, even if the main part of the skull smells fine. This is especially problematic with the actual horn, which is the outer shell covering that detaches from the bone during decomposition. If you get a strong scent from the horn OR underneath the horn, I highly recommend you move along. Probably going to be more trouble than it’s worth later on. 
  3. Talk to the Seller – Get to know the folks you’re buying the skulls from. Ask them how they acquired the skulls, see if they are a middleman. Try to understand a bit about the animal – did it come from a slaughterhouse or did it pass naturally at pasture? Slaughterhouse skulls I always find have an extra special layer of stench. Identify how the skull was initially cleaned. I have never found a skull where the seller has told me they boiled it and I’ve completed the purchase – it either looks like crap or it smells still. I am not a fan of boiling – complete mess, most people do it wrong, and it’s too easy for something to go wrong. 
  4. Don’t Overpay – While it can be tricky tracking down skulls, don’t ever overpay for a skull. It’s not worth it – there are thousands out there. You just need to get creative in tracking down the right skull. Talk to ranchers, scour flea markets, search online even. If someone is trying to sell you a damaged skull with crap horns and some odor for over $100 – forget it. Honestly, mediocre cattle skulls are a dime a dozen and are worth no more than $50. 


Hope this helps! Always feel free to leave a comment and ask a question. I’ll try to get back with you as soon as possible. Happy painting 🙂 


4 thoughts on “Things to Consider Before Buying a Cow Skull

  1. Jim Berridge Reply

    Wow, great info, I am glad I found your comments. We have been paying $30-50 for decent skulls and creating really cool art with them. I have become a smarter buyer, thank you

  2. Linda Dhaseleer Reply

    Hi Dave – We don’t “boil” – but we do simmer. Depending on how fresh the skull is, it might take 6-8 simmers (first ones in low-phosphate soapy water, followed by at least one or two in clean water). We don’t “over-boil” (higher temperatures for long periods of time) – which can soften/damage the bone… but honestly, I think repeated/lengthy immersion in hot soapy water is the ONLY way to clean bones/skulls because the water we dispose of is SO incredibly dark and foul smelling – even from the cleanest LOOKING found bone… plus it is important to kill any disease/bacteria/virus. If you think of it… with found bones, the decomposed flesh has melted into the porous bone. That has just GOT to come out if you are going to have a clean-smelling result. I can’t imagine going to all the effort of painting a skull that hasn’t been cleaned properly and will therefore always smell “dead”.

  3. Nikki Reply

    Hi Dave! I recently purchased a bison skull and after searching Google I found your posts which have been very helpful but i’m lacking in the inspiration. You wouldn’t happen to have an instagram where you showcase your work?

    • Dave Yeti Post authorReply

      Hey Nikki, sorry. No Instagram (for the skulls at least). I recommend going on Pinterest though! That’s where I find a ton of inspiration. I keep some painted skull boards there.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.