Preserving and Tanning Hides
I have never been much of a trapper, admittedly. But every hunter, farmer, homesteader and so on should know how to handle hides.
When we harvest or butcher a deer, elk, bear, bovine or any large game animal or furbearer, we don’t simply reap from it the meat. There is additionally the hide available for our use. Hides have provided clothing, blankets, tools, shoes, wall decorations and scores of other things for mankind. Animal hides can provide a hunter with a fine jacket or coat, or buckskin pants that would make Tecumseh jealous. Fine pelts can be sold to fur buyers and give trappers money on the side, or for a living. The farmer can save bovine skins for a wide range of applications, or can sell hides to leather buyers.
Setting up the Hide
After an animal is field dressed and skinned, be mindful so as not to harm the hide and be careful to remove as much remaining meat and fat as you can from the skin. The system I use is one I discovered online in a trapper’s forum years ago, it is a method that has been in use for hundreds of years. I soak the hide, or hides, in a few gallons of water half a box to three-quarters of a box of baking soda and a pound and a half of unslaked lime. Be sure to soak for 3-4 days in this mixture. You should only rainwater or water from a fresh spring.
I then de-hair the hide. If you don’t know how to de-hair, it is easy to find out on YouTube. After the animal’s skin is de-haired, I utilize a fleshing apparatus which I likewise use for de-hairing, and give the hide a thorough going over to remove any fat and meat that I missed during the first cleaning.
I soak the hide overnight again after this procedure, simply utilizing a basin of rainwater. I then place the hide on a stretcher with many control points to dry it for 24 hours. After it is dry, rub the hide to soften it. It’s time for the next step.
Now you need to brain it. Brain it, you say? That is correct, the best and most natural approach to preserving the hide is utilizing the creature’s own brains or the brains of another animal. Stir up brains in a blender with somewhat warm water, soak the hide in a solution of brains and warm water. You won’t want to drink a glass of this lovely concoction, yet the brains do a great job of protecting the hides. While there are more modern methods, this one is the most satisfying in my opinion.
After you have brained it, I use a durable old ax handle as I dangle hide from a tree, post or along those lines, embed a ring, and turn press as much of the water out as I can. I then pat dry hide as best I can. I do this procedure a few times, over the course of an hour or two.
I then hang the hide again on the stretcher with control points as I did before. I work the hide as I had done before. Be careful to never put a hide on the stretcher hardened.
After a period of 24-72 hours, I smoke the hides. This keeps the leather soft in the event of it getting wet, and adds more preservation to the leather. I utilize a smokehouse and utilize a cold smoke method. I keep a little fan in the smokehouse to circulate the smoke so adequate smoke reaches all the hides.
This is a fun step, an I have been known to smoke some jerky in the meantime! Smoked hides also have good coloring if the smoke is done evenly, which is why I use a fan.
After you hides are preserved, dried, and smoked, they are now ready for use for whatever you need them for. If you take your time, and do a good job you will have skins that can be used for many things and can last a lifetime.
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