RCG Tips and Tricks- Basics on Tanning Hides
Have you ever harvested a fuzzy coyote or a beautiful bobcat and thought "Now if only I could save the fur?" Well, fur-on tanning is not that hard, but it is time consuming and uses some elbow grease! I'm not going to give instructions, but some helpful tips that I have learned through experience.
First of all you have to harvest an animal. After skinning (I prefer the open method over case skinning) you'll want to fold it skin to skin, place it in a bag and keep it in a cooler. Bacteria will set in quickly and ruin the hide if you don't keep it cool. You can also salt it to draw out the moisture (use non-iodized) and keep the skin in the freezer until you're ready to tan.
There are several commercial tanning kits and supplies readily available from taxidermy supply sites such as Van Dyke's. I've used their Curatan kit with good results and the kit is enough for a few coyote skins or more smaller like fox and rabbit, and it's under $30. I encourage you to start with a kit instead of a do it yourself process, you're going to have much better results for your first fur.
You will also need a dull blade for fleshing. A sharp knife will only cut into the skin and do more damage. You will need to remove all the fat, flesh and membrane from the hide. I like to work on a 2x6 to give support while I'm fleshing. Take your time, this is where that elbow grease comes in. Be sure to split the tail all the way to the end! I didn't do this on a fox and the fur on the tip came out after tanning. There is a handy tool available call a tail stripper that works excellent to pull the tail bone out. Once you're done skinning you can wash your hide with dawn dish soap and cold water. You'll be surprised how much dirt is on a coyote! Plus this will help wash the grease off the hide.
Follow the instructions on your kit. Do not rush the process or you will wind up with disappointing results. Be sure to stir your hide, a paint stirrer works great for this, especially the big ones for the 5 gallon buckets. Make sure the bucket you're using is big enough for the hide to move freely. If not the process may not reach all the skin properly and the hair will start falling out.
You may also want to do this process when the temps are above freezing. I've been working on a coyote hide and it is not drying out. We finally got temps in the 40's and I have it draped on the clothes line. Be sure it is out of reach of your pets! I had a beautiful bobcat hide drying in my garage and my dog ate the head and one leg! I was more worried about her getting sick from the chemicals. She was fine, but still!!
Once you're done with the tanning and oiling process you need to stretch and work the hide. I have found the edge of a sheet of plywood works pretty good for this. Just drape the hide over it and start pulling it back and forth over the edge. Start gently, you don't want to be tearing it in half when you're almost done. This is what's going to make that hide soft and supple. Once you're done you can brush out the fur with an old brush to fluff it up again.
And there you have it, a beautiful fur that you can drape over a chair, make a rug mount, sew a ruff for a hood, make boot cuffs, all kinds of possibilities. I'm hoping to make a throw one of these days with several coyote hides!
If you are really serious about hide tanning you can purchase all kinds of tools to help out. I've just ordered a fleshing knife and beam. But you can still make a fur with what you already have.
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