One of the best parts of harvesting your own meat from the wild is being able to use every part of the animal. Nothing embodies the spirit of self-reliance and hunting like DIY taxidermy. While it is labor intensive and requires some good old-fashioned patience, tanning your own pelts is one of the most rewarding things a hunter can do. Here’s a step-by-step approach to tanning a deer pelt. You can use this method with other animals as well, such as bear and elk. Keep in mind that this entire process from start to finish will take about three weeks. It can be done in a garage, shop, or even in a small apartment if you take care to remain cleanly.
Tanning your own hides is a gateway to creating blankets, clothing, or moccasins out of animal skins. If you follow this instructional breakdown, your pelt will be usable for any of these options. Also, as if you needed another reason to go for it… having a taxidermist tan your pelts is spendy, the set-up we used below ran a whopping total of 20 bucks.
Skinning Knife or Ulu
5 Gallon Bucket
Large Plastic Container or tub
Steep approximately two pounds of loose-leaf black tea in a 5-gallon bucket of water. Allow the tea to steep for 48 hours. Stir it from time to time. At the end of this 48-hour period, pour the steeped tea into the larger container that you will eventually soak the pelt in.
Take your freshly harvested hide, lay it out and scrape away any excess meat that is still attached to it. The more meat you get off of it now, the less work you will have to do later when it is harder to remove. Take your time with this part, and be careful not to puncture your hide.
Lay the pelt out, flesh-side up, and cover it with rock salt. The entire surface area of the fleshy side needs to be covered. The salt will naturally suck all of the moisture out of the pelt, but in order to do so it needs to be applied healthily. Allow the salted pelt to sit out for 5 days. You won’t harm the pelt by allowing it to sit longer, but make sure you let it sit out for the 5-day period at minimum.
Scrape the salt off of the pelt, using your hands or a small piece of wood. The salt will have hardened a bit and it may take some force to separate it from the fleshy portion of the pelt. You can place some of the salt into the tea mixture if you like, it only helps and will not hurt the process.
Place the pelt into the tea. It is important to ensure the pelt is fully submerged.
For this particular set up, a series of wooden slats and two small cinderblocks were employed to make sure the pelt stayed beneath the tea. Allow the pelt to soak in the tea for a minimum of 10 days. This will ensure that all the tannins from the tea permeate the hide.
Remove the pelt from the tea and hang it to dry. While you can lay it out to dry, hanging it is more effective. Exposing it to some sunlight is okay, but take care to allow the pelt to dry slowly. This will make it more pliable, as opposed to sun-starched.
Using a hard-bristled brush, brush off the bits of tea that have attached themselves to the pelt. This may take a while, as loose-leaf tea can be clingy when dry. The fleshy side of the pelt will have more tea on it than the hair side. You will need to brush the hair side also.
Roll and re-roll the pelt. This is particularly important if you intend to use the pelt for things like clothing or moccasins. This process ensures that the pelt is malleable. Be patient, take your time and work with the pelt. Roll it up like a sleeping bag, then flip it and roll it the other way. Do this many, many times until the pelt is to your liking.