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The 7 Steps to Tanning a Deer Hide Are Easier Than You Think

With these seven steps, you might just become a successful tanner yet.

Wait! Don’t throw that hide out!

Before you toss that heap of hide you just peeled from your deer, why not preserve it for display or use?

Follow these steps and see why the process may be a bit easier than you think.

Step 1: Skin Your Deer

If you happen to be skinning your own buck, you might as well go for the entire hide; you can decide later if you want to keep it intact as a “rug” or turn it in to functional leather.

The process of skinning is lengthy, but for the purpose of explaining the tanning steps, we’ll assume the hide is off and intact. I like to skin from the tarsals to the jaw for this purpose.

Step 2: Flesh the Hide – The Most Important Part!

With the hide now off, it’s time to get in to the more tedious act of the tanning process: the fleshing.

It’s important to get all the flesh and film you can off of the back of the hide, because it’ll ultimately make for a more successful and cleaner finished product. You can purchase a double-handled fleshing knife, but I’ve always had the best luck with a semi-dull 6″ folding hunting knife.

Stretch the hide and secure it. Some people recommend staples or nails, but I prefer the big metal spring clamps from a hardware store (they’re a few bucks a piece) to secure the hide to a cheap piece of flake board or plywood.

Start in the corner of the hide and get to work with pressured strokes, holding the knife blade perpendicular to the hide. You’ll see the slime-ish film start to peel away from the hide, exposing the white fiber skin underneath. You don’t want to go deeper than this or you’ll cut through the hide.

This part can be a bit time consuming, but the idea is to wind up with a clean, flesh-free hide. Trust me, it’ll pay off in the end.

If you’re lucky enough to have a pressure washer then the process can be even easier. Check out this video to see what I mean:

Step 3: Time to Salt

With the hide fleshed, it’s time to add some salt and let it sit. You can keep it right on the board you used to flesh it on.

Go to a supermarket or Wal-Mart and grab a bunch of non-iodized salt (iodized will work but may stain the hide). A 1-pound container shouldn’t cost more than a buck. Get about 10 pounds or so.

Now, with the flesh side up, work the salt into the hide, making sure to salt all areas. There’s little risk of over salting, here; more is probably better. The purpose is to draw out all moisture and dry the hide out.

Leave the hide sit overnight. In the morning there will likely be a pool of fluid sitting on top of the now wet salt. Scrape the old salt off and reapply a fresh layer.

The salt essentially preserves the hide, but if you aren’t going to continue the tanning process now then simply roll the hide up and freeze it until you’re ready to continue. The hide will be dry and stiff from the salt but once soaked will become supple again.

Step 4: Choose your tanning solution

There are multiple methods to use at this point. You can use the deer’s brain (if you saved it), an alum solution, or a commercially-prepared tanning solution (probably the easiest method).

Since the commercial solution isn’t very expensive and is probably the easiest, we’ll focus on that method. You can purchase a double pack of Deer Hunter’s and Trapper’s Hide Tanning Formula from the Sportsman’s Guide for less than 20 bucks.

Follow the instructions on the back of the bottle for the application portion of the tanning. You’ll want to clean the hide of any salt that remains and then soak it in soapy water for about a day to break down any remaining grease. I prefer a high quality dish detergent for this process.


Sportsman’s Guide

Step 5: Work in the solution

While the hide is still damp, work the tanning solution in to the non-hair side of the hide (wear gloves). Don’t be afraid to use pressure and creative strokes to really help the solution penetrate the hide. Focus on your inner Karate Kid for technique.

Step 6: The Waiting Game

With the tanning formula applied, spread the hide out and wait the prescribed amount of days (usually about five) for the curing process to complete.

Step 7: Time to Soften Up

The hide will likely be stiff at the end of this process but don’t worry, you can make it as soft as you like. I like to use a spray bottle and moisten the hide enough to work the fibers loose.

A saw horse or stretched line works well at this point to drag the hide back and forth over. Repeat this process to your desired liking.

For a suede-type finish, try rubbing the tanned side with a fine grit sandpaper.

That’s it! You’re done!

You should now have a soft and usable deer hide to decorate you den with or turn into a fashion trend.

While not necessarily “quick” this process is cheap and fairly easy, so before you dump that hide, think about putting it to good use by home tanning it.


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The 7 Steps to Tanning a Deer Hide Are Easier Than You Think