How to Tan a Hide with Brains

Woo-hoo! Following up on my primitive skills post, when I asked “how exactly DO you tan a hide with brains?” Dragon delivered a whopping response. Whopping enough to warrant . . . . . GUEST POST!

(Ranger Man comments in orange

Back about “76” the nation’s Bi-Centenial was going full blast, lots of celebrations about the whole year long. I was like 16 then and got interested in Black Powder Guns and the whole Buck Skinner Hobby. I bought a 50. cal percussion lock kit pistol and traded for a 45. cal Flint Pennsylvania long rifle, and I was on my way. It took a lot of roadkill for me to get it right and make my first buckskins. The whole politically correct crowd and the elitist attitude drove me away years later. And I started walking the lone trail in the woods.

I’ll give the method to you like my Pap told it to me. First get yerself one dead critter whose hide ya wanna keep. Git the hide off the best way ya can cause there ain’t no easy way about it. Except rabbits and their skins ain’t worth the trouble. This way looks pretty easy.

Grind or pound ya a couple pounds of course rock salt, and salt that hide down, roll it up with the salt on the inside and the hair on the out. You use the salt to suck out the moisture in the hide. Roll it up in canvas and put it up overnight where the animals can’t get to it, or you can wait ’till  the weekend to start the rest.

Hopefully you saved the head to get the brains out by poking a hole where the skull is thinnest (like the nasal cavity or an eye socket) ewwww. Stir with a chopstick. EWWWWWW! I use a piece of coat hanger chucked up in a drill. If you’re not interested in saving the skull just bash it with a hammer, crack it like a nut and get the brain. Barbarian! If you didn’t save the head get a cow brain from a butcher or a slaughter house. Put the brains in a #10 can of water, just enough to cover the brain and mash it up while bringing it to a simmer. Never boil, and make sure it’s good and mashed up before it starts to bubble. Lol – this is so gross. It makes a nasty looking paste that smells about as bad as it looks. When that’s done set it aside to cool. Unroll your salted hide, rinse off the salt, and put over a smooth log. Wet it down some and start to remove any flesh or fat with a dull, I repeat a very dull blade. You need to scrape every inch of the hide, not cut. Save the scrapings less fat and meat for making hide glue.

*** Important: Scrape the hide flesh side until you see the roots of the hair.***

Now, if your keeping the hair on skip to the next step. To remove hair from a hide be it Cow, Buff, Bear or Deer, Etc… Get some pine ashes, about a bushel or more for bigger beasts. Like a moose? Wet the ashes and apply liberally to the hair side of the hide. Roll the hide up hair side in and roll that in some old canvas or some black visqueen. The latter works best. Bury it in a shallow pit for a few nights then bring it out, soak in water for a few hours to over night till the hair begins to slip. The lye in the wood ashes is what makes the hair slip. If you’re hardcore, snatch that bugger bald headed or you can do what I do, I use a pressure washer with a lot of pressure to blow the hair right off the hide. The wonders of modern technology! If you have done the former rinse the hide as necessary, but keep that booger wet. Once you got the hair off you’re complete. You may have to repeat the wood ashes if you didn’t get it right the first time.

***next step***

Warm and apply the brain paste. Art project! Lots of folks say different, but put it on paste-like with one of those rubber spatulas that folks use to ice cakes. I use an auto body spreader. Keep the hide moist and spread it out on a frame. I use a wood frame and some tension clips from Home Depot’s paint department. Almost done now. Let it sit overnight again and rinse clean by immersion in a barrel of water. Immediately after rinsing clean (you can use a hose) stretch again and press the moisture out with a wooden board. I use a canoe paddle to press the excess moisture out. Start to break the grain before totally dry over a log meat side against the log. Pull briskly back and forth until as soft as a chamoise cloth. Twist and pound to loosen the grain as necessary. Lightly stretch and place in the shade to dry.

***next step***

Smoke the hide under A tipi made of canvas or I use an old refrigerator box less guts to smoke as many as 6 deer hides at once. Smoking the hide waterproofs it. It won’t stiffen up after smoking. *** Important, lots of smoke and no heat.*** Punky partially rotted wood works best.

I’ve done 6 Deer hides in 48 hours that way, or one Bear hide in 48 hours. But my best time on a Buffalo hide was 68 hours start to finish. Remember every critter comes with enough brains to tan its hide.

Have Fun, Dragon

That’s whacked! Is there a market for tanned deer hides?
Dragon’s blog is here:

And here he is working the scene:


– Ranger Man (with the help of Dragon)

BTW: Dragon added this in a follow-up e-mail – If you followed some of the methods posted on the net you would start tanning in Jan and still be nekkid by Nov…There tons to do every day in primitive camps…and almost enough day light to do it in. But what I didn’t post was the easiest way to flesh a hide after salting was to use an electric weed wacker with fine nylon string. Scrape a few hides first then look around for an easier way. The easiest hide to work as a beginner has to be deer. Dragon

4 comments… add one
  • Guy March 15, 2008, 10:03 am

    [RangerMan: I didn’t know where to put this, I assume you’ll probably create a separate topic for this important issue]

    OT: GUN CONTROL: Supreme Court to decide the fate of the Second amendment (right to bear arms)

    “The U.S. Supreme Court said on Tuesday it would decide whether handguns can be banned in Washington, D.C., a case that could produce a decisive ruling on whether individual Americans have a right to keep firearms.”

    “The Supreme Court’s decision in this case will be extremely significant — the most important decision on guns in nearly 70 years and maybe the most important ever regarding the Second Amendment,” said Paul Helmke, president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence.

    The Second Amendment says, “A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.”

    City lawyers argued the amendment guaranteed the right to bear arms only in connection with service in a state-regulated militia, like today’s National Guard, and not for individuals. Gun-control proponents have long held that view.

    The Supreme Court will hear arguments most likely in March, with a ruling expected by the end of June.

    [There is probably only a small chance that the second amendment would be overturned. I think that if the supreme courts rules against private ownership of firearms, Its likely that they would ban the sale of ammunition and new firearms, rather than try to round up every single firearm in the US.]

  • March 15, 2008, 3:17 pm

    Using your brains to tan hides. Good article and I am looking forward to putting this into practice.

    I’ve found a place in the forest where the highway department dumps its road kill – deer, moose, bear and am keeping an eye out for a fresh kill.

    This time of year the smell is minimal since we are in a deep freeze, though in the summer you cannot get within 1oo yards of the place unless you have a cast iron stomach!

  • ryan March 15, 2008, 3:22 pm

    Awesome. It doesn’t seem that complicated. That makes me want to go shoot something so I can give it a go. Dragon how about a post on preserving the meet from the kill without freezing and refrigeration? I know the principles of smoking but a good hands on + lessons learned would be awesome.

  • Dragon March 15, 2008, 6:36 pm

    Dry curing meat instructions can be found here.
    print it out. and don’t forget to navigate the site for more resources.


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