Extension Wildlife Specialist, Extension Riparian Management Specialist, Extension Research Specialist, and Extension Research Technician,respectively, New Mexico State University, Las Cruces, New Mexico.
For a complete explanation of preparing skins prior to tanning, see Extension Guide L-101, How to Prepare Pelts.
Tanning Deer Hidesand Small Fur Skins
Jon Boren, Terrell T. “Red” Baker, Brian J. Hurd, and Glenn Mason
Because preserving hides and furs is an ancient art,many successful preservation methods have beendeveloped through the years. Native Americansused wood ashes to remove the hair and used brainmatter as a tanning agent. Native Americans alsochewed the hides to produce soft buckskin, but fewmodern hobby tanners are willing to try thesemethods.Deer hides and small fur skins can be tanned athome through a variety of techniques. Tanningrequires few tools, and chemicals required for somemethods can be obtained locally. However, chemi-cals needed for other home tanning techniques,such as glutaraldehyde, can be difficult to find anddangerous to use. There are various home tanningkits available commercially that offer contemporarymethods of tanning. These kits often include all ormost of the chemicals needed as well as detailed in-structions. Such kits and tanning supplies can befound in taxidermy or leather-craft supply catalogsor Internet Web sites. Three techniques for tanningdescribed below are for those willing to try moretraditional home tanning “recipes.” Becausepossession of wildlife pelts is governed by gamelaws, consult your local game warden before youbegin.Tanning leather or furs requires time and pa-tience. No tanning formula is foolproof, and suc-cess can be attained only through hard work, closeobservation, care and patience. Inexperiencedtanners should realize that their first attempts willnot produce professional-quality leather. If the furor hide is valuable, it would be best to send it to aprofessional. Use a less valuable hide for beginningprojects.Deer and squirrel hides are probably best to startwith, primarily because they are easy to prepare forthe tanning process. Others such as rabbit are thin-skinned and require more care to avoid damage.
CAUTION: Extreme care must be taken whenworking with any chemical throughout theprocedures described below. Carefully readproduct labels and follow all safety precautions.
I. PRELIMINARY PREPARATIONS
•Sharp knife•Large flat working surface such as an old work bench or a sheet of plywood•Technical grade salt or non-iodized saltIf not already done when skinned, split the tail of the hide the entire length on the underside. If thehide was skinned cased, split it neatly down themiddle of the belly. Cut away any pieces of fleshthat may still be attached. Ragged edges also shouldbe trimmed, being careful to cut from the fleshside. If tanning cannot begin within one day, hidesor pelts must be treated or cured promptly. Failureto do so can lead to deterioration of the hide andhair slipping later on. Also, salt curing aids in the
This publication is scheduled to be updated and reissued 10/09.
To find more resources for your business, home or family, visit the College of Agriculture and Home Economics on the World Wide Web at www.cahe.nmsu.edu
Cooperative Extension Service
College of Agriculture and Home Economics