Just as the proverbial saying goes “there are more ways than one to skin a cat,” so are there different ways to tan a bear hide. Here’s one way to do it.
From the moment we put out the bear bait and erected the tree stand, our plan was to attempt this DIY tanning project. With that in mind, the bear was skinned and the hide stored in the freezer until time permitted us to start the project. From start to finish, the tanning took about a week.
• Fleshing knife
• Dawn dish soap
• Tanning formula
• Rubber gloves or paintbrush
• Mixing bucket or bathtub
Step 1: Flesh it
If you’ve frozen your hide, slowly thaw it before jumping in. Once it’s thawed you can start to flesh it. Using a fleshing knife, which can be picked up at an outdoors store or online, remove any tissue matter that may still be on the hide.
Draping your hide over a hard, rounded surface can help make this tedious job easier on your body. You can construct a fleshing pole or beam, but we simply used our town-issued green bin since we were only tanning a portion of the hide.
Step 2: Pass the salt
The next step is to salt the hide. We used regular table salt. You need about a pound of salt per pound of hide. Lay the hide flat on the floor, fur down and cover it with salt (there’s no risk of over salting). If you can leave it laying flat safely, do so for 24 hours, then brush off the salt and repeat. If leaving your hide open on the floor isn’t an option due to curious kids or pets, fold it flesh on flesh, then roll it up and move it to a safe place.
Salting the hide will help draw out the natural moisture and bodily fluids, which helps stop the decomposition process.
Step 3: Bath time
Next, give your hide a bath — a salt bath. Mix a 1/2 pound of salt per four litres of water. The hide needs to be fully immersed in the salt solution, so keep that in mind when choosing a container to dunk it in. A large garbage pail, plastic storage bin, or bathtub are good choices. You’re essentially pickling the hide at this point, which helps preserve it and set the hair. You’ll need to leave the hide in the salt bath for six to 10 hours.
When you take it out, rinse the hide with Dawn dish soap. This will remove the leftover grease and gunk from the hide. You can use any dish soap, but Dawn has a reputation for cutting through grease, which can be an issue with bear.
Once clean, hang your hide to drain and air dry.
Step 4: Time to tan
You can make your own tanning formula, but for the at-home tanner, buying a commercially made one is easier. We used Deer Hunter’s & Trapper’s Hide Tanning Formula, $19.99 at Cabela’s. Apply the formula using gloved hands or a paintbrush. Lay the hide on the floor, fur down, when applying the formula to minimize any mess. Once you’ve covered the hide, massage the tanning formula in and fold the hide flesh on flesh. Leave it like this for 12 to 16 hours.
Step 5: Work it
After you’ve given the tanning formula time to work, unfold your hide and hang it to dry slowly. Work it often as it dries. You can pull and stretch the hide by hand, run it over rope, or the edge of a piece of wood; a mounted section of 2×4 will do the trick.