DIY: bear hide tanning in 5 easy steps

by April Scott-Clarke | June 7, 2019
bear hide tanning

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.

DIY tanning

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

• Salt

• 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.

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  1. Dan talbot wrote: Can't wait to try it!
  2. Toby Hudson wrote: I’m tanning my first bear hide. Must I stretch the hide and attach it to a frame? I’ve seen a couple sites where that doesn’t seem to be done... Thanks
    • Meghan Sutherland wrote: Toby, OOD has a helpful video of DIY bear tanning that doesn't involve a frame. Please find it here:
  3. Jessica Griffeth wrote: How many times do you need to cover it in salt?
    • Alesha Howran wrote: Hi Jessica, April suggest to salt it 2-3 time in her tutorial.
  4. Steven Torres wrote: Any tips or videos that go more into salting ears, paws and crevices? Also, is it bad if I leave the salt in for a few days? Thanks.
    • Meghan Sutherland wrote: Steven, OFAH's Fisheries Biologist Adam Weir answers: "I've done a number of study skins, as well as other personal tanning projects. I use Trapper's Hide Tanning Formula for all my skins – available through various outlets including Cabelas, Halfords, Amazon, Fur Harvesters Auction, etc. The step-by-step instructions are on the back of the container. After the hide is properly fleshed and prepared, salt should be liberally coated over the hide. Use lots. I also rub it into the hide, especially the edges. The hide is then folded salted side, flesh on flesh, and can be left up to 24 hours (ish). Scrape the salt off, repeat the process for another 24 hours. Those are the main salting instructions, and there are a number of other steps to the process that I won't get into. Paws and ears can be especially tricky. The paws have to be carefully skinned out up to the first knuckle where the claw ends. I've done this before – it can be very tedious. Again, liberal amounts of salt are needed to ensure nothing rots. I've never done cartilage removal for ears before, but there are instructional videos available on YouTube that I've watched. If you don't take out the cartilage, you can risk the ear going bad and having fur slippage. That's coming from a novice btw! There are legitimate experts out there that know a lot more than me. But if you want to try a DIY approach, get the tanning formula and follow the instructions like I suggest. Hope this helps."
  5. Maya wrote: Was the soap an ok degreaser for something as greasy as a black bear?
  6. mike wrote: send me info how to tan a bear