Tanning your own hide isn't so hard

Friday, November 1, 2002

Archery deer season is open and firearms deer season is not far away. It is an annual rite of passage in which thousands of successful deer hunters enjoy the "fruits" of their hunt by cooking tasty venison delights.

Some hunters even keep a memento of that hunt by saving antlers or getting a taxidermy mount. But one thing that seldom gets used is the full pelt of the deer. Hunters often leave the pelt to a processing plant or discard the skin with the entrails and bones. Obviously they are not interested in the pelt.

I understand this all too well because I used to discard the hide. I had no idea what I could do with it and didn't have a clue how to preserve a hide. So anyone who wanted my deer's pelt could have it.

Years later I found a recipe for tanning hides in the Missouri Conservationist magazine. The procedure was simple, but involved elbow grease and a time commitment. This appealed to me because I was getting more from my harvest. It occurred to me that native tribes made exceptional use of the animals they hunted much in the same way.

Although I did not need deer leather to survive, tanning the hide connected me with a sense of maximized use. From that experience I was convinced I was making better use of my deer. .

Knowing that I had done the work made it even more satisfying. I left the fur on the hide of my first pelt and used it as decoration.

It looks nice draping over a banister or chair back or lying on the floor. It gives my home an outdoors look and is a pleasant reminder of the hunt. The pelt serves as more than just a reminder because I put significant care into tanning that hide. In doing so, I came to care what happened to the pelt from start to finish. I found myself treating the animal with great respect.

Subsequent hides now have value to me as a raw material. I can make buckskin leather, use the hair in craft projects or give some to fly-tying fishermen. My hunt is not just a killing event, it is a harvest.

If you would like to have the tanning recipe that I used, contact the Conservation Department. Ask for the free Missouri Deer Hunting publication. This publication is also found at www.conservation.state.mo.us/hunt/deer/d....

Among other tips, it includes a recipe and instructions for tanning your deer pelt using modern materials. You can also visit www.conservation.state.mo.us/teacher/hig... for a tanning process similar to that used by Native Americans. If you are fortunate enough to harvest a deer this season consider what you want to do with the pelt. Time and energy may pay off with a satisfying, homemade reminder of the hunt.

A.J. Hendershott is the outreach and education regional supervisor for the Missouri Department of Conservation.

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