Tanning Hides Tutelage

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Photo by Dennis Biswell
Shake off the wet salt and place the skin on a drying rack.

Back in August, we recorded a podcast about tanning deer hides. It was an in-house project, a discussion among Grit editors Kellsey Trimble and me, as well as information technology staff member and avid outdoorsman Dennis Biswell, and the Ogden Publications podcast manager who pulled it all together, Charlotte Brunin. Check it out at www.Grit.com/tanning-hides-podcast.

Throughout the deer season each year, Dennis and I (and others here in the office who hunt) compare notes, tell stories, and generally share in the sheer joy that deer season brings. As far as deer hunting goes — when hunters spend countless hours in the tree or on the ground alone, staying quiet and still — sharing these stories at the office is one way to feel a camaraderie celebrating a passion for this mostly solitary outdoor pursuit; and solitude is indeed part of the appeal. But it’s fun, and funny, to sense the giddiness every September and share in the successes and failures of fellow hunters. Sales Director Bob Legault is another deer-hunting nut worth checking in on every Monday morning come November.

We scheduled the podcast recording for an hour, then struggled to call it quits after surpassing an hour and a half. It was a blast, and it could have gone on for much longer than it did. The conversation ranged from Dennis’ method of tanning hides (see “How to Tan a Deer Hide,” Page 45) to aspects of ethical hunting and even into how to legally give venison away to relatives and neighbors. (There is a form you can fill out on the state wildlife and parks website that serves to track the meat and show it was obtained by legal means.) I’m happy to say I’ve given deer meat away to friends and family before plenty of times — what deer hunter doesn’t love to share his or her deer jerky — and it’s good to know how to do it by the book.

But I’m ashamed to admit that after processing animals in years past, I’ve often discarded the hide. That’s going to change this year, and Dennis’ step-by-step instruction, with photos, is sure to give you an idea of just how easy a task it is to produce something beautiful and functional with the hide — for any number of different species. With enough time to work the skin, you can produce a heck of a soft throw rug that looks and feels very cool. And it’s a craft that links us to our ancestors and rural heritage.

One of my major hang-ups was always that in the moment, hanging, skinning, processing meat, the meat is obviously the top priority, and there’s a lot of work to do to make sure it gets cooled down quickly enough and packed away so that my family can eat venison safely in the year to come.

The game-changer, so to speak, is the idea of putting the skin in the freezer for a few months and coming back to it later. In January or February, I can’t think of a better project as one waits for the spring gardening and farming season than to tan a hide or three. I really can’t wait to try it, and I’m sure I’ll be knocking on Dennis’ door for advice along the way.

That’s pretty cool “water-cooler” talk, in my book, and one of the reasons it’s so fun to work for a magazine that celebrates our rural heritage.

This winter, please don’t hesitate to send any feedback my way, or even share a cool hunting story. There’s few things more rewarding than hearing directly from our readers (cregan@grit.com).

Until next time,

Caleb Regan

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