Caffeine: the most potent artificial intelligence drink!

Caffeine: the most potent artificial intelligence drink!
Deep in the Lair of the Perpetually Curious Fox

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

Curing deer hides for storage

Back from the metaphorical and metaphysical ... to deer hides (again)

I'm in the process of curing a couple of deer hides with salt as to free up the freezer space for food. In theory you can cure the hide just by air-drying, and even freeze drying (if it's cold enough and dry enough where you live), but right now the Chinook system has brought in a warm spell (it's above freezing here!) and the hides need a bit of help to dry.

Fleshing the hide

Prior to drying/curing I scraped off all flesh and fat from the hide. If the membrane is easily detachable, then pull/scrape it off. If it is stubbornly stuck on the flesh side, then leave it, as you risk injuring the hide with over-enthusiastic scraping and will end up with weak, thin spots, not to mention a whole bunch of holes.

Use a blunt-ish knife to scrape away the flesh and fat and connective tissues from the hide. You should be able to expose the skin which will look bluish white underneath all the gorey bits.

He was such a handsome buck. Kept his hide, legs, some bones, and antlers (and meat!). Thought about keeping the skull, but my other half has strongly protested against it.
With experience, you should be able to flesh the whole hide in less than a couple of hours. My first "fleshing" try took me 3 days, though, but once you figured out the technique it becomes really easy. Depending on how much pressure you can apply with your hands on the knife, I found that a really sharp knife is handy for the more easily fleshed areas, like the back, neck, and main body. The areas where the skin is pretty thin, like the flank, belly, inside leg, it's better to use a slightly dull knife so you can press down and force the tissues off without cutting the skin underneath.

I just used my good ole mini kukri, although many people prefer to use a draw knife, scraper made out of bone, copper pipe, etc.

Draw knife. Most woodworking shops will have this.
Someone using a draw knife. Image from
Bone scraper and flesher made from Elk leg bones. Image from Quillsnkiko in Paleoplanet

How to hold the thing. Image from Quillsnkiko from Paleoplanet
I am in the process of making a scraper and flesher out of deer leg bones, but right now they're sitting in a bucket of soapy water (after removing the marrow) to degrease it so it won't stink. I'll post a tutorial for making bone tools when they're clean.

So, how does one scrape the flesh of the hide? It depends on how fresh the hide is, and if it's dry or wet. I tend to wet-scrape (i.e. when the hide is still fresh) like the guy with the drawknife in the image above. This site has very good videos of the Innu people processing caribou hides, I just love the way the hunter makes his own tools, and the appearance of a copper pipe worked to be a scraper.

Some people prefer dry scraping, i.e. putting the hide on a frame, letting it air-dry, then use a very sharp scraper to shave away the unwanted tissues. I have yet to try this technique. If you're curious, then have a look at this thread written by Peter, who documented (using a non-paleo digital camera, obviously) his attempt at hide processing using only Paleo technology. And yes, he did use flint flakes and sharpened bone!

Salting the hide

Most articles and guides recommends using as much salt as the weight of the hide, but I usually just play it by ear.

First advice: Wear clothes and footwear that you won't mind so much getting covered by deer fluids, blood and random bits of tissues.

Second advice: Spread a tarp over your work area!! Hides are usually between 50-60% water, so there's going to be a lot of deer juices dripping and flowing everywhere! Don't do it indoors, obviously.

Third advice: Make sure you have LOTS of salt.

Ideally I prefer a flat work surface that's at a slight tilt so the hide can lie flat while the salt does it's job and the fluid that comes out of the tissues drain off somewhere and not soak the fur side. Since I do not have that sort of contraption set up, I just laid the hide, flesh side up, on the tarp, getting it as flat as possible.

Then you sprinkle salt all over the flesh side, working it into the folds right up to the edge of the hide. How much salt did I use? About 2-3kg depending on the size of the hide. Leave it for about an hour or so until some liquid initially migrates out of the tissues into the salt layer - this way it cakes up the salt to a very thick paste.

Lay the hide, flesh side up, on a flat surface. Sprinkle lots of salt all over. Rub the salt into the hide with your (gloved) fingers, making sure it covers every flesh side surface, including folds and the edge.

Once the first salt layer has formed a salty, gooey paste, sprinkle more salt on it, then fold the hide into half, flesh side to flesh side.

Salted and folded, flesh side to flesh side.

Get a stick (branch, broom handle, PVC pipe) and start rolling up the hide (now the hair side won't touch the gunky, salty, flesh side) with the stick in the centre of the roll.

Yes, that's the deer's tail.
Now take the deery bundle (it should start leaking tissue fluids now, so be prepared to be smeared) and prop it against a wall or a tree, so that the main crease is at the top, and the folded edges are kind of hanging at the bottom.

Also make sure that the hanging edges of the deer hid is not sitting in the draining salty tissue fluid! You want to keep the hide as clean as possible. You can see some fluid collecting at the bottom of the bucket that I used to help secure the stick that I used to prop up the hide.

Check every day, put more salt on if necessary, I usually find that the 1st and 2nd salt layer to be completely washed away with the draining tissue fluids after a day or two. Once the flesh side no longer feel sticky and drippy, you can unfold it and let it dry flat for storage.

Why salt the hide?

I found that salted hides tend to be easier to de-membrane once you rinse out the salt. The salt helps to break up the mucopolysaccharides that makes up the bulk of the gooey fascia that lies between the skin and the flesh. Even after de-fleshing, the gooey stuff is still within the collagen fibres of the skin, and that's what makes fresh hide so slimy to the touch.

Air drying and aging also breaks down the goo, as with freeze drying, freeze-thaw cycles and other various methods that other people use. I just find salting most convenient. You can tan a fresh hide, of course, but there's a lot more goo to deal with.

Update on the salted hides

I unrolled both salted hides today, as most of the fluids have drained away being propped up at an angle against the tree. Now, comes the 3rd and final salting, before it goes to dry out on relatively flat surface.

The flesh side of the hides are slightly damp, but no longer drippy or sticky
Just so the whole thing doesn't lie on the ground too much (want them to dry completely, not just merely frozen) I strung up the tarp so that the bottom of the tarp is a bit above the ground. Now we wait until they dry up! Should take a week or so, hopefully less, as the air is pretty dry right now.

This is dry salting. If you're more fond of wet-salting, take the slightly moist salty hides and stuff them in an airtight container. They should keep maybe a few years. Dry salting tend to last longer as there's less moisture, not to mention lighter, so I can just stuff them into the garage eaves until the weather is warm enough for processing in spring. The hair on bark tanned hide in the previous post was sitting in the garage eaves for about 15 years!

Other links that might interest you:

Deer hock pouch
Deer hock pouch, iteration 2; with belt loop
How to skin deer legs for hockskins
Bark tanning hair on deer hide
Softening bark tanned hair on deer hide
How to remove the pasterns and coffin bone from a deer foot
Alum tawing white tail hair on neck skin
How to degrease deer bones for making tools
Processing green deer hide into ....  
Wild Foods Compilation

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