Caffeine: the most potent artificial intelligence drink!

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

Wednesday, 18 January 2012

Mule Deer hock skin: part 2 - removing long and short pasterns

Removing the long and short pasterns, de-membraning, and soap tanning a muley deer hock skin.

Here's the long awaited sequel to the "How to skin deer legs for the hockskin" tutorial.

First a little refresher on the anatomy of a deer foot. And here it is again, a diagram of a horse's foot (which is homologous to that of a deer's). For this project, I decided to remove only the long and short pasterns, and leave the coffin bone in, as the hoof tends to dry flat if the coffin bone is removed. Due to the remaining coffin bone, care should be taken in making sure the hoof and the innards dry completely and quickly, or you risk bacterial colonies forming and you end up with a very stinky hockskin. 

Again, get yourself a fresh (or rehydrate a salt cured, or thaw a frozen) hockskin from your collection. In the previous "how to", I left the long pastern, et al, in the skin, as I was skinning 8. Those were tossed in the freezer, and thus I thawed it out in room temperature soapy water. Removing the long pastern is relatively easy, as the joint lies above the hoof/skin border.

Remove the long pastern.

At this point, my hands and fingers are not cooperating, in order not to slice myself to jerky bite size, I delayed removing the short pastern, and rolled up the hock (with the bones in the hoofs) in a towel to absorb the excess moisture and make the hair side dry a bit faster. Then tacked it on a board so it'll dry flat.

When the hockskin is nearly dry, scrape away the membrane and superfluous tissues with a knife. 

The bones in the hoof should be removed, too, so on the next day when fingers do obey my commands, I dig in... I found the best way (for me, that is) is to:

1) poke the blade between the skin and the tissues surrounding the bone loosening the cartilage capsule,
2) then get the blade to go between the flexor tendon and the short pastern bone (refer first diagram!) via the "heel" end of the hoof, to reach the joint that connects the short pastern to the coffin bone.
3) Blade should slide in easily, wiggle the point to severe the joint ligament.
4) Then use the knife to lever the disconnected joint out.

Like dental surgery. That way you don't have to deal with the navicular bone getting into the way. First try took me 45 minutes, after I figured out this trick it only took me 5 to 10 minutes. No boiling or pliers needed! And trust me, I've got pretty weak hands, so it's a neat trick.

Dig between flexor tendon and pastern bone ... side by side slice to severe the ligament, then twist the blade to lever out the bone.

Out comes the short pastern!

5 minutes later, the second one is out, too.
As I left the coffin bone in (the hoof tend to get a squished look when dry, without the coffin bone) I stuffed the socket left by the excavation with a mixture of salt (to dehydrate the soggy tissue) and borax (also helps dehydration, and cuts down on possible smellies).

Salt n borax in the sockets.

Then, to stop the powders from spilling while you work on the rest of the hock skin, plug it further with a wad of tissue paper, or cotton, or any other porous, breathable fabric you have. The idea is to let moisture wick away from the soggy cartilage/bone into the salt/borax, and then evaporate through the tissue plug.

For some reason, this really reminds me of my last wisdom tooth removal surgery!
Then carry on with removing membrane ... if you're lucky you can work off an edge of the membrane from the skin, then use pliers (if you have weak hands like mine) to rip off sheets from the skin.

Then rub a wet sponge on the flesh side, I left a border of about 2 cm (~1 inch) from the plugged socket to the wetted area. Then rub in the dressing.

As always, use a hot damp towel to help with the re-hydrating the skin.

If the hock is too stiff to roll, put a heavy object on it first, until it's damp enough to roll. Then roll it into the towel/skin deer burrito. Hold it in place with rubber bands, but try not to let the tissue paper plugs come into contact with the damp towel! This way you can simultaneously dry the hoof, bones, cartilage end and dampen the rest of the skin.

Leave it overnight, or however long it takes to dampen into loose skin again, then re-dress.

Use whatever scraper you have lying around ... here I'm using a deer scapula. Also helps to scrape away any stubborn membrane remnants still clinging on the skin. Work the dressing in real good. The blunt end of a sharpie pen also works fine.

Keep going until it's starting to show some sign of getting dry ..

Add more dressing if necessary. Hock skins are thick, and with really tough fibres, so it takes a bit more oiling and working compared to the average body hide.

5 minutes break while I have a read on Paleoplanet

Aaaaand we're done! I like using this method as it keeps the hair stuck on pretty good. All it needs now is a bit of smoking, but I'll wait until I have several more skins to smoke with it.

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
Salt Curing deer hides for storage
Alum tawing white tail hair on neck skin 
Processing green deer hide into .... 
Wild Edibles Compilation


  1. Good to know that you have a 'blog' thingymajigger... Bunch of neat stuff on here... Keep it up!

    StalkingWind, errr I mean Rusty Shackleford!

    1. LOL. Only noticed this comment. Your very welcome :) hope you'll post a picture of your version hock bag when you make it! Elk hocks are nice sized for possibles bag!

  2. Do you have any of these for sale? If so, I would like a matching set.

    1. Hey TheNarNar, we've moved house from Calgary to NWT, so most of my projects are still packed in totes. I can dig them up in the next week or so (fingers crossed). email me ryusof (dot) howton (at) gmail (dot) com.