Woods to Table

From Matt-Tanning a Hair On Deer Hide

Hey guys! Matt and I thought it would be fun if he gave some input on some of these posts! Technically, I can’t be a hunter’s wife without the hunter! Most of his posts will fall under the Woods to Table section-stay tuned this is going to be a blast! So let’s jump right into what my “camo pant wearing” husband has to say on tanning a hair-on deer hide.

Photos from here on out will be slightly graphic so reader beware… be tough ya’ll!

We are going to lay the process out in a step by step format and leave tips as we go. First and foremost take your time skinning the hide… we hang our deer before processing them so he typically skins from the head/neck area and works his way down. Making as little holes and not damaging the hide. From there you can either immediately salt the hide or like Matt does freeze it until he has a week that he can dedicate to working on it. During deer season there are always more deer to chase and of course processing the meat for the freezer so he typically doesn’t have time to tan the hide right away.

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To thaw the hide you can lay it on your tanning station and keep unfolding it as it thaws out. From there you will start the scraping and cleaning the hide. Matt uses a custom made scraper from an old saw blade. It gets all the meat and fat off without cutting the hide. This part of the process requires patience and hard work-plan on spending a couple of hours. It is ideal to get it all done in one night.

Matt then soaks the hide in water and one cup of Dawn dish soap (helps remove grease)  in a large trash can over night. He puts another trash can with weights in it on top of the soaking hide because the hair is hollow and will float. The reason for soaking the hide is to clean it and let the tanning solution (coming late in the process) fully penetrate the hide. Rinse the hide and then wring out extra water. Next you will lay the wet hide on a flat surface and begin the salting process. You will need about 5 pounds of salt spread evenly over the hide. Let sit for 90 minutes.

IMG-1573After this you will apply the tanning cream; to make this we use the Tannery Inc. crystals, flour, and water. Make sure to cover your face when making the tanning cream and wear gloves later when you apply it. Apply the tanning cream onto the hide without removing the salt, make sure to cover every spot of the hide in a even layer. Let the tanning cream sit for 48 hours. The tanning crystals will penetrate through the salt and into the hide.


Next you will scrap off the tanning cream (still will be wet) and remaining salt. Matt does this outside-it can be very messy. Once it is clean, he applies the Tannery Inc. oil in an even layer on the entire hide. Tip: make sure the oil is warm when applied-do not boil, just warm it up. Go back in 10-15 minutes and rub in any puddled oil. Let dry for 3-4 hours and then apply a second oiling. Once again, go back 10-15 minutes later and rub in any pooled oil. Now it’s time for the final drying-in dry climates this will take 2 or so days, in humid climates (like Missouri) it takes 4-6 days. It will dry to a “crust” state. Tip: if needed, use a fan to help speed up the process in moist environments.



Now to finish…! Use a rounded scrap tool to stretch the leather. Push down and pull across the hide-this breaks up the leather fibers making it soft. Matt then takes course commercial grade sand paper to sand down the hide and give it a finished look. Tip: for additional softness, work the hide over a rope, stretching the leather especially in spots that feel a bit stiff.


Lastly….admire your hard work! The most recent hide Matt completed was for our son Weston. He wanted one for his bed! It turned out fantastic! And it made our little country boy even more proud of his daddy!

We hope you all enjoyed this post! We are excited to do more like this-it’s a win, win-you all learn some cool tips and we get a mini “date night” haha! Please share pictures of you favorite tanned hides and leave comments for ideas and tips!




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