Monday, June 21, 2010

"Killing 101" and "Brain Tanning"

The next class was "Killing 101", taught by George (the tipi guy). He used his dog, Gilbert, as a demonstration tool. (Inserted edit:, people, he didn't actually hit or stomp on the dog, he merely pointed out WHERE to do such things! Quit sending me emails about this! lol)
The first part of his class dealt with killing an animal you've caught in a trap. It's assumed you want the critter for the fur, so you don't want bullet holes or blood on it. When you come across an animal caught in a trap, you need to look for the "damage circle" where the animal has thrashed about, trying to get free. The grass and brush will probably be tore up as far as the animal could reach. Try to stay out of that zone. Use a stick, shovel handle or whatever you can get your hands on, and smack the animal across the nose about midway. That will drop the animal, and then you can stomp on it's rib cage just behind the front shoulder to crush the heart.

Other tidbits he shared with us included that the ears on a bear never grow. If you see a bear with little ears, it's a big bear! When you're shooting an animal for the fur, he recommended aiming for an eye (um...I need more practice). Most animals can be taken with a .22 long-rifle. He said an animal doesn't actually chew it's foot off to get out of a trap. What happens is that as the leg goes numb the animal starts turning and twisting until the leg breaks off.

His recipe for attractant/lure for traps: Rendered fish oil, which is made by putting a whole fish in a jar in the sun and letting it sit until nothing is left except bones. Mix that with 4 drops skunk scent and half a beaver castor.

Next he moved on to talking about brain-tanning hides. You don't have to use the brains from the animal who's hide you're tanning. Any brains from any animal can be used. You can store the brains in the freezer until you're ready to tan with them. He's created a "brain blaster" using a piece of garden hose to flush the brains out of the cranial (skull) cavity. He jabs it in the back where the spinal cord was connected and flushes them out into a waiting container.

When it's time to tan he thaws the brains and puts them in a blender to even out the consistency. He pours them in a kettle and mixes them with water, then brings them to a boil.

When it reaches boiling he shuts off the heat. Meanwhile, he has a fleshed-out hide ready to work. If it's a fox or something skinned whole, the skin/hide is turned inside out. After the brains & water mix is cool enough to put his latex-gloved hand into, he scoops out a handful and swishes it up and down along the skin. Be generous and keep adding brains and spreading it out until you've covered the whole skin.

See, even the women were doing this too!
Rub the brains into the hide and just keep rubbing all over until the whole hide is saturated with them. This doesn't take long. Then you just keep working it with your fingers, stretching and pulling, up and down and all over, for a few hours until the hide is dry. If you need to stop along the way, just put it in a plastic bag and keep in a cool place. It doesn't have to be a refrigerator. It was in the mid-50s and we left them in bags for hours while attending other classes.

George had a trash bag full of fox skins, all fleshed-out and ready to tan. If you wanted to tan one, you picked one out and paid him. They varied in price from $30 to $70. Steven picked out a $50 red fox with darker legs. It's beautiful. I just took pictures for the first part of the procedure, then later helped him for a little while on stretching.

The next step in tanning, after you've stretched and worked the hide with your fingers until it's dry, is to smoke it. (It's hard to roll it in those little papers...oh wait, nevermind!) George uses a small wood-burning tent heater/stove with charcoal briquettes and punk wood (such as very rotted/decomposing trees). You want very little heat and a lot of smoke. He had a 3' stove pipe, and on top of the stove pipe was a leg cut from a pair of canvas (cotton) jeans. You staple the bottom of the hide around the top of the jeans and plug the leg and neck holes with paper towels:
Let the smoke run through the hide until the inside of the hide is light brown (about 45 minutes). Then you're done! If you want, you can wash the hide with Ivory Bar soap (NOT detergent) to remove the smoke smell. The hide will dry nice and soft.

This method can be used for any type of hide. Antelope skins make good shirts. They're thin, soft, and they breathe. George used 5 antelope hides to make this shirt:

Deer and Elk hides make good jackets. He uses buffalo rawhide for moccasin soles. Rabbit (wild ones such as cottontail)), muskrat, and beaver have very thin skins and are hard to tan. Domestic rabbits and jackrabbits are easier. Coyote and fox peel like a rabbit. Split the tail all the way up to make sure the tail bone is all the way out. Turn the hide inside-out and flesh (scrape all membrane and tissue off) the hide. Spread it on a stretcher to dry for a day or more. A stretcher can be made of wood or wire, in a long, oval loop. Pull the hide over like a sock. George said that a dry hide absorbs brains better.

Here's Steven's finished fox at home:

This might be where you need to click on "older posts", below and to the right, to get to the next page. Do that each time you get to the bottom of a page, until you get to the end of Dirt Time.

1 comment:

  1. "Rendered fish oil, which is made by putting a whole fish in a jar in the sun and letting it sit until nothing is left except bones. Mix that with 4 drops skunk scent and half a beaver castor."

    Ewwwwww! I guess whatever works!