How to tan a deer hide

Turn a deer hide into a family heirloom with this step-by-step guide

By Keith McCafferty | Published Feb 10, 2021 6:28 PM

How to tan a deer hide

Learning how to tan a deer hide is a rite of passage, cementing blood ties to our hunting forebearers who depended upon skins for warmth and who respected slain animals by never letting any part go to waste. Using an alum solution (you can find ammonia alum at pharmacies) departs from the traditional method of tanning hides—ancestral hunters used brains instead—but it will render your deer hide soft and supple. The reward is a memento that serves a dual purpose as a beautiful wall hanging or a comforter for a winter night.

1. Skin the Deer

Skin the deer and bone out the tail. Scrape every particle of fat and flesh from the hide with a knife. Begin the tanning process or preserve it with a generous layer of non-iodized salt. Salted hides can be air-dried until the onset of warm weather, or frozen.

2. Soften The Dried Deer Hide

Soak the skin in water in a plastic garbage can until it softens, changing the water often. Drain, then pull the skin back and forth across the edge of a board. Scrape it with the back edge of a knife or an old hacksaw blade with dull teeth. Do not expose the hair roots if you want to tan a deer hide with the hair on.

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3. Soak the Hide in Hide-Tanning Solution

Dissolve 2 ½ pounds of salt in 4 gallons of water in the garbage can. In a plastic bucket, dissolve 1 pound of ammonia alum in a gallon of water. Slowly pour the alum solution into the garbage can, mixing thoroughly. Soak the deer hide for four days, occasionally stirring to make sure it’s well coated. Rinse thoroughly with running water.

4. Condition the Deer Hide

Tack the deer hide, hair side down, to a piece of plywood. Partially dry it in a sunless place, then rub in a coat of fat liquor oil (3 ½ ounces of neat’s-foot oil combined with 3 ½ ounces of warm water and 1 ounce of ammonia). Work in half of this mixture, allow it to stand for an hour, then repeat. Cover with plastic overnight.

5. Stretch the Hide to Make it Soft

Remove the tacks, dampen the hide with a wet cloth, stretch it, then rub it back and forth over a sawhorse. Redampen it and repeat, applying additional fat liquor sparingly. When the tanned deer hide is perfectly supple, smooth the surface by chafing it with fine-grit sandpaper.


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There’s more than one way to tan a deer hide. This one uses a pressure washer

By Beka Garris | Published Aug 19, 2019 6:00 PM

How to tan a deer hide

When most people hear of tanning a deer hide, it makes them automatically think of the traditional method using brains. Though that is definitely still one way to tan a deer hide, there are easier ways that are just as efficient and cheaper than sending it to a tannery.

Deer Hide Tanning Supplies

1. Fleshing (Removing All Flesh From the Skin Side of the Hide.)

If you’ve ever fleshed a hide by hand before, you’ll know it can be a tedious task. But never fear, there is a more modern solution. If your hide is in the freezer, you’ll want to make sure it’s thawed completely before starting the fleshing process. If you’re working with a fresh deer hide, proceed as follows.

How to tan a deer hideA pressure washer is the fastest and easiest way to flesh a deer hide. If you don’t own one, check your local hardware store for a rental. Beka Garris

Drape the hide flesh side up over a hard surface such as a large plastic drum, or tack it to a piece of plywood. Take the pressure washer, and simply pressure wash the flesh off of the hide. You’ll need one that is 1800 PSI to be able to peel the flesh back, and most household pressure washers will work for this project. I recommend testing the pressure on a corner piece of the hide to ensure that it’s not going to rip. It’s also important to keep the stream of water moving across the hide fairly quickly as holding the water in one spot will result in a hole. It can be a little messy, so you’ll want to wear safety glasses.

How to tan a deer hideYour deer hide should be completely clean without any remnants of meat. Beka Garris

Make sure the flesh side is clean and white before proceeding to the next step. All of the flesh-colored pieces should be gone, leaving this side of the deer hide smooth. You’ll want to be particularly careful around the edges of the hide as it’s easy to miss small pieces. Use a sharp knife to get the last few bits off before proceeding to the next step.

2. Salt Your Deer Hide

This is the easiest step. You’ll need a few pounds of table salt (any brand will work. I buy the small canisters that are 1/2 lb each), which only costs a few bucks from any store. Pour the salt liberally over the flesh side of the hide until it’s completely covered. Fold flesh side together, and then roll it up, and put it in a five-gallon bucket. The bucket is crucial as it will help catch any moisture that leaks out of the hide.

How to tan a deer hideCompletely cover the hide in salt. Beka Garris

Leave the hide for 24 hours. Then take it out, shake the old salt off, and reapply fresh. Fold flesh sides together again, roll and place in the five-gallon bucket. Leave it for 24 hours and then move on to the next step.

3. Salt Bath

Mix a salt bath in a separate bucket with enough water to immerse the hide. Use 1/2 lb of table salt per gallon of water and extremely hot water to dissolve the salt. Mix thoroughly until salt is dissolved and let the water cool.

Immerse the hide in the solution and leave for six to eight hours. Overnight is fine, but if you leave it too long, the hair will start falling off the hide.

4. Wash and Prep The Hide for Tanning

Remove the hide and make sure you have no remaining pieces of flesh. If there are, simply scrape them off with a sharp knife. This is an important last step as any remaining bits of flesh will eventually make the hide smell if not removed.

Wash the hide in water and dish soap to remove all excess grease and salt. You can reuse your five-gallon bucket and use your hands to wash and move the hide around. Rinse the hide off with a hose or in the tub until there are no remaining soap bubbles. Then, drape it over a railing or clothesline, and let it drip dry until the hide is only slightly damp and still pliable.

How to tan a deer hideAfter washing all the soap out, dry the hide on a railing or clothesline. Beka Garris

5. Apply the Hide Tanning Formula.

One bottle of hide-tanning formula from Bass Pro Shops, Amazon, or Cabela’s is more than enough to do one full deer hide. I’ve used it on several different types of hides and swear by it.

How to tan a deer hide

You’ll want to warm the formula by setting the bottle in a pot of hot tap water for 30 minutes. When it’s time to apply the solution, I advise wearing gloves as it’s not necessarily something you want on your skin.

Lay the hide open, flesh side up. Apply the solution directly from the bottle to the hide. Pour small amounts at a time onto the hide and use a large paintbrush to spread it around. If you’re wearing gloves, you can simply use your hands. It’s important to make sure you cover every bit of the flesh with the solution. Massage it in and fold the flesh sides together again. Leave overnight 12 hours and then open the hide and let it continue drying. Keep in mind that the formula has an odor. Although it’s not totally bad (similar to musty wet leather), you’ll want to keep the smell in mind when storing the hide during this process. It will quickly permeate a room. I suggest putting the hide in the garage, basement, or shed where no animals can get to it.

6. Stretching/Softening

The hide will take roughly 2-3 days to dry completely. During this time, you’ll want to work the hide while it is still slightly damp to make it soft and pliable. Skip this step, and your hide will be as stiff as a board. Some Native Americans used to chew on hides to soften them, but if you like your teeth, I don’t really recommend it.

Stretch and fold the hide in all directions. Pulling it back and forth (flesh side down) over a taut rope or hard surface such as a railing or a fence. I used the edge of a concrete pad to soften this one. When the hide is completely dry, sand it with corse-grit sandpaper—either by hand or with an electric palm sander—on the tanned-flesh side to soften it even more.

Trim up the edges, and find a place to display your finished deer hide.

How to tan a deer hide

How to tan a deer hide

According to an old wives’ tale, every animal has enough brain matter to tan its own hide. While the amateur tanner may not embrace that technique, rest assured there’s more than one way to tan a deer, so to speak. “Professionals often use harsh chemicals and acids,” says Durango-based master taxidermist Clay Wagner, who has been working with skins for 26 years. “But there is a simple and safe way to tan a hide using household items like salt, baking soda, and vinegar.” Once the hide has been removed from the animal, it’s ready for processing, but be sure to keep the skin in a cool, dry place while working with it.

1. Cut away all the excess meat and fat from the skin with a sharp knife. Then use the serrated edge of a butter knife to scrape the hide. “This part is time-consuming,” Wagner says. But it is integral to the process.

2. Spread the skin out, fur side down, on a flat surface. Completely cover the fleshy surface with salt (not rock salt). “You cannot use too much,” Wagner says. Leave overnight. The next day soak the salted skin in clean water for up to two hours, or until the skin is soft.

3. “Pickling the skin helps prepare it for tanning and sets the hair,” Wagner says. Make a pickle bath in a plastic tub using equal parts distilled white vinegar and water plus two pounds of salt per gallon of solution (a typical deer hide requires about four gallons). Immerse the skin and leave for up to three days, stirring several times per day. Then neutralize the skin by soaking it in a solution made from four gallons of water mixed with two cups of baking soda for up to forty minutes. Rinse in clean water and towel dry.

4. Oil the skin to prevent it from cracking or drying out. Using a tanning oil solution, which can be purchased online, evenly coat the flesh side. Fold in half, with the fur side facing out, and let it sit overnight.

5. Hang the skin up until it is nearly dry, then work the flesh side over a table edge or wooden sawhorse until the skin is pliable. “The more you work it, the softer it becomes,” Wagner says.

How to tan a deer hide

If you are one of the lucky hunters that got a nice animal this season and you’ve always wondered what it would be like to have a hide to display then don’t fret. Tanning is not as hard as you might think, and it’s actually quite rewarding.

I was taught early on to use as much of the animal that I killed as humanly possible. I’ve always adhered to this philosophy and it makes me feel better about taking a life. If you know how to skin pretty well, which most hunters do, why not try tanning?

Flesh out the skin

So, we’re gonna assume that you have skinned out your kill without destroying it. The first thing you want to do is flesh the hide. This means getting all of the meat/fat off of it without scraping holes in it or exposing hair. It helps to have a log to lay it over while you work the flesh off. You can use a big knife but make sure it’s not too sharp. Usually a flat piece of steel with a semi-sharp edge works alright. You might have to experiment with what you have.

Salt the hide

The next step is to salt the hide with non-iodized salt. You’ll need about 15 pounds for a deer hide and it’s pretty cheap at Walmart. Don’t worry, you’re probably pretty worn out from the hunt/field dress so all you need to do is lay out the hide and salt the heck out of it. It helps to sta nail the hide to a piece of plywood to keep it flat (only nail it at the edges using small nails). Keep it out of the elements and where animals might get to it. You can relax now for the next week or so, your work is done for now.

Soak the hide

After the hide is cured and all the moisture is out of it (it will kill all the ticks too), you need to find a pretty big, nonmetallic barrel. A 10 gallon plastic garbage can works well. Soak the hide in cool water until soft, changing the water often. Soaking times vary but don’t soak it too long. Keep soaking and squeezing the water out until it’s really soft (don’t wring out the hide).

Re-soak with baking soda

As you soak and re-soak the hide, keep scraping the fat layer off. This takes some time but the more you get off, the softer your hide will be. When you’re satisfied you have it all off, place the hide in lukewarm water containing baking soda (1ounce per gallon). This cleans the skin so it will better accept the tanning solution. Stir it around with a stick for awhile and when it seems nice and clean, soak it in warm water and squeeze it dry (remember not to wring it out).

Soak in ammonium alum and salt

The next step is to soak it in a solution of ammonium alum and salt. You need about two and a half pounds of salt and a pound of ammonium alum for four gallons of water. Soak the hide in this solution for another three to five days. You can also find the ammonium alum at most pharmacies but Van Dykes has all sorts of good stuff for tanning.

Tack to plywood

After your soak, squeeze the hide again, rinse it off with clean water and tack it back to the plywood (hair side down of course). Now you’re ready for your next solution. Mix about four ounces of Neatsfoot oil (you can get it at any tack store or Amazon) to four ounces of warm water and one ounce of ammonia. Work half of this mixture into the hide, let it sit an hour and work the other half in. You can also use rendered brains for this step, but this method is easier. Cover the hide with plastic and leave it out of the sun until the next day.

Stretch over a sawhorse

Ok, last step. It helps to have a helper but you can do it alone. Remove the hide from the plywood, dampen it with a wet cloth and start stretching the heck out of it. Work it until your arms are ready to fall off and then start working it over a sawhorse (I like to use a cable) until it’s as soft as you want it. It takes a little work but the more you stretch/rub it, the softer it will end up. You can apply more of the Neatsfoot solution to make it even softer. Once you have it where you want it, take some really fine-grain sandpaper and lightly sand it.

It does take some work but I think you will be pleasantly surprised with the finished product and you will have something that will always remind you of the animal that gave its life for you. You’ll also feel good about using the whole animal and your ancestors will thank you.

How to tan a deer hide

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How to Tan Cow Hides

How to Tan Wild Boar Hides

Harvesting every portion of a carcass is part of the hunter’s ethos; wasting just about anything is disrespectful to the animal and a poor use of resources. Hunters frequently discard deerskins because they do not know how to tan them or wish to avoid paying exorbitant fees for professional processing. Although you are unlikely to achieve professional-caliber results on your first attempt, it is possible for beginners to produce usable – if not perfect – hides that are suitable for making clothes or accessories.

Items you will need

5 pounds of pickling salt

Step 1

Skin the entire carcass using the sharp knife. Use care to avoid piercing the skin.

Step 2

Lay the hide flat on the ground or on a workbench, hair-side down. Using the dull knife, scrape the hide to remove all flesh, fat and connective tissue. Take your time while doing so to avoid nicking the skin.

Step 3

Pour a liberal coating of salt over the hide. Leave the salt on the hide until the fluids seeping from the tissues saturate the salt, which should take a few days. Dump off and discard the salt, and apply a second coating of salt. Allow it to absorb fluids for a few days. Discard the new coating of salt and rinse the hide thoroughly.

Step 4

Pour 2 gallons of water, 2 gallons of white vinegar and 4 pounds of salt into a large plastic tub and stir well. Add the hide to the solution, pushing it down until it submerges completely. Allow the hide to soak in the solution for two or three days.

Step 5

Pour out the solution, remove the hide and rinse it with fresh water. Place the hide back in the bucket and add 4 more gallons of water and 2 cups of baking soda. Let the hide soak in this solution for about one-half hour and then remove it. Rinse it off and dry it with a towel. Discard the baking soda and water mixture.

Step 6

Coat the hair-free side of the hide in a thin coating of tanning oil. Place the hide in the garbage bag and tie it shut. Leave the hide like this for about 24 hours.

Step 7

Remove the hide from the bag. Holding opposite sides of the hide, press the hair-free side of the hide against the edge of a table and move the hide from left to right. Change your hand position slightly and repeat the process. Try to work every part of the hide in this manner, including the edges. Keep working the hide as long as you can; the longer you work the hide, the softer it will feel.

How to tan a deer hide

Last Updated on September 25, 2017

Editors Note: Another guest submission from Mitchell, founder of Musket Hunting, and another timely article as hunting season is upon us. As always, if you have information for Preppers that you would like to share and possibly receive a $25 cash award like Mitchell, as well as being entered into the Prepper Writing Contest AND have a chance to win one of three Amazon Gift Cards with the top prize being a $300 card to purchase your own prepping supplies, then enter today!

After hunting your award-winning deer, you don’t have to throw away the hide. Tanning the hide, with this simple procedure, will help you to preserve it. You will have a nice hide that you can use as rug, a fur coat, or for home decorations. Here is a simple way to tan the hide of a deer or any other animal that you hunt.

Materials Needed:

Some of the most important materials and tools you will need include:

* A flat working surface like a wide sheet of plywood or an old work bench

* A 10-gallon container made of wood or a plastic garbage bin

How to tan a deer hide


  1. Take off All Fat and Flesh From the Hide

Cut away all pieces of flesh that may be attached to the skin. Trim the ragged edges from the flesh side. If you cannot start the process of tanning within a day, you need to cure the pelt promptly. This will keep the hide from degrading and stop the hair from slipping in future. Curing also helps to improve the absorption of the tanning agents.

To remove flesh from the skin, lay it on a cool concrete surface or flat rock. Use a flesher or knife to get all the flesh off the skin so it does not rot. Do this immediately after you have skinned your deer. Be careful while scraping flesh so you don’t pierce or damage the hide.

  1. Cure the Pelt with Non-iodized Salt

Salt the deer hide immediately after you take off the flesh. It will help to remove moisture and prevent flies from infesting the pelt. Hides should be tanned immediately after they are dried so they are not damaged by insects.

To salt the hide, lay the fur side down on a wide surface. Sprinkle fresh non-iodized salt on the flesh side. A good rule of thumb is to use a pound of salt for a pound of hide. Sprinkle the salt evenly and rub it into all the cut edges, the legs, neck and wrinkles. You can repeat this procedure in two or three days after the first application gets wet.

  1. Dry the Hide

How to tan a deer hide

Position your hide so fluid can quickly drain off it. The salt you put will help to remove a lot of moisture from the hide. If necessary, you can hang the hide after you salt it until it is completely dry.

  1. Soak and Clean the Hide

Soak your hide in the 10-gallon plastic container or garbage bin. Do not use a metal container because the salt and tanning chemicals can react with it. Keep changing the water until the deer skin is soft. In most cases you may need to soak it for one to two hours before the hide becomes soft.

After the skin softens, place it on a plywood board and work on it with your hands. Stretch out the skin on a board and then pull hide back and forth against the edge of your board. Dry skin has a shiny layer of tissue which needs to be broken up before it is removed with a dull metal saw blade.

When the skin is getting tender, you can add baking soda to the water, soak the skin in water and then stir it with the paddle. This simple operation will ensure that the skin becomes very tender and that the tanning solution is fully absorbed.

  1. Remove Hair

If you want to tan the hide into buck skin, you should take the fur off before tanning it. Mix four quarts of hydrated lime with five gallons of water. Ensure that the skin is totally immersed and no air is trapped in the skin.

Keep the hide soaked till the hair slides off the hide with ease, especially when you use your hand to push it off. Some hides may take up to six days to shed their hair with this method. Then you can place the skin on a board and push off the hair with the backside of a knife.

  1. Tan the Hide

You can achieve the most effective results by using tanning agents available in form of home tanning kits. But if you want to produce your own tanning solution, you may use any of these options: brain tanning, alcohol and turpentine, or salt and alum.

How to tan a deer hide

The commercial solution requires the least amount of effort, so you should try it first. You can buy a pack of hide tanning formula for $20 or less. To clean the hide and take off excess salt and grease, you should soak the hide in soapy water. Put on a pair of gloves and work the tanning solution into the flesh side of the skin. Apply pressure and some creative strokes so the solution can saturate the hide.

To use the deer’s brain to tan the hide, you need to take it out of the skull and preserve it in a refrigerator till you are ready to use it. Later, you can put the deer’s brain in a saucepan and add one cup of water. Cook the brains and the water until the brain becomes liquid. Blend the mixture with a spoon to remove all lumps.

After washing the hide with water, and mopping up the excess water with towels, you stretch the hide out on a table, pour the brain mixture on the hide and work it in with your hands. After rubbing in the mixture, place it in a freezer bag and put it in the fridge to allow the brains mixture to penetrate the hide.

  1. Soften the Hide

How to tan a deer hide How to tan a deer hideHow to tan a deer hide

To stop the hide from becoming too stiff, you need to soften it. You should remove it from the refrigerator and put it on the drying rack. Use a cloth to wipe the excess brain mixture and then soften the hide by running a large stick back and forth on it till it is soft and pliable.

How to tan a deer hide

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How to tan a deer hide

How to Tan a Hide With Borax

How to Tan Wild Boar Hides

Curing and tanning the skin of a deer preserves it for use as fabric. As an ancient art used for thousands of years by Native Americans, among others, there are many techniques. Some, such as treating the hide with ashes and brain matter or chewing it to soften it for buckskin, are beyond what most home tanners are willing to take on. Modern, chemical-based tanning techniques are easy enough for hunters to do at home, and they use chemicals that are quite easy to purchase. The process is simple but labor-intensive.

Items you will need

Large, sharp knife

5- to 10-gallon non-metallic container

Old hacksaw blade

Baking soda or borax

Flat wooden board

Aluminum or potash alum

Split the hide down the middle with a large, sharp knife and cut away any flesh still attached. Trim away any ragged edges, cutting from the flesh side outwards.

Cure the deer with salt if the hide will not be tanned within a day of its killing. Cover the flesh side of the hide with non-iodized salt, using 1 lb. salt per 1 lb. hide. Rub the salt into the flesh, and apply more salt in two to three days when the first application is saturated. In 10 to 15 days, the hide will be fully cured.

Soak the hide until soft in a large container full of cold water. Change the water several times through the process, which can last two or more hours. Once the hide is soft, remove it from the water quickly so the hair is not loosened.

Clean the hide. Pull the hide back and forth over the edge of a flat board to loosen the tissue on the flesh side. Break up and remove all of the shiny layer of tissue on the underside of the skin by alternately scraping it with an old hacksaw blade and soaking it in water. Once this is done, soak the skin a final time in a mixture of 1 cup borax or baking soda per gallon of water. Stir the skin around in this solution to finish the cleaning.

Stretch the hide, flesh side up, across a board and scrape it with the flat back edge of a strong knife until all traces of flesh and debris are removed. This is called “scudding.” When finished scudding, rinse one more time in warm water and use a needle and thread to repair any holes.

Remove the hair. Soak the hide in 5 gallons of water mixed with 4 or 5 qts. hydrated lime for six to 10 days, after which the hairs can be wiped off with a soft brush. After wiping the hairs from the hide, soak it in clean water for four hours, scud it again, then soak it in a solution of 10 gallons water to 1 pt. vinegar for 24 hours.

Prepare a tanning solution by dissolving one pound of aluminium or potash alum in one gallon of water. Add 4 oz. washing soda and 8 oz. salt. Add this to the alum mix slowly to avoid the resulting foam spilling from the container.

Soak the prepared deer hide in this solution for five or more days. If you want to preserve the hair on your hide, turn the solution into a paste and apply it to the flesh side only. To make paste, mix the tanning solution with flour. Spread the paste in 1/8-inch layers on the flesh of the hide. Scrape off the coating the next day and repeat. For a thick hide you may need three repetitions, with the last left on the hide for three days.

Rinse the tanned hide by immersing it for a few minutes in 1 gallon of water containing 1 oz. borax. Pull it out of the water and squeeze it dry with the back of a knife.

Oil the hide using a fat liquor solution of 3.5 oz. neatsfoot oil, 3.5 oz. water and 1 oz. ammonia. Spread half of the solution across the hide with a paintbrush, then wait 30 minutes before spreading the rest in a second layer. Let the oiled hide sit for overnight under plastic sheeting.

Stretch the still-damp hide across a plywood board and nail the edges down. Remove the skin before it is entirely dry and work it over the edge of a board or chair repeatedly to soften it. Keep working the hide by hand, dampening it if necessary, until you get it as soft as you like.

Give the hide a quick bath in unleaded gasoline to remove any odors, then roll it around it in sawdust. Beat and comb the fur to get the sawdust out. Work the skin smoother with a sandpaper block.