Tanning a deer hide is a LOT of work. If you want a professional looking hide, I would strongly suggest that you send it off to a taxidermist.
I purchased tanning kits from Cabella’s a couple of years ago, similiar to this one (click here). They are listed for $19.99 and will do one large deer, or several smaller animals. The kit I bought did not include the orange bottle of “Hide Tanning Formula”, but everything else is the same.
The kit comes with everything you need to tan, except for salt and something to soak the hide in. A 4×8 sheet of plywood helped considerably in working the hide and drying the hide.
I was doing the “Hair On” tan. The first time I tried tanning a deer hide resulted in a “tanned” hide, but it was very hard. I think it was so hard because I did not thin the skin properly, or break the skin well enough while drying.
The second attempt was better, but still did not end in a finished product that was very soft
The third attempt has ended in a acceptably supple deer hide. Its not as soft as a good pair of deer skin gloves, but its still soft.
All I did was follow the directions that came with the tanning kit. It is very important to follow the directions carefully, and measure the ingredients exact.
I used a 15-20 gallon kitchen trash can to mix the chemicles in, and to soak the hide.
Here is an overview of what I did.
- Star with a fresh hide. If you plan on tanning a hide, it must be skinned and all flesh/fat removed as quickly as possible. Take extra care to not cut holes in the hide when skinning.
- Once the hide has been skinned, lay the hide out on a flat surface and scrape as much of the fat & membrame off as possible. It is helpful to use a dull knife, so you do not cut the skin. After scraping the skin, cover the flesh side with salt. Rub the salt in good and make sure you get all corners.
- Leave the hide salted for 12-24 hours. I left the salt on for 24 hours, then I took the hide and scraped all the salt off. The hide is drier at this point, so I scraped it again, removing even more membrane. There should be NO fat or flesh left at this point. I salted the hide once more, and left for another 24 hours. The instructions said just do this once, but I salted it twice.
- At this point, I just followed the instructions provided with the tanning kit, to a “tee”. Do not skip steps, or leave the hide in the different solutions longer than you are supposed to.
- Once the hide was “tanned” I hung it to dry for about 3 hours. Then I took the hide, and starting on the edge towards the middle of the hide, I screwed the hide down to the 4×8 plywood. Keep the screws/nails/staples (whatever you use to fasten) about 1″ from the edge of the hide, or it may pull through.
- Working both directions, I stretched the hide and screwed it down as I went. The hide needs to be tight. I believe this step is very important to produce a soft tan.
- I mixed the “Pro-Oil” solution as directed, and worked it into the hide, and left it for about a day.
After applying the pro-oil, and as the hide was drying, I took a dull knife and kept scraping. This keeps the hide soft and plyable. I did this over the course of a weeks time. After four days, I applied another coating of “Pro-Oil”, even though the directions do not call for it.
If you do NOT take the time to “work” the hide, it will not be soft. Be careful to not cut the hide when working it. It would be a shame to ruin a weeks worth of work with a slip of the knife.