Storing Hides – Traditional Tanners

Video how to store deer hide before tanning

So They are in Optimum Condition for Tanning


You want to store hides so that they are in optimum condition for tanning: uniformly moist, and protected from rot, dogs, ring-tails, bears and bugs.

How to store hides

Freeze. Roll hide up in tight bundle, tie, put in plastic bag, and freeze indefinitely. You can flesh first to reduce volume. If you have the freezer space, this is the easiest way to go.

Wet-salt. Lay hide out flat with the flesh side facing up. Spread fine salt over the entire surface, all the way out to the edges. Don’t skimp, salt is cheap. To salt the next hide, lay it directly on top of the first, and so on. Allow the salt to soak in overnight. Store in cool place with no air flow, so they won’t dry out. Use air-tight plastic and wooden containers. Salt will rust metal, which will then stain the hide. One or two hides will fit in a five gallon plastic bucket, while a big pile can be put into a garbage can. After one week drain any water that has accumulated at the bottom of the container. Will store at least one year. This is the most practical method for people who tan alot of hides.

Storing salted hides in tarps or other permeable containers causes them to dry slowly over time. The more they dry the harder they will be to scrape later. Even if they feel damp and pliable they may still have dried enough to affect scraping. Wet-salted hides should feel as loose as when they first came off of the deer.

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The only way to really screw this up is by storing salted hides directly on the ground. Some-how the ground causes the hides to rot over time.

Scrape fresh and then dry. To do this, you must flesh, buck, grain and rinse. Then you can dry the hide out and store it indefinitely. Drying unscraped hides makes them considerably harder to scrape later. So, if you take them through the grain scraping stage and then dry them, you are not creating any unnecessary work for yourself. It takes an experienced tanner about an hour’s work to get their hide to this point (not including soaking time). It might take a beginner four or five hours. Use The Basic Method.

Drying Hides For Storage Can Make Tanning Harder

For four years, I fleshed and dried my hides for storage. Many brain-tanners do this. This is fine for dry-scraping. For wet-scraping this can make it much harder to remove the grain. Drying shrinks the grain and causes it to adhere tightly to the fiber core. When re-soaked, it doesn’t reconstitute fully.

Think of a dried apple…When reconstituted, no matter how long it soaks or is manipulated, is it ever as soft, full and luscious as a fresh apple?

No…and the same is true of hide grain. The grain will never swell and loosen to be as easy to remove as on fresh hides.

There are however a couple of exceptions to this rule. Hides that have been stored dry for more than a year will grain fairly easily. Hides that have been stored dry for a few years are exceptionally easy to grain and soften. In fact there is no need to do the bucking or rinsing steps. The aging process has an effect similar to the alkali, causing the mucus in the grain layer to break down. This allows the dressing to easily enter and prepare the hide for softening. So if you have some old hides out in the shed, soak them up in plain water for a day or two and go at it.

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Using the bucking process as illustrated in Deerskins into Buckskins makes dried hides scrape considerably easier than they otherwise do, so I don’t discourage it as much as I did in the past. If you do not have an environmentally responsible way to dispose of salt, no freezer, and you’re tanning a lot of hides, this may be your only option. Give the hide a very thorough fleshing job because any fat left on the hide will rot and weaken it. Dry in a fairly warm place so that the hide dries before it rots. Check the edges periodically as they have a tendency to curl up and hold moisture in.

Hides dried hair-on need to be protected from bugs, especially once spring rolls around. The omnipresent nasty hide beetles will infest and chew holes in any skins stored dry with the hair on; unless stored where the bugs can’t get them, or in a smokey spot. The hide beetles don’t like the flavor of smokey hides. These cruel bugs also don’t like to munch hairless hides. This is another good reason to scrape the grain off of your hides before drying them. Getting a hide to this point only takes about one hour or two of work for an experienced tanner. This won’t be too much work at once unless you are tanning 30+ hides. In that case you have to deal with the realities of mass production, however you see fit.

Another Option

You can soak your hides in the buck and rinse them before storing. Then store them using any of these methods. The advantage of this is that you can make just one batch of solution and put all of your hides through the bucking process at once. Then your hides will be immediately ready to scrape whenever you are, rather than having to wait for them to go through the bucking process. The disadvantage is that you don’t get the easier scraping that swollen hides provide. It also takes considerably longer for the hide to rinse; about 48 hrs. in moving water. I encourage you to leave them in the buck and in the rinse a little longer than necessary, to make sure that the whole batch is fully treated and ready. You might as well since you are not in a hurry to scrape them, and it doesn’t create any more work for you.

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Ethan Smith is a seasoned marine veteran, professional blogger, witty and edgy writer, and an avid hunter. He spent a great deal of his childhood years around the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest in Arizona. Watching active hunters practise their craft initiated him into the world of hunting and rubrics of outdoor life. He also honed his writing skills by sharing his outdoor experiences with fellow schoolmates through their high school’s magazine. Further along the way, the US Marine Corps got wind of his excellent combination of skills and sought to put them into good use by employing him as a combat correspondent. He now shares his income from this prestigious job with his wife and one kid. Read more >>