When I think of skinning a bear, I’m reminded of one of my favorite hunts with my son in Montana. When he was only 12 years old, he took down a bear with his rifle using the “spot and stalk” method.
Getting within range of those bears and taking the shot is a big challenge. I’m proud of my son for accomplishing that Herculean task, and even prouder of how we skinned that bear together after it was taken down.
Skinning a bear is no easy feat. It takes precision, concentration, and strategy. Don’t worry – we’ve been there and can explain how to do it, step by step.
What to Know Before Skinning a Bear
Skinning a bear is very different from dressing other game. A bear’s anatomy poses certain challenges that all hunters should be aware of. For the purposes of this blog, we’ll focus on how to skin a black bear; however, the following tips also apply to brown bears.
If you’re planning to bring your bear to a taxidermist (or even if you aren’t), it’s important to keep the bear in the best possible condition. The paws are a bear’s most distinguishing feature and must be left on the hide. If you’re a beginner, do not try to skin out the paws yourself — your taxidermist will thank you.
Speaking of the hide, it also needs to be preserved as well as possible. Avoid poking holes in it and ensure it’s clean before delivering it to the taxidermist. This will increase the chances of successful tanning.
How to Prepare to Skin a Bear
Be aware of what you’ll need to deliver to the taxidermist. As mentioned, don’t try to skin out the paws on your own; deliver them attached to the hide.
Next, you must know how to field dress a bear. Game bags are crucial for keeping the meat clean and organized, so be sure to have them at the ready. Clear your surrounding area and drag the bear to a clean spot, keeping dirt off the hide.
Place the bear on pine needles, leaves, or grass to maintain cleanliness. Open garbage bags also help preserve the meat. If it’s hot, move the bear to a shaded area to rapidly cool the hide and carcass.
Along with game and garbage bags, a reliable fixed-blade knife is a must-have. Additionally, carrying some paracord can be useful, especially if you’re on your own and need to secure a leg while you’re skinning a bear.
You won’t need a saw for this job. Your fixed-blade knife can handle everything you need.
How to Skin a Black Bear: Step by Step
Let’s get to the meat of this blog post (pun intended). Here’s how to skin a bear:
- Lay the bear on its back with its legs spread out (it should resemble a starfish).
- Once the bear is situated, make a center cut from the anus straight through the bear’s belly to the base of the neck. Then, on the inside portion of the front legs, make a cut from the joint (of the wrist) near the foot up to the armpit area, angling up and forward into the center of the sternum.
- On the inside of its back legs, cut from the foot joint to the centerline cut you made in step 2.
- Next, you’ll begin to skin out the front and back quarters. Start on one side of the bear, then move to the other and put it in a game bag.
- While skinning the legs, cut the joint just above the foot to keep the paw attached to the hide. Then remove that skin from that leg with the paw still attached. Remember, it’s important to keep the paws attached when skinning a bear for a rug or other taxidermy.
- From that point, skin the hide away from the rest of the carcass, being careful to keep dirt off the hide.
- Finally, cut through the neck at the base of the skull and remove the bear head from the carcass, but keep it attached to hide.
Common Mistakes to Avoid When Skinning a Bear
Resist the temptation to skin the head and paws separately. I cannot emphasize enough that they must stay attached to the hide.
Also, refrain from folding the meat and hide before they completely cool. Hair is a great insulator; it’ll spoil the meat on the inside, and cause hair to fall out of the hide.
Don’t leave too much fat on the hide while skinning a bear. Removing as much fat as possible reduces packing weight. Be careful while you do this — avoid cuts in the hide as well as you can.
Most importantly, only salt the hide after removing all the flesh, as it will make proper mounting nearly impossible.
The post-skinning process is pretty simple: Cool the animal down and get it to your taxidermist as soon as possible. Freezing or storing it in a cooler or on ice in a garbage bag provides optimal conditions for the taxidermist.
How to Skin a Bear: Final Thoughts
Like anything, learning how to skin a bear takes repetition and time. I’ve definitely improved my process since I became a master bladesmith years ago.
Even if you’ve been skinning bears for years, there’s always room to improve, so we encourage you to save this post for future reference. Following these steps and avoiding common mistakes will make a big difference in your skinning practice.
by Josh Smith, Master Bladesmith and Founder of Montana Knife Company