Most of the time, hunters discard the deer skin with everything else that’s not useful. But tanning a deer hide is more useful than you think. Especially if you want to get into leather work or just want something nice to hang on the wall.
You can make a genuine deer hide rug out of it, make a nice wall decoration out of it, or sell it locally for a good price. Kill enough deer during the season, and you can cover your hunting club costs for the next one.
If you’re crafty enough you can do a lot more. It’s a waste of good potential, leaving the skin behind after cleaning a deer. It’s not too difficult to tan a deer hide, but it’s not easy either. Fortunately, the more you do it, the better you will get.
How to Tan a Deer Hide – Complete Guide
Supplies you will need
The supplies you need shouldn’t be too difficult to get your hands on. Old-school tanning requires the deer’s brain, which is how Native Americans tanned their deer hides long before things like sea salt and vinegar were available.
- Plastic garbage can
- 1 lb of ammonia alum (replaces the deer’s brains)
- Sharp knife
- Butter knife
- 2 ½ lbs of sea salt
- 3 ½ ounces of Neatsfoot Oil
- 1 oz of ammonia
- Enough plastic to cover the hide
- A large, flat piece of plywood
- Fine grit sandpaper
You can get all of these supplies from Amazon, Walmart, and even your local pharmacy. They aren’t too expensive, and if you purchase them in bulk, you will have enough to do several hides.
Of course, before you start tanning anything, you need the skin. When you skin the deer, be careful not to get too aggressive with the blade and pull the hide off where you can. Any mistakes with the knife will make a hole in your future hide. Make sure you bone out the tail as well.
Be sure to preserve the antlers as well. It will create a great aesthetic with the hide.
1. Hang the skin up
The first thing you need to do is scrape the skin clean and you have to hang it up to get started. You don’t want a sharp knife to do the scraping. All you need is a good butter knife with a serrated edge.
Place the edge of the knife at the top and scrape downward, removing the excess fat and tissue from the hide. Once you’ve scraped it completely clean, you have two options—heavily salt the hide and preserve it, or get started tanning the hide right away.
2. Start the tanning process
Soften the hide first. All you need to do to soften the hide is fill a plastic garbage can with water and soak the skin in it. Drain and change the water often. When the skin feels pretty soaked and soft, take it out and lay it over a sawhorse, fur side up.
You can also use a board, but you will need a way to grab opposite ends and pull it back and forth over the board, stretching the hide. When you’re done, stretch it out and scrape it with a butter knife again. Just don’t dig too deep with the butter knife.
3. Place it in the tanning solution
Fill your garbage can with about four gallons of water and dump your two and ½ pounds of salt into it, stirring until the salt dissolves. In a separate bucket, mix a gallon of water with a pound of ammonia alum. Pour the ammonia alum mix into the salt water and stir it well.
Drop your deer hide in there and allow it to soak for 96 hours.
4. Now you have to condition it
Tack your deer hide down to your plywood. Make sure that the fur side is facing down. Stretch it out well before you tack it down. Don’t set it out in the sun, but you need to let it dry somewhere.
Make yourself a mixture of fat liquor oil by combining 3 and ½ lbs of Neatsfoot oil, 1 oz of ammonia, and 3 and ½ ounces of warm water. Mix it well and rub the oil into the underside of the skin. Apply a decent coat and rub it in thoroughly.
Apply two coats, allowing each coat to settle into the hide for an hour. Once you’re done rubbing the oil in, leave the hide tacked to the board and lay a piece of plastic over it, like a garbage bag.
The next day, it should be dry. Rub it down with a damp towel or washcloth and start stretching it again. Every now and then, apply some of the fat liquor oil but only in very small amounts. Eventually, you will realize that the hide has become very soft.
That means you’re just about done. All you need to do now is gently sand down the underside of the hide. Use fine-grit sandpaper for this part and only sand it enough so that it feels clean and smooth underneath.
Other than the expense of purchasing the items, it all sounds pretty simple because it is. If you follow each step and allow the proper time in between, you will end up with the kind of supple, soft hide you want.
If you’re going to use it as a rug, be sure it’s more of a decorative rug that no one is going to track on in heavy boots or shoes. Deer hair is short and bristly, and it will eventually fall out, getting all over the place.
It makes for a great aesthetic when mounted on the wall with your buck or the antlers. You can also sell it. Depending on how well you tan it, you can get a pretty penny for it, especially if you sell it to a leather shop. No matter what you decide to do with it, it’s more useful this way than laying out in the woods somewhere.