Braintanning Deer Hides on a Perfect Fall Day

Today we start braintanning deer hides, or using brains to dress and soften the hides resulting in a chamois-like finished product. Each year I get a bunch of hides from a friend and fellow guide who butchers deer for hunters. The hides we’ll be working on today were fleshed and mostly dehaired last fall, then dried in the rafters of the barn. I put them in a bucket of water to soak a few days ago, and today we’ll be removing the grain and the membrane to expose the fiber structure. Knowledge about braintanning is much more common now than it was ten years ago. There are several books and websites focusing exclusively on the process and underlying science. The thing with tanning is that it is a lot of work. Not intellectual gymnastics, but rather manual labor. It takes effort to scrape and pull dry a hide, so much so that while many more people know how to do it, I don’t think this results in more people tanning. At least not in my neck of the woods. The ESSP students have already indicated their desire to make mukluks with their finished hides. This is a great choice for them, especially if they’re going to spend a lot of time on the snowshoe trail this winter.

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