Warm Weather, Deer Hides, and Minimizing Labor

The weather has been rainy and unseasonably warm around here lately. A good friend of mine cuts deer during hunting season, and since most of the hunters don’t want the hides he saves them for me. I usually just put them in the barn and they freeze overnight, but it’s been so warm that my options for keeping the hides until spring are down to freezing (in a freezer) and salting, at least until the weather turns.

My goal with many of the traditional bushcraft skills we teach here is to distill them to the simplest procedure and the minimum number of inputs that will result in a fine finished product. With hides we turn into braintanned buckskin, for the past five years I’ve left them in trash bags and put them in the barn, letting them freeze and stay frozen throughout the winter. Then in April, when the weather warms up, I get them out and scrape all of them, then dry them on the barn rafters. When they’re scraped and fleshed they’ll keep indefinitely, can be tanned at any time, and can also be used as rawhide. By hanging them from the rafters it minimizes problems with mice, which, if I put them in bins or left them on the loft, could quickly become a big problem.

During canoe poling workshops I tell people that an expert poler can snub down through a set of rapids using only one or two jabs with the pole, while a beginner will have to make 50 or so jabs to get through the same stretch of water. Accomplishing the same thing while doing less work and requiring fewer inputs is a sign of experience, grace and sophistication. It’s applicable whether you’re poling a canoe, tanning hides, or engaging in any other activity.


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