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Mammal Tanning Step-by-Step

Every year, a new round of questions appear on the Taxidermy.Net Forum from newcomers to the profession asking questions about the steps involved in home tanning. Even though tanning products and chemicals have continued to evolve and improve through the years, the basic steps for tanning have remained relatively unchanged for decades. This is true because each step in the process is essential for allowing all subsequent steps to react properly.

The complete list of steps for in-shop tanning has been published many times in magazines, books, catalogs, and on product labels. Yet in spite of all this information, there is still a fair amount of confusion as to what is required to produce a mountable quality tanned hide. To help make this information more readily available, below are the step-by-step instructions for using the McKenzie Tanning System.

Basic Tanning Procedures

Step 1. After skinning, turn the lips, ears and eyes and remove red meat and fat.

Step 2. Completely cover flesh side of skin with non-iodized salt and let it set for 4 to 24 hours to inhibit the growth of bacteria. Next, you may continue directly to step #3 or shake off most of the salt and place salted skin in plastic bag and freeze the skin until ready to continue the tanning process.

Step 3. Rinse the skin briefly in cool water.

Step 4. Mix the pickle solution in a plastic container only. We recommend the following pickle using McKenzie Ultimate Acid: The formula is 1/2 fl. oz. of McKenzie Ultimate Acid and 1 lb. of non-iodized salt for each gallon of water. The minimum batch size recommended is 5 gallons of pickle for each whitetail cape. (It is important to maintain the pH of the pickle solution between 1.0 and 2.0 at all times. We recommend the 0.0-3.0 range pH paper for testing. The pH of some water may require that you add more or less McKenzie Ultimate Acid to achieve the correct level. To lower the pH add more acid.) Pickle the skin for three days, stirring and checking the pH of the pickle solution each day.

Degreasing: When pickling greasy skins (i.e., raccoon, beaver, or bear), they should be degreased during the pickling stage. To degrease, add 2 oz. McKenzie Relaxer/Degreaser to every 5 gallons of pickle.

Step 5. Next, remove the skin from the pickle and drain in order to perform the shaving process. Thicker skins such as deer should be shaved but thin skins such as bobcat, etc., can be simply fleshed of all membrane. After shaving we recommend returning the skin to the pickle for at least 12 hours.

Step 6. Remove the skin from the pickle and mix a neutralizing solution that consists of 1 tablespoon of Baking Soda to each gallon of water and soak the skin for 30 minutes. Use a minimum 3 gallon batch for each whitetail cape.

Step 7. Take the skin out of the neutralizing solution, drain, and roll in a towel (flesh side out) to dry for 15 minutes. Wearing gloves, brush the McKenzie Tan on the entire flesh side of skin.

Roll the skin up and set it aside for 4 to 5 hours to allow the tan to penetrate.

Step 8. Rinse the skin in clean, cold water. Next, roll skin in towel (hair side out) to remove any excess moisture.

Step 9. The skin is now ready to mount or freeze for later use. Please note: If you do not have enough time to complete any one of the steps, you may freeze the hide at any point in the process and then thaw the hide and return to the process at a later time.

Video Instructions

If you want to see this procedure in greater detail, and understand the purpose behind each step, McKenzie has created a series of four short videos featuring Rick Carter explaining the basics of in-house tanning. After watching these videos, you should come away with a good understanding of the basics of converting a raw deer skin into a tanned hide, ready for mounting.

Tanning Part 1: Specimen Care and Hide Preparation

In this short introductory video, Rick Carter explains the importance of specimen care in the field to the quality of the finished tan.

Tanning Part 2: Salting the Hide and Pickling

This edition features a demonstration of rough fleshing, splitting the lips, nose and eyes, salting, and the pickling process.

Tanning Part 3: Shaving the Hide and Neutralization

In this video, methods for shaving and thinning the skin are explained as well as the all-important neutralization procedure.

Tanning Part 4: Tanning the Hide for Taxidermy

Using modern chemicals, Rick Carter completes the procedure for tanning the hide for mounting purposes in the final installment in this video series.

As you can see, exceptional results can be achieved when using the proper procedures. Processing hides yourself also gives you convenience and control, as well as providing a rapid turn-around time when deadlines are near.

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