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Help!! Bear Hide Smells Like Its Rotting

Discussion in 'Beginners' started by treeroot, Oct 26, 2019.

  1. treeroot

    treeroot New Member

    Firstly, I'm not a taxidermist. I shot a nice bear and decided to try to tan it at home using a tanning kit. I'm a trapper and so I wanted to try to tan a bear hide for practise before trying a wolf.

    I shot it a little less than 2 weeks ago.
    I fleshed they bear very very well the following day. I'm fairly good at fleshing so I know I did it well. Not a ounce of fat or flesh was left on the hide when I was done.

    Then I threw it in the wash machine with a bit of dawn soap. I put it on the gentle cycle, cold water with extra rinse. I repeated this two times.

    Then I draped the hide over a stand in my garage with a fan and the furnace on very low. Within a few days the hide dried to hard leather.

    I kept checking on the hide and it seemed fine. I wiped out some grease droplets each day until no more appeared

    I did not salt the hide. I basically prepared it like I would prepare a coyote for auction. I figured if someone can buy my coyote hide and use a home tanning kit on it, I could do the same with a bear hide.

    Finally my tanning kit showed up in the mail. The first step in the kit is to soak the dry hide for 2-3 hours. When I brought the hide into the bathtub, I noticed it stank. I did notice a small section on the leg which didn't appear to dry (it was slightly folded). So I cut that section out.

    I'm about to take the hide out, let it drip dry and salt it like the kit says..

    But I'm worried I'm wasting my time as the hide has spoiled.

    I'm not sure what I would have done to cause it to rot, aside from the folded peice I cut off..

    Is this just how a bear hide smells? I read they are very greasy which makes them smell.

    I will go ahead and drip it dry then take it to the garage to salt it for a few days and hope for the best, but any advice would be great.
  2. joeym

    joeym Jeannette & Joey @ Dunn's Falls

    I say this at least once a week....You are fighting a losing battle trying to tan that thing yourself. It should have been heavily salted after fleshing, folded for a day, the salt shaken off, then salted again. When it gets doughy, start folding it, eventually rolling it into a ball for shipping. I place a fan in front of mine to expedite drying. Are the paws and head still attached, or is it a flatskin? The money you pay a tannery is money well spent. You are working for pennies per hour trying to do it yourself.
    TripleC, George and msestak like this.

  3. 13 point

    13 point Well-Known Member

    Like said a losing battle , I think were you went wrong was when you washed it in the machine twice and rehydrated it in water , it should have been a brine .
    Last edited: Oct 26, 2019
    rogerswildlife and msestak like this.
  4. Frank E. Kotula

    Frank E. Kotula master, judge, instructor

    So many things can go wrong on bear as their grease is the culprit for issues on everything.
    Where you got the idea con washing it and then hanging it was the first of bad steps in your process. Next not knowing your tanning kit and what was provided is the next.
    General rule is flesh ( and you understand this as a trapper) salt fold and let drain overnight, shake off and resalt, hang to dry. Then fold and ship to a tannery.
    Home tanning a bear is not rocket science but a lot more go into them than normal.
    When dried they get hydrated, washed to get dirt off and rinsed well, then straight into a citric pickle. They may stay in there for a month. Reason being citric is a natural degreaser and aids in the degreasing process. During this time it’s gets drained, shaved, and degreased ( depends on the hide) up to three times in a degreasing bath.
    After that’s done , drain, neutralize, tanned , oiled, dried and broken for wall hangers .
    So now do you want to tan a bear ? as stated above it’s something that knowledgeable folks or tanneries do.
    rogerswildlife likes this.
  5. Mike Powell

    Mike Powell Well-Known Member

    You asked the question about what you may have done to cause the hide to rot. I would point out that the hide, any hide, will begin to rot immediately after the animal dies. The problem is you did nothing in the steps you took to “stop” the rotting process. Some hides are successfully air dried for market but the drying must be thorough and must happen quickly before the bacteria has time to begin the rotting or decay. Salting the hide is one of the principal steps in killing or at least restraining the bacteria that cause rotting.
    rogerswildlife likes this.
  6. Dave York

    Dave York Well-Known Member

    Lesson 1: Do not try to tan a bear at home.
    George and rogerswildlife like this.
  7. treeroot

    treeroot New Member

    Head/paws were taken off..

    Honestly, I'm looking for help and advise, not to be talked to like a 4 year old.

    I did the hide the same way I do coyotes before sending to an auction (I have always gotten top dollar for my coyotes).

    I was told by a taxidermist whose done a handful of wolves for me, not to salt hides if they are going to be dried right away or frozen right away. I was drying the bear hide right away, so I didn't salt it.

    The auction house will refuse a salted hide by the way. All hides sent to a auction need to be dried to a hard leather, not salted.

    YEs I'm working for pennies, but believe it or not, I'm doing it because I want to learn and I eventually do more hides.. No where did I say I was doing it to save money. I said I just want to learn how.
  8. treeroot

    treeroot New Member

    I washed it twice to get rid of grease..

    I rehydrated it in water because that's what the tanning kit instructions told me to do. It said to tan a hide that has been dried previously, rehydrated in water and salt for 3-5 days than re salt again. So I'm just following the steps in the tanning kit.
  9. treeroot

    treeroot New Member

    I paid for express shipping for the tanning it the day I shot the bear. Kit was supposed to be delivered in 1-2 days. It didn't show up after 3 days so I called the company and was told my order said I paid for 1-2 day shipping, but the forgot to label it 1-2 day express shipping. So the kit was mailed regular mail. They also admitted that they didn't actually sen the it out until a couple hours before my phone call. So the kit wasn't shipped until 3 days after I ordered it and then it was sent regular mail. Yes a error on my part to decide to tan a bear without having the kit in my hans.

    To answer your question, yes I still want to learn how to tan a bear. I'm not sure why people try to discourage others from learning how to do something just because it takes a long time or its a difficult process. I've never been one to shy away from something because its difficult or hard, the fact is still i want to learn to tan hides at home. Trapping is a past time of mine so I want to learn more of the entire process.
  10. treeroot

    treeroot New Member

    For anyone whose actually willing to give me some advice.. Here's where I am at

    The hide is rehydrated in water (like the kit says to do). The rot smell is gone. The hair is not slipping. I'm confident the rot smell was just in the small part of the hide that folded over. I cut that off.

    So if the rot smell is gone, should I just follow the steps in the kit which are heavily salt for 3 days, adding salt to any area which absorbed the salt every 24 hours. And then re-salt and begin adding the chemical's in the kit.

    I'm fairly confident there is no grease left in the hide.
  11. 13 point

    13 point Well-Known Member

  12. treeroot

    treeroot New Member


    Thank you for the help.. I knew going into this that there would be a learning curve with mistakes along the way. I accepted that and I'm ok with it. If this bear doesn't turn out very well, but I figure out my mistakes and how to do it better for the next time I will consider this adventure a success.
  13. treeroot

    treeroot New Member

    I'll add, I know MANY trappers who was all coyote and wolf hides in dawn dish soap. Once they are washed, they are thrown on the stretcher and air dried (like I did). Once the hide has been dried, they "snap" the hide a few times by flicking it, then give them a brush before sending them to the aution and the hides look amazing. I used this method with the bear thinking it would be the same.

    I'll also add, aboriginal people have been tanning bear hides for centuries. There must be ways to do it without sending them to the tannery and using all the chemicals and steps. I actually tried to sign myself up for a traditional hide tanning course, but it was a 3 week course that was 8am- 3pm each day. I couldn't take 3 weeks off work to do that.
  14. 13 point

    13 point Well-Known Member

    Brain tanning and smoking hides very cool concept
    treeroot likes this.
  15. 3bears

    3bears Well-Known Member

    treeroot, We get these questions all the time and folks get a tad crabby answering them. As a trapper and a taxidermist let me just say this, the put up of the furs is almost entirely different save for the the majority of the fleshing. Yes air dried skins can be used for taxidermy but take a lot more time and work to make it happen. In the fur industry they could care less about stretch of the hide only the density and color of the fur, that is why we spend so much time on fur side and little on the skin itself. In taxidermy we care about both sides and it doesn't matter how pretty the fur is, if you don't take the proper steps to preserve the skin it will be just a pile of fur, eventually. What kit did you order? A proper tanning kit will include an acid pickle of some sort with instructions of how to go from raw to tanned. Any tanning supplies that I've used all recommend to salt dry and then soak in a pickle for a certain time. If the majority of them out there suggest to salt dry a hide, I would have to think that it is a very important step, wouldn't you? It removes the untannable proteins from the skin, the same ones that make a skin stink. When it comes to bears the degreasing step is very important as well. My suggestion is if you did not get a kit that has the agents to pickle and degrease to pop that wet hide into a freezer do some more research and order up a different kit and follow the directions. As far as aboriginal tanned hides, you also have to realize that they didn't make as big a deal about the stench of a skin, as long as it kept them warm and somewhat dry.
    TripleC likes this.
  16. Frank E. Kotula

    Frank E. Kotula master, judge, instructor

    Get your bear out of the water NOW! Your going about this wrong!
    Your directions are garbage To much water will cause epidermal slippage!!
    Drain the bear well.
    Yes you can try salting the cape to pull out moisture and non tanable fluids.
    Now what came with your kit.
    Did an acid come?
    What type of tan?
    Any oil?
    Any degreaser?
    If you didn’t get acid or degreaser then save it for your next project as this won’t tan a bear properly.
  17. treeroot

    treeroot New Member

    Thanks for the reply.. It helps..

    The kit I ordered is "the complete home tanning kit".. I ordered it from one of the few places on line I could find that sold tanning kits.. It's literally was the best one I could find based on reviews. When I ordered it, I spent a long time on line trying to find out the steps to using this kit to no avail. So I went with drying the hide.
    The kit includes
    -tanning crystals (ALum and sulfuractans)
    -tanning oil

    there's other stuff to ehlp with the process, but thats the chemicals in the kit to do the actual tanning process.

    Theres instructions in the kit for sure, but like I said I had to do somethign with the hide while the kit arrived. So I did what I do with coyote/wolf skins because I know with those skins the buyer can tan them using a home tanning kit after they've been stretched and air dried.

    DO you think I should proceed to salt the hide and use this it? Or just throw it in the freezer and get another kit? Which kit do you recomend?

    BTW, I didn't know this forum existed otherwise I'd be much further along.

    Also, I live in an area way up north in Canada.. Lots of aboriginal culture here.. All the brain/smoke tanned hides I've handled had no smell other than smoke and the smell of te fur intself. I've handled a brain/smoke tanned bear hide and it didn't stink at all. Not a rotting/bad smell anyyways.
  18. Frank E. Kotula

    Frank E. Kotula master, judge, instructor

    Ok brain tanning is totally different than what your trying to accomplish. I never advise on kits for it’s a kit and that’s all. As for the cape as said I don’t care how their dried for tappers tans. Our tans are designed for our work and air dried are more of a pain to work with cause we look to save the hair as a trapper skin isn’t that worried cause it’s only certain parts the furriers care about.
    so salt dry the cape.
    Get yourself citric acid
    https://www.taxidermyarts.com/documents/rittel_instructions/Citric Acid instructions.pdf
    Pickle it for a week then drain and buy a degreaser from a tanning or taxidermy supply company. Follow directions back in pickle again I would do this minimal twice.
    Then it has to be neutralized before tanning. It depends on the tan and how long it needs to be neutralized as it can soak in it from 20-60 minutes. Your tan will tell you how long.
    After the tan it needs oiling again sold at the suppliers and when it’s 85% dry you break it to make it soft.
    Your alum tan is fine but alum will wash out or leach. I rather synthetic tans.
    TripleC likes this.
  19. treeroot

    treeroot New Member

    Thank you so much..

    Do you think my hide will survive after being air dried like I did?
  20. joeym

    joeym Jeannette & Joey @ Dunn's Falls

    I didn't think I was addressing you as a 4 year old...just trying to give you some sound advice. I've been a taxidermist for almost 50 years. I've seen successes, and a sh!t load of failures. If we could put this all in reverse, and you were totally adamant about tanning the bear yourself, my recommendation would have been to freeze the skin til the tanning kit arrived. Peace, my brother...I hope only the best for you in tanning and taxidermy.
    TripleC and pir^2h like this.