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Slippage On Fresh Squirrels?

Discussion in 'Tanning' started by SterlingFoxCreations, May 21, 2022.

  1. I've been working on tanning a few squirrels I caught on my property and have been surprised to find that some of the hides are slipping pretty bad during tanning. I've outlined my entire procedure below.

    I catch the squirrels in a live catch trap and then place them in a trashcan full of water until they 'expire'. After they've sat in the water for a good 5-10 minutes to make sure they've made their way up to 'squirrel heaven', I dry them off with a towel (so they're not dripping wet but still damp), put them in a plastic bag and they go directly into my freezer so I can skin them later.

    I've tried a couple of different thawing methods, but I'm still having an issue with slippage. I've taken them out of the bags and left them to thaw for a few hours on a towel. Usually, when I work on them they're still cold / stiff to a certain extent, but certainly not warm. I've even taken a few directly from the freezer and thawed them in my pickle bath.

    My pickle bath mixture is made as follows...
    The day before I need it I mix up 3 gallons of hot water in a 5-gallon bucket. I add 3 pounds of salt and 6 oz of citric acid and stir well. I check the pH the next day after the mixture has cooled to room temperature (around 68-70 degrees consistently in my basement) with test strips to make sure the pH is somewhere between 1 and 2.5.

    I dorsal skin the squirrels, leaving the feet from the wrist / heel in the pelt, and throw them directly into the pickle after skinning. No salting. I let them sit in the pickle turned inside out (skin side out) and leave them in there for 48 hours, stirring them occasionally. After 48 hours I take them out and flesh them and de-grease them (give them a good wash with some anti-bacterial dawn soap) before returning them directly to the pickle. When I take them out to flesh them I'm noticing slippage spots along the dorsal incision. No slippage on the face, neck, belly, or legs, just on parts of the back.

    I had a few pelts made in the same batch with the same pickle that came out just fine with no slippage, but more than half of the others were bad enough that they needed to be thrown away.

    I was curious to know if anything stands out as far as something that could be affecting the pelts? It certainly isn't because they're not fresh. I have a few ideas of my own as to what could be a factor, but I wanted to hear from some more experienced tanners. This is just a side hobby of mine and I certainly think some advice would be very valuable!

    Some factors that could be causing my problem?

    1) The water I dispatch them in isn't refilled each time. I usually refill the trashcan with fresh water once a week. Could it be that the water is causing bacterial growth even in a short amount of time? Maybe I should wash them with antibacterial soap before putting them in the freezer?

    2) I wash my skinning tools with soap and water, but maybe because they're not sanitized I'm introducing bacteria to the pelt along the back? They seem like they slip the worst right along the dorsal cut, but they slip on other parts of the back as well.

    3) I put quite a few pelts in the pickle at once, could it be that the pickle is too full and it's not penetrating properly?

    Any and all advice would be much welcomed! Thank You!
  2. First off, I do not know if you live in the U.S or not, but if you do, check your regulations. You may be taking wildlife out of season, and your method of dispatch may be illegal. With that said, Your PH on your pickle should not be above 2. I use 3 oz. of citric acid per gallon of water. Also put all hides in the pickle at the same time. Never introduce a new hide into a pickle solution that already has hides soaking, as the PH is probably too high at that point.

  3. I've checked with local laws and am aware of the bag limits/legality/regulations/dispatch methods for catching squirrels in my area and I've made sure to follow all of them.

    Thanks for the suggestions!
  4. Frank E. Kotula

    Frank E. Kotula master, judge, instructor

    One big issue that stands out is wet epidermis and freezing next to that your water. Keeping water like this only promotes bacteria growth.
    The freezing wet causes the water molecules to swell and can create slippage.
    If you want to drown them then do it in a pickle.
    Now another reason can be the underlying fat they have and not getting that off fast can cause slippage. It’s ok to pickle overnight but the next day you need to flesh them. Then your own body heat, and over working the skin can create slippage.
    Your pickle should have as stated above 3 oz per gallon of water.
    Dawn has a higher pH and it’s ok with birds but I’ll suggest you use a taxidermy degreasing liquid. It’s ok for a quick wash but not to soak in. High pH also promote slippage.
    Over crowded pickle can be an issue but make sure you stir twice a day to insure all the skins get mixed up well.
    Hopefully some of these tips aid you in stopping slippage.
  5. Thank you for all of those suggestions! I'm going to try making up a new pickle bath here soon with 3oz of citric acid per gallon rather than just the 6oz total and see if that makes a difference.

    Perhaps it would make sense to dry them off more thoroughly then before I freeze them as an option? I added some antibacterial soap to the water in the trashcan so I'm hoping that may help a little along with more frequent changes of the water.

    I noticed that the fatty areas of the skin don't seem like they're slipping too badly. Some squirrels have a lot of fat on the belly but they still seem like they're only slipping along the back. Maybe I could, when I skin them, set them in the pickle until I'm done skinning 3-4, then go back to the first ones and flesh them before letting them sit in the pickle for 48 hours? That way they're not just sitting out in the open air while I'm working and they never sit in the pickle for an extended period of time with the majority of the fat on them.

    I'm noticing the majority of the slippage before washing them with the Dawn. So maybe my pickle / their fur being damp is causing the majority of my problems.

    I'll give your suggestions a try and let you know if it makes a difference! Thanks again!
    Frank E. Kotula likes this.
  6. Penczak

    Penczak Active Member


    then place them in a trashcan full of water until they 'expire'.

    You're one cruel son of a bitch!
    Last edited: May 22, 2022
    SterlingFoxCreations likes this.