by Naomi K. Shapiro
There's more to an enjoyable aftermath of a deer hunt than just venison -- like using the pelt. Lots of hunters have discovered that with a little work, they can realize some extra dollars, a wall mount, or some very nice wearable items by preparing the deer pelt properly. There are a number of alternatives as to how you want to prepare the pelt, depending on what you want to realize from the effort.
Most hunters will simply skin the deer, roll up the pelt, and take it a local taxidermist who'll give you anywhere from around three to seven dollars for it -- OR will "trade" for a pair of deer skin gloves, mittens, moccasins, whatever. You may have to pay the taxidermist more for the item you want if it's worth more than the pelt. You can also take the pelt to a local fur buyer, who will simply give you the money -- no trades involved. The fur buyer resells the pelts to artisans and companies who make deer-based clothing or artifact items.
Some hunters will keep the pelt, and actually make a wall hanging, clothing, or other items. Doing so is becoming a lost art. There are not that many Jeremiah Johnsons left. Still others want a full head or deer mount. That's going to require you taking the pelt and the head to a taxidermist.
Here are some basics from guide Phil Schweik on how to prepare the pelt – which you can adapt to whatever end-result you're looking for.
First -- skin your deer. In two previous articles we generally outlined how to skin out your deer ("Deer Processing – Processing Your Own Venison" and "Whitetail Taxidermy"); and remember, as we suggested in the same articles, try and do so right after you gut/field-dress it, while the deer is still warm. That will make the job a lot easier. There's a seam of liquid fat between the deer's body and the pelt. Once the deer cools, that seam congeals and hardens, and makes the pelt that much harder to work. When you skin the deer, depending on what end result you want and the condition of the deer itself, you can either hang the deer by its head/antlers and work down, OR, hang it from its hock and work up. For instance, maybe you want a full caped-out pelt and head for a mount -- or you just want to make more money. To do that, you hang the deer by its hock, and work up from the rear of the deer to its neck area. Then you take your knife and saw, and cut underneath the pelt through the flesh and detach the head. You then have the entire pelt, and the head in one piece. A taxidermist will pay you $30 to $50 --even more -- for the entire pelt and head. And it's not that much more work to do so. Hunters will usually do this when the deer is in good shape, but not a real trophy. So they're not looking for a mount themselves. Whatever you do, be very careful not to puncture the pelt. The better shape it's in, the more money you'll get.
Make sure you have a good quality knife and deer saw -- in the end, the better stuff will stand up to more of a beating and last for years. Well worth the additional expenditure.
If your deer is "shot up," and the hide is punctured, don't waste a ton of time trying to do anything fancy. You're not going to get a lot of extra money out of the extra effort. Skin it, roll it up, and sell it for whatever you can get.
Once the pelt is off the animal, lay it on the ground, fur side down. Pour any type of small-grained salt over the entire flesh side of the pelt. There's a lot of moisture in the pelt, and the salt will suck the moisture out and dry the pelt. That can take a couple, maybe three, four days, depending on the size of the deer and the weather conditions (you can of course treat the pelt in a garage or pole barn, but remember there may be ticks, fleas and the like still in the pelt, so hopefully the weather will cooperate and allow you to leave the pelt outside on the ground). Another thing the salt does besides drying the pelt is chase away the ticks, fleas and other bugs that usually infest a deer. Once the pelt is dried, turn it over and remove anything from the fur that remains on it -- stuff like leaves, burrs, whatever. And yes you can "peg" the edges of the pelt to prevent curling while it's drying. Some do, some don't.
Then, you'll want to tan the skin side. No biggie. Most every outdoor store has tanning kits that are not real expensive, have simple directions, and work really well. Once tanned, then it's "your call." Brush it, cut away any little hanging strips or ends -- make it look nice. Hang the pelt on the wall. You can also sell it to an artisan who will make all kinds of things from it, or, if you're really talented, you can make the stuff yourself, like any number of recreators do.
Whatever you do, you will have the satisfaction of using the entire animal. You've wasted nothing, and in the end you'll have a gorgeous wall hanging, or maybe some soft and very wonderful gloves, mittens, moccasins, or clothing; or some extra walking-around money. You can also end up with a beautiful full cape head and body mount if your deer is a trophy. The choices are endless and all rewarding in one way or the other.