If You Have Nothing But the Animal, a Knife, and Water, Which of These Can Be Used to Tan a Hide?
Part of being responsible in the wild is using what is already there rather than bringing items or chemicals in. That includes using as many parts of the animal as possible. When you make your kill and you’re looking to make a pouch or just a decorative skin out of the hide, all you need is the skull and its contents… the brain.
Before you can tan the hide with the brains, you’ll need to “flesh” it, or remove all the fat and membrane that is attached to the hide. You can do this by stretching the hide and scraping it with your knife until you can see the pores in the animal’s skin.
Once the hide is fleshed, you can start the tanning process — that is, the process that makes the skin soft and supple. To begin, rub the skin with something rough, like a nearby rock. Think of it as roughing the skin up the same way you would prep something to be painted.
Next, mix the brains with water. If you’re really down to the basics, you can even do this in the skull itself. Just tilt it so that it forms a bowl and doesn’t allow the mixture to leak out of the eye sockets or nasal cavities. You’ll want a little more water than brains in the mixture. Heat the mix for about ten minutes, mashing it together until it forms an oily paste.
Pour about half the brain mixture onto the hide. Rub the mixture in with your hands. (This will also soften your own skin.) Once the hide is completely covered, allow it to set overnight. Once it dries, rough up the skin again and apply another layer of the brain mixture, working it in with your hands. Cover the skin with a wet, damp cloth and allow it to set overnight.
Pay attention to the hide while you’re working through this process. If you come across stiff spots, it means you need to work in more of the brain mixture to that area. The method here applies to small animals, like raccoons. For larger animals with thicker hides, you may need to repeat the process several times.
Once the hide is dry, you can make it even softer. Stretch the hide and rub it over posts or smooth, barkless fallen trees. Continue to do this until the hide is as soft and supple as you want it to be.
Note that this only one way to tan a hide. There are several other ways and even other ways to tan a hide with brains. But, this is the best method when you have limited access to any other supplies or you just want to use the most traditional route.