Brain tanning Elk, Moose and other BIG hides
Brain Tanning Elk, Moose and other BIG Hides
By Billy Metcalf
As a full time time brain tanner
who tans a hundred or more hides a year, I've developed a system for tanning
deer hides that gives me the results I'm looking for consistently, hide after
hide. But even after fifteen years I still find tanning big hides like Moose
or Elk to be a real challenge. In the last year I've tanned three Elk and two
Moose. They all came out good with varying degrees of difficulty. I'm starting
to put together a system though that seems to be working out. So, far from
being an expert, I'll share what I've learned and hopefully it will help some
of you when you decide to tackle one of the big hides. I'll assume that you
already have a basic knowledge of brain tanning, the steps and terminology, as
Matt Richards describes in his book, "Deerskins
Billy Metcalf brain tans for a
living in the back woods of British Columbia (his contact info
is in our Tanners
Directory). He's also a frequent participate in The
Hide Out!, our ongoing online discussion forum ... and he
has a cool mustache.
The Real Secret
The essential element when it comes to doing big hides is hard work.
Everything about it is harder than tanning a deer. The last Moose I did was an
eighteen month old bull. Our Moose season here is for bulls with no more than
two points, which pretty much means it's their first set of antlers. This
'small' bull hide was 25 sq. ft. when finished and 1/4" thick on the
rump. When these hides are soaking wet with the hair on they can weigh 150 lbs
First off, I'd recommend getting proficient at tanning deer before trying a
Moose or Elk. Next, try to get a cow or young bull hide for tanning. The big
old bulls are impressive but don't really lend themselves to making garment
grade buckskin. Wes Housler talks about this in regards to tanning Buffalo
video. I've been doing the wet scrape method, so that's what I'll talk
about first, although I have an idea about incorporating dry scraping into my
This young bull Moose that I just finished had been stored salted and
rolled up in a plastic garbage can for over a year. So the first step was to
scrape off the salt and soak it in water for a couple of days. It was fairly
flexible, not hard to unroll before I put it in the water. I fleshed it on an
upright beam with a fairly sharp drawknife. Moose have a much tougher membrane
layer than deer, that has a cross hatch of sinewy stuff that allows them to
twitch their skin like you see horses doing to get rid of flies. I tried to
get as much of this as possible but figured I'd get the rest when the hair was
gone. Fortunately because this hide had been stored for so long the hair was
falling out by the time I was done fleshing. So I turned it over and took the
hair off with the back of my draw knife. Even though I still had to get the
grain off, removing the hair greatly reduced the weight and bulk of the hide.
information, resources and supplies.
Deer, Elk, Moose, Caribou, Antelope & Buffalo
hides, direct from the tanners.
& Raw hides.
Introduction to brain tanning,
Caring for your hides,
Learn how to get started.
Over 240 pages of informational articles & tutorials.
The Hide Out!
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your knowledge and experience.
Traditional Tanners Catalog.