'Preparing Deer and Antelope Hoofs to Use on Rattles, Bandoliers and Decorations', an illustrated four page article by Ken Smith
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Preparing Deer and Antelope Hoofs to Use on Rattles, Bandoliers and Decorations

by Ken Smith

Ken in coat
Ken Smith in his
braintanned hunting coat
Native Americans have been using game animal hoofs and dewclaws for centuries to make rattles, bandoliers and decorations for countless items. Using these raw materials helps create another tie back to Mother Earth where all these gifts come from. The hoofs and dewclaws of whitetail and mule deer, the hoofs of antelope and the dewclaws from small elk can all be used easily. In this article, I will discuss preparing deer and antelope hoofs for use and touch briefly on preparing deer and elk dewclaws.

The Abundance of Wasted Hoofs (How to Get Them For Free)

Each year, thousands of deer, antelope, and elk are harvested in North America. Usually, the hoofs and dewclaws of these animals are discarded or left on the prairie and in the mountains to go back to the earth. All a person has to do is go hunting, talk to friends who are hunters or visit a local game processing plant to obtain these hoofs and dewclaws. If it is legal in your state, you can get them from road killed animals also. Most hoofs and dewclaws that you get from hunters or processing plants will still be attached to the lower leg of the animal. This is because there is no edible muscle tissue in the lower legs, so they are usually discarded. These lower legs will keep well for several days if kept cool, dry and out of the sun

Removing Hoofs

An Easier Way

Matt's Note: A few years back I learned a much easier way to remove the hoofs, from Steven Edholm and Tamara Wilder.

Instead of cutting the toes off, simply take the entire fresh or frozen (not dried out) lower leg (the part nearly everyone throws out) and put in boiling water for five to fifteen minutes. Then use a slight twisting motion to pop the hoof off with a pair of pliers or just your fingers. If its not ready put back in the water.

If it cooks too long the tendons that hold the toes to the leg will cook and they will seperate. Then you need to resort to the knife method as Ken describes. If you want to save the lower leg sinew, remove it before you do this. This method is extremely reliable, quick, and not as smelly

Your first step is to remove the hoofs and dewclaws from the lower legs.
Hoofs can be removed with a saw or by cutting thru the joint with a knife, but a faster way is to use an axe or a hatchet. If you have a good quality axe or hatchet, the fresh small bones you will be cutting thru will slightly dull, but not chip your cutting edge. Dewclaws can be removed with a knife. Once removed from the lower leg, washed of blood and dirt, your hooves and dewclaws can be frozen for future finishing. You do not want to let them dry out at any point, be it on the leg or not, as once dry, it is very hard to rehydrate them for finishing! If you double bag them and put them in the bottom of the freezer, your better half will never know they are there.

Proceeding from this point, it does not matter if your hoofs or dewclaws are fresh or frozen. You can process them in the same way. For the rest of the main part of this article, I will focus on finishing deer and antelope hoofs. The hoofs have a bone and connective tissue inside them. The best way to soften the connective tissue and remove the bone is to slowly boil the hoofs. If this is done correctly, it will not hurt the hoofs. Boiling is best done outside, as hoofs have their own distinctive odor when boiling!

the cuts Slowly boil the hoofs in lots of water for 2-3 hours, changing the water twice. (hint: if you have limited time each day, boil the hoofs a while, change the water, keep cool and boil some more the next day) After about 3 hours of slow boiling, take a knife and see if the connective tissue (which by now will be soft and sticky-----hoof glue?!) is soft enough that the bone inside the hoof can be pried out easily. For the rest of the finishing, I use a small, thin bladed, sharp pocket knife. Run your knife blade around the inside of the hoof. If your blade does not go easily, the bone is not ready to pop out, and a little more boiling is necessary. Go ahead and pop out the bone from each hoof and scrape out the connective tissue. You can put them in fresh hot water at this point and they will be less sticky and slippery to work with.

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