'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 Hoofs:    page 4


There is one last thing you can do, if you so desire, before letting your hoofs dry. You can make up some red earth paint mixed with a little water and sparingly rub it into the pad and inside the hoof. When putting paint inside the hoof, I just dab the end of my little finger in the paint and rub on the inside of the hoof. It does not take much paint and you don't have to cover the whole inside of the hoof. I say to apply your paint sparingly, because as the hoofs dry, the red color will intensify. I saw an old bandolier at a Native American art store in Boulder, CO. years ago. It had small hoofs done as in fig. 2 with a little red paint on the hoof pads and on the inside of the hoofs. Each hoof was strung on the bandolier strap with two dark purple translucent old italian crow beads. It was beautiful. The red earth paint helps tie us back to the earth where all these wonderful raw materials come from.

After the hoofs have dried for 3-5 days, you can drill, burn or use a square shanked awl to make the holes in the flattened tips for hanging the hoofs. If your hoofs are mule deer from the rocky mountains and surrounding foot hills, most likely they will be scratched up alot. Do not fear. You can scrape down most of the scratches with your pocket knife and then rub them with a little fine steel wool. Try rubbing on a little mineral oil or buffalo tallow on the 2 hoof surfaces only- not on the pad. The hoofs get real pretty when you do that.

You are done!

Variation between hoof types

Antelope hoofs in general tend to flatten out as they dry. It's a fact of life, not a problem. White tail deer hoofs in general have more pretty translucent amber color at the tips and along the hoof edges than mule deer hoofs. Whitetail deer hoof pads tend to be a dark gray in color. Mule deer and antelope hoof pads tend to be a lighter cream color. All three look just as good with the red paint when they are dry.

Notes on dew claws:

You can use deer and small elk dew claws for decorations and the ends of drops as well as other things. When fresh they can be trimmed from the lower legs with a pocket knife. The front dewclaws will tend to be shaped better than the rear ones. All will work. Process the same as hoofs, but they don't need to boil as long. I haven't seen any old ones with zigzags around the bottom edge. You don't need to make a flat spot at the tip for drilling. They are more rounded at the tip, not pointed like hoofs. When making the hole for hanging, work your drill or square shanked awl up from the inside and aim for the center of the tip of the dewclaw.

Have patience and have fun.


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