Going into hiding

I come from a long line of furriers.

Okay, that’s not strictly true. I come from a long line of Austro-Hungarian cattle rustlers and one furrier, my grandfather, who apparently became a furrier only because Minneapolis got too hot to hold him, apparently because the mob was pissed at him, apparently because he was an extraordinarily skilled pool shark.

While he waited for everything to cool down, he went around the Wisconsin woods buying raw pelts from trappers. The only story I know from this era is that he ate lots of different fur-bearing animals, and could attest to the aptness of the name ‘muskrat.’

When things calmed down, he returned to Minneapolis and became a retail furrier, but he got out of the business in 1948, just as people started to think twice about wearing wild furs. He then started a perfectly respectable laundry, about which I know many more stories, including a very good one about a laundry truck and a parade. If you run into my father, ask him about it.

Now that I think about it, that’s not much of a pedigree, but it gets me closer to having fur in my blood than Kevin will ever be – there may never have been an Irish furrier in the history of the world. (And, although Kevin doesn’t have forbearers who got in trouble with the Mafia, he does have a few who knew their way around explosives.)

Still, it was Kevin who tackled the rabbit hide.

When I skinned the rabbit, I had a hazy idea that we’d do something with the hide, but I also had a hazy idea that tanning a hide was a pretty serious enterprise, involving tedious scraping, dangerous chemicals, and climate control. All that for one little rabbit hide with two rather prominent holes through it seemed a bit disproportionate.

But then Kevin talked to his friend Dave. Dave grew up in Georgia, shooting and eating small animals. He was processing squirrel hides while he was still in short pants. Dave told Kevin he could simply salt the hide to cure it.

What, just pour salt on it and wait?

Basically, yes. Pin it to a board, scrape off any flesh (no avoiding that step), and cover it generously with salt. Let it sit a few days, take the old salt off and add new salt. Let it sit a couple weeks.

It’s now been sitting for a couple of weeks. It’s got some bloodstains, but otherwise looks surprisingly like a hide well on its way to being cured. We’re going to give it a little more time, and put some extra salt on the raw-looking spots, and then we’ll probably put it in the freezer to kill any hangers-on of the insect variety. And then … well … is that really all there is to it?

If this works, it’s a powerful incentive. Bag a rabbit, and in one fell swoop you eliminate a thieving varmint, procure an excellent meal, and get yourself a nice soft fur.

I want a first-hand hat.

10 people are having a conversation about “Going into hiding

  1. Well done! You should sell them! I am trying to coerce my husband to bring me the hide from the next coyote he gets. They are full of beautiful colors, and I want one as a throw for a lounge chair in our room. I love the story about your grandfather. Is there anybody who doesn’t like a good story about their ancestors?

  2. Your family just gets more interesting with every blog post. Which also brings up the question: why is it a pool SHARK but a card SHARP? (As we managed to hijack a very erudite post concerning classism and make it about shoes, I thought I’d continue the trend…)

    I use some of our rabbit skins around dog training dummies, and do just as you did: scrape and salt. They last a good long time, even after repeated rehydrated with dog slobber. A first-hand hat would be fabulous. Sewn up with dried sinews? Or is that the slippery slope between “first-hand” to “holed up in your compound with supplies”?

  3. Pretty cool information to have up one’s sleeve.

    The other thing you can do with rabbit skins, is make rabbit skin glue, which is probably only useful if you’re given to oil painting or woodworking.

    Nahhh…make a hat. it’ll be good practice for when you get that raccoon, for which I’m rooting. The coonskin hat, not the raccoon.

  4. Congrats on your rabbit skin, Tamar! I kept rabbits for several years, and skinned four of them (along with a number of interesting roadkill critters). Although I’ve heard of salting hides to keep them from rotting, my understanding was that they would end up much less pliable than skins tanned with brains or egg yoke (I used egg yoke on mine, but every animal is said to have enough brains to tan its own hide).

    I’m curious to know if your rabbit skin ends up soft and cuddly through salting. Are you also able to bypass the smoking process with this salt curing method? Incidentally, I have what would now be about an eight-year-old salted deer hide in a plastic bag in my greenhouse. Maybe it’ll be easier to tan than I thought, though scraping is probably the most time-intensive part of the process.

    • Oooh, please tell us about doing it with egg-yolks.

      They’re easier to get around here than brains.

      • Like I said, it’s been a few years, but my recollection is that I separated out the yokes and worked them into the already scraped hide with my hands, as you would with brains. Then you just stretch the hide until it’s thoroughly dried (no small feat, especially with larger animals) and smoke it. Be sure the smoke is cool (no raging fires here), as you don’t want to cook the hide. After smoking, the hide can get wet and dry out again without becoming stiff.

        Brings back some fond memories! I’ll have to go investigate that deer hide in the greenhouse.

  5. what you’ve got is rawhide. Tanning is a step or two further.

    All hide curing I’ve heard of begins with salt. I think the salt sucks all the water and a fair amount of fat out. I tan deer and elk and they can be heavy and thick in the fall.

    The price of many furs have gone up of late due to demand from the Chinese market, all that new found affluence. Sometimes in cold climes you’ll still see people with coyote or wolf fur around the hood of their parkas, it keeps the frost from your breath from building up.

    I like this process best for buckskin, some of the softest leather, and I like the smell of neatsfoot oil.


    There are some recipes which call for rawhide but that’s another story.

  6. Sweet. You’re making yourself a hat out of the thing. Lesson learned–never trust yourself when you automatically think something is going to be incredibly difficult. Since they tend to be really easy things to do. It’s the “that’ll be easy” thoughts we have to be wary of. Those projects are usually the toughest!

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