Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Preparing a moosehide - there's a first time for everything.

Warning: this post contains images that might be considered graphic or shocking to some. That's usually the kind that believes meat is manufactured by grocerystores.

Note to experienced hunters, skinworkers and the like; stop laughing and give me some tips on how to do it better next time!

Last sundaynight I received a FB-message (yes, I do that too *hangsheadinshame*) from one of my wife's former workmates. They had a mooseskin for me! With head! If I still wanted one? Well, yes! Of course! We could come and get it on monday. Work on monday prevented me getting it, so we went this morning. I was just hoping the hide was still reasonably fresh. Turns out the moose had been shot on sunday and the hide and head had been outside in constant below freezing temperatures. This presented us with a bit of a problem; a frozen hide.
After we took it home I made a makeshift rack by putting a log on top of my trestle in order to drape the hide over that, hoping to defrost it in the sun. Today and tomorrow should be the only days with non-freezingtemperatures during the afternoon.

After having studied the hide and head and having marvelled at its beauty, I took my knife and cut the head from the hide. Both were surprisingly "light". I had expected them to be much heavier.

It was a young bull, only a singlepointer, whích I kind of regret, since it did not get the chance to life a full life. Pitty really, as it was a beautiful animal. The ears would make some very fine pouches in themselves, if I only knew how to preserve them. The antlers will make some very fine buttons for my naturally dyed wooljacket!

Putting the hide over the trestle and spreading it took quite an effort. Unfortunately the hide showed several holes in it, but should still give a substantial amount of hide to prepare and tan.

The underside of the head; the tongue has been removed and I tried to cut loose the rest of the skin and flesh in order to expose the jaws. I might be able to use them and the teeth for some boneworkingprojects at a later state. Unfortunately were the jaws frozen shut... Note the structure of the inside of the cheek!

After that we had to leave the mooseremains for a while in order to visit my inlaws around lunch and by the time we returned the sun had started to set already. It is dark between 15:30 en 16:00. I had to see my father in law and ask what was the best way to extract the brains and with what tool. He has a little more knowledge about this than I do, due to his forensic policeworkyears prior to retirement. He suggested sawing the skull in a circulair way, but me being me I did it my own way and cut open the skull at the back of the head, right in front of the connecting backbone. I could see the brain through the hole in the backbone.

Good thing I did! These animals have thick skulls! Once I had made the cut, a bit more than a half circle, I pried it open and scooped out the brain with a spoon. It was surprisingly little for so large an animal! I check the skullcavaity twice, thinking I missed some!

Here's the cavity and thickness of the skull;

We could not help but admire this wonderfull thick fur. I so wish I could/can keep that! This is the part of the hide that runs along the backbone by the way. The hair was at least 10cm long.

We never got the hide to defrost actually. So I just rolled and folded the best that I could and, together with the brain, put it in the freezer untill spring will give at least a week of nonfreezing temperatures, so I can thaw, scrape, soak, smoke and work the hide. This should buy me the time in order to get or make myself some hideworkingtools, like scrapers.

Thanks to my wife for taking the pictures. We have more actually, but these are the least "gruesome" ones. In between taking pictures and cutting flesh or bone, we took plenty of time to study the head, the skull, the tissue, veins and what not. It's not everyday you can do your own anatomylesson on an animal under the open sky!
I have to admit that it felt weird and a little unrespectfull, sawing around on the skulls and antlers like I did, but inexperience offered me no alternative. I left the remaining head at the far end of our premises, so that maybe some animals can feed on it, during the cold times ahead. That way it will not be wasted. And in spring, when it has thawed and maybe is eaten clean mostly, I will collect at least the jaw and teeth and maybe other useable parts. As I left the skull I thanked the animal for the hide, antlers and other parts, but also for the lessons it provided and will provide me and us with in the future.

In hindsight I must say, that apart from the disrespectfull feeling, it felt weird doing all of this, but not unnatural. I think that is due to the fact that I am simply in no way used to it. This was only the second time I handled a dead animal or its remains in such a close way; the first time was the deerhide and -head, last winter. It was the first time I actually sawed bone, saw a brain (intact), felt, saw and smelled a (relatively) freshly killed animal inside and out.
Yet I also felt sorry in a way to see a specimen of the animal I personally hold dear lying there like that. All I can do is try and do my best to use the materials given to me as good as I can.


  1. By all accounts your processing sounds completely respectful. I think, once it comes to processing an animal, it's not so much technique, but thought and intentions behind it that matters.

    Like yourself - I am only learning - I am sure I have done the odd butcher job on a carcass. But as long as you hold in your mind that this was once a living creature, and its life will now sustain yours, you can't be going too far wrong.

    1. Hi Kerry, there is some technique involved AND a lot of plain musclepower, it seems!

  2. Nice man! I'm not much help on the processing of the hide, etc. New to me as well.

    One questions though, is that all the bigger moose antlers get? ;)

    1. Hi OE,
      like I said, this was a very young bull from the last year's spring.

  3. While there is technique that comes with experience most of it is what you're doing, good old fashion hard work, trial and error. It's just not easy.

    If you're going to brain tan there are several youtube vids that can help you with that. There's also quite a bit of decent material on the internet that can help guide you through it.

    A decent fleshing knife would make things easier for you when it comes time to work the hide. They can be had for reasonable prices at many online trapper supply stores, fntpost.com is who I usually get supplies from.

    You've got a lot of useful hide there and you can do a lot with it. I'm sure you'll do fine, the main ingredient is perseverance and willingness to work on it, which you certainly have.

    1. Thanks Jim,
      I have had some helpfull tips, so I am looking forward to processing this hide in spring!

  4. I've never done anything like this, so it's interesting to hear your accounts. Hope you have good experiences and end up with good materials in the spring!