[Warning: Very Gory] Roadkill Pelt Salvage January 19, 2016 14:19

We debated a bit whether to publish this, but ultimately the team here agreed we feel preserving an animal's hide honours it, and doing it by hand in a way is a kind of grim, but a grounding reminder that we're all animals, and life is fragile and precious.

Some explanatory notes:

I saw this squirrel get hit by a truck. It died instantly and accidentally. We didn't have time to process it immediately, but I got it into the freezer within a few hours of its death. More on that later. We wore gloves handling it until it was thoroughly soaked in salt-and-alum solution, made sure we didn't have any open cuts, and practiced regular hand-washing. 

mixing up the tanning solution

I got the squirrel out of the freezer to thaw while mixing up the tanning solution. We used alum (aluminum sulfate), washing soda, and salt. The same recipe from our hide tanning kit. I hadn't done this in a year or so, and I forgot that it foams up when you mix it all together - mix it in a big bucket!

squirrel defrosting

I didn't really leave enough time for the squirrel to thaw - a few hours at room temperature and it was still partly frozen. I guess that fur is pretty good insulation. This made skinning it much more difficult, a good lesson for next time!

trimming around the pelvis

I slit down the underside, and here tried to cut around the groin area to separate the intestines and bladder. I'm not sure if you can tell from the photo, but the insides of this poor squirrel were a mess, with digestive contents throughout the abdomen and into the thoracic cavity. No chance of cleanly removing the gut here.

skinning around the abdomen

I think that's chewed-up acorns? Whatever it was, it was all over the place. I found my old diving knife worked well for the detail work. You can see the inside of the skin is discolored where blood and stomach contents touched it.

tail coming out clean

By peeling back the skin on the base of the tail and yanking hard, I was able to get the bone and muscle to come out cleanly.

the hide removed

finally, I was able to remove the hide in (mostly) one piece. The head (upper right) went right under the tires, and wasn't in good enough shape to keep on.

weighed down hide in tanning solution

got the hide weighted down in the tanning solution. Left it in there a little longer than intended - recipe is two days, then scrape, but we left it two weeks.

composting the squirrel

We composted the squirrel remains indoors. While generally I've been very impressed with the NatureMill's ability to handle animal products, this time we had several days of bad smells. Not recommended :(

scraping the hide

After leaving the hide in the solution for quite a bit longer than planned, we scraped the remaining flesh and fat from the inside. It's a delicate affair because it's easy to tear the hide - so you want to use something with a rounded edge that's not *too* sharp. We worked with a dough scraper, alternating just pulling strips off by hand.

The next step is to stretch it and work it while letting it dry. We wrung it out and then hung it for a day, before working it by hand for a couple hours. Sorry, didn't get good pics of this stage!

finished hide

The finished pelt. Some of the fur came off in the middle and around the edges - probably has to do with leaving it in the solution too long. It may have been hidden damage from getting run over, too.

So, now what? It's pretty small, but I have a few rabbit hides left over from last year too. Between them they might make a nice toque or moccasin liner?