Brain tanning Elk, Moose and other BIG hides
previous   home
Jump to page 1  2  3  4  5
next pagenext   

Brain Tanning Elk, Moose and other BIG Hides

By Billy Metcalf

Billy Metcalf brain tans for a living in the back woods of British Columbia (his contact info is in our Tanners Directory). He's also a frequent participate in The Hide Out!, our ongoing online discussion forum ... and he has a cool mustache.

As a full time time brain tanner who tans a hundred or more hides a year, I've developed a system for tanning deer hides that gives me the results I'm looking for consistently, hide after hide. But even after fifteen years I still find tanning big hides like Moose or Elk to be a real challenge. In the last year I've tanned three Elk and two Moose. They all came out good with varying degrees of difficulty. I'm starting to put together a system though that seems to be working out. So, far from being an expert, I'll share what I've learned and hopefully it will help some of you when you decide to tackle one of the big hides. I'll assume that you already have a basic knowledge of brain tanning, the steps and terminology, as Matt Richards describes in his book, "Deerskins into Buckskins".

The Real Secret

The essential element when it comes to doing big hides is hard work. Everything about it is harder than tanning a deer. The last Moose I did was an eighteen month old bull. Our Moose season here is for bulls with no more than two points, which pretty much means it's their first set of antlers. This 'small' bull hide was 25 sq. ft. when finished and 1/4" thick on the rump. When these hides are soaking wet with the hair on they can weigh 150 lbs or more.

First off, I'd recommend getting proficient at tanning deer before trying a Moose or Elk. Next, try to get a cow or young bull hide for tanning. The big old bulls are impressive but don't really lend themselves to making garment grade buckskin. Wes Housler talks about this in regards to tanning Buffalo robes in his video. I've been doing the wet scrape method, so that's what I'll talk about first, although I have an idea about incorporating dry scraping into my technique.


This young bull Moose that I just finished had been stored salted and rolled up in a plastic garbage can for over a year. So the first step was to scrape off the salt and soak it in water for a couple of days. It was fairly flexible, not hard to unroll before I put it in the water. I fleshed it on an upright beam with a fairly sharp drawknife. Moose have a much tougher membrane layer than deer, that has a cross hatch of sinewy stuff that allows them to twitch their skin like you see horses doing to get rid of flies. I tried to get as much of this as possible but figured I'd get the rest when the hair was gone. Fortunately because this hide had been stored for so long the hair was falling out by the time I was done fleshing. So I turned it over and took the hair off with the back of my draw knife. Even though I still had to get the grain off, removing the hair greatly reduced the weight and bulk of the hide.

Jump to page 1  2  3  4  5
next page   



Take me home        email us!


 the button

Traditional tanning information, resources and supplies.

240 pages and growing...

Brain tanned DeerElkMoose, CaribouAntelopeBuffalo hides, direct from the tanners.

ToolsBooks, VideosKits, Crafting Supplies

Raw hides.

creditcards.gif (2957 bytes)

Introduction to brain tanning,

Caring for your hides, Learn how to get started.

Over 240 pages of informational articles & tutorials.

Discuss This!

at The Hide Out!

Ask questions or share your knowledge and experience.

Contact us, Consulting services, Press room, Backcountry Publishing.

Traditional Tanners Catalog.

Order a Traditional Tanners Catalog.