How To Brain Tan A Squirrel

by Mark on October 31, 2007

This article is about Brain Tanning a squirrel the old way that you just scraped off the pavement, or harvested during squirrel hunting season.  Our goal here is to turn the hide into a soft and beautiful pelt that will not only honor the animal but will bring you enjoyment for years to come.  As the name implies, we will be using the squirrel’s brains to tan its own hide.  So save those brains!

How To Brain Tan A Squirrel

Brain Tanned Mouse Pelt


This request comes from one of our students regarding tanning a squirrel hide. He stated,  “I wanted to share and get some tips (although by the time you reply I will have already started to get my hands dirty I’m sure) on skinning a squirrel.  I picked a nice road-kill up today.  It was getting late and I did not want to work outside so I submerged him in a bucket of cold water.  It is tomorrow’s project.”

First, two things you want to be aware of when harvesting any road kill.
1. Check your local fish & game laws about removing dead animals from the highways for personal use; in many states, it is illegal.  (Check with them for a permit, it should be free.)
2. Wild animals can carry all kinds of nasty critters like ticks and fleas, which may stay in the fur of the animal for quite a long time after the host animal has expired.
So always, carry sturdy plastic bags in your rig along with disposable gloves for handling any road kill you may come upon.

How to brain Tan a Squirrel

Chris Gumpper, Head of Staff during Teen camp with his brain tanned Mouse Pelt headband.  There is one small Ground Squirrel Pelt in the headband too.  Note the Paiute Deadfall trap used to harvest the mice.

Squirrels are small animals and are a great first tanning project.

What is Tanning?  Briefly, Tanning is the process that takes a raw animal hide or skin and turns it into leather.

Wear disposable gloves through the whole tanning process!  If you have cuts or scratches on your hands, they can become infected without proper precaution.

You begin to remove the hide from the carcass of an animal by carefully slicing the animal from the chin, along the belly, to almost anal end.  Cut around male anatomy and the anal area, being careful not to cut into internal organs and such.  Continue cutting along the center of the squirrel’s tail to the end.  This gets tricky here cutting the tail.  You have to go very slow if you want to save the whole tail.  Next from the belly cut, slice along the underneath side of the forearms and legs of the squirrel.  Now you are ready to separate as much fat and tissue as possible from the hide by using your thumbs and forefingers of both hands to peel the hide from the carcass.  If you use a knife to do this, be careful that you do not cut into the hide!

  • · A note here; if you plan on keeping the face and head area intact on the hide, then, like the tail, it is a delicate technique to carefully cut and peel without ripping the hide.

Okay, you have removed the hide from the carcass, well done! Save the skull for it contains the brains that we need to tan the hide.  Put the skull in a paper sack in the fridge for later.  Dispose of the carcass accordingly.

Now you get to begin the process we call Fleshing. This means removing the fat and tissue from the “flesh side” of the hide, compared to the other side of the hide, which has the nice soft fur of the animal.  When working with a small animal like a squirrel you can stretch and tack the hide on a piece of plywood, side of a barn, or other very flat surface to help you in the fleshing process.  You can also hold the hide down with one hand on your leg while scraping the flesh from the hide with your other hand.  It is somewhat tricky, but this whole process takes lots of patience.  However, it is worth it.

The tool we will be using for scraping off the flesh from the hide will be a dull butter knife that has very small serrated edges gently scraping the fat from the hide.  You can use a knife, but you have to be very careful that you do not cut the hide with the edge of your knife, which ruins the hide.  To scrape with a knife, begin by coming into the hide at a 90′ degree angle.  Do not angle your blade as if carving this will slice the hide.  Bring you knife in at a 90-degree angle and taking short downward strokes to remove the flesh and tissue.  As the hide dries some, it may be a little easier in the removal process.  Keep at it until you remove all the fat, tissue, and flesh.  Once you have done this, the hide is now “rawhide” and can be rolled up and put in a paper sack, in the frig if you want, keeping it safe from dogs who love to chew on hides.

Remove the brains from the skull of the squirrel; put the brains in a plastic container with a tight lid and into the fridge as well.  You may want to leave a description of the contents for the unwary if you have a communal fridge.  If you are careful in removing the brains, you can keep the skull well intact as the beginning of a skull collection.

How to Brain Tan the Hide

Squirrels do not have very much brain tissue.  So what I do to stretch the brains, is add a good 1/2 cup of fresh water, rain water if you have any, and bring the brains with the water to a light boil, turn off the heat, set aside, and let the brains cool.  (Boiling is a safety issue.)

Note: remember you are putting brains on the flesh side only. It will not hurt anything if you get brains on the hair side.

Once the liquid has cooled, rub the mixture into the flesh side of the hide.  Do this until the flesh side of the hide is well soaked with the brain mixture.  You can if you wish to ensure a good braining, soak a cotton cloth in the remaining brain mixture and lay it on the flesh side of the hide.  Roll up the hide with the cloth and let it sit overnight in a cool dark safe place.  In the morning roll out the hide remove the cloth, wring as much water and moisture as you can from the hide.
Find a nice warm place to stretch the hide, and begin Staking the hide.

Staking the Hide

In essence, this means stretching the hide.
You pull the hide with your hands, from all manner of directions.  You can stretch it over the arms or top of a chair.
You can drive a nice stake about 2 inches diameter into the ground about waist height, round off the point so its smooth like a broom handle and use the rounded end to stake your hide.  Be gentle with the staking you do not want to Punch a hole in the hide.

Stake and stretch your hide until it is completely dry!  Completely dry, this cannot be stressed enough!

Your hide should be wonderfully soft now.  Run your hands over the hide if you feel rough spots you can soften these by using light grit sandpaper, or a very smooth small river stone to burnish the hide.  You can always re-brain and stake the hide if needed.

Smoking the Hide

I know you are asking, “what in the heck does this mean?”  The smoking of the hide sets the brains, helps to make the hide resistance to water, (Not waterproof.) and helps to preserve the pelt, and is our last step.  Two things leather does not do well with; water and heat.  Too much of both will ruin your hide.  With your hide getting wet, you can always dry it by stretching the hide to its original shape in a warm area, but too much heat will just ruin the hide.  So be careful with heat and fire around your hide.

To smoke the hide
s build a tripod; for a squirrel, about 3 feet high and make a small fire pit beneath it.  Form your pelt into a circle with the tanned side on the inside.  You can use clothespins, paper clips, to hold the pelt into shape, or you can sew it temporarily with thread.  Tie the Pelt to a cord and hang it from the tripod directly over your fire pit.  You will want to use punky rotten non-resinous wood to create lots of smoke, not heat, or flame, but lots of smoke! The smoke will draft up and smoke the whole pelt.  With lots of smoke, your hide should be smoked in about 40 to 60 minutes.  Watch the fire for flare-ups, and keep a good steady stream of smoke on the hide.

“The scrotum of a buck, tanned with the hair on, makes a good tobacco-pouch.”    

~Horace Kephart

That’s all there is to it.  Leave me your questions in the comment section below.  Does anyone have tips to add about tanning?  We would enjoy hearing from you.

Happy Tanning!


{ 131 comments… read them below or add one }

Mark November 1, 2007 at 8:24 pm

A note here on the fleshing tool I recommended; the butter knife or a regular knife with a sharp edge. You can make a great fleshing tool out of a rock and it works better than either the butter knife or a knife. The problem you run into with say a pocket knife or any knife for that matter when your scraping or fleshing the hide, it is so easy to damage the hide buy cutting or slicing the hide.

Traditionally the front lower bone of the leg of a deer (Cannon Bone) was used for scraping the flesh from hides. To make a bone fleshing tool, cut the end of the bone or grind it to about a 45’degree angle, and file teeth on the end you just sawed. These teeth work like the butter knife I described by grabbing the flesh and removing it by sticking in the fine teeth of the tool. You can also drill a whole through the end of the bone and make a wrist loop (Thong) to help get leverage while fleshing.

Chad November 2, 2007 at 11:02 am

I’m staking flesh side down right?

Hey Chad,
thats correct. You don’t want to stake the fur side of the hide, rough on the fur! Again by staking we mean stretching the hide after braining. We can use a tool like the back of a wooden chair, the top of a broom handle to pull the hide down to stretch over. The idea is that the fibers in the hide stretch by the staking process and the brains get in between the fibers and help to keep the fibers soft and pliable. Remember to keep going until the hide is completely dry

Chad November 14, 2007 at 5:35 pm

Ok because of the small nuances that i would get detailed information from an expert if they were standing over my shoulder. Is there something specific that i could have done that make the hair fall off? The second hide hair was all falling off so I allowed it to dry. Have I ruined this hide? I’m getting ready to start my third and this time I’m definitely putting the brains in a blender.

Mark November 14, 2007 at 10:16 pm

Hey Chad,
Blenders a good idea for liquefying brains.
Loosing the hair from the squirrel…it may be caused from soaking the hide to long.

Fleshing is the removal of fat, meat, tissue. After this is removed, (The fleshing part.) then brain the hide, stretch and stake until dry.
To answer the question; “Is the hide still good?”
Because you are loosing the hair, the hide won’t work as a pelt, but you can scrape the hair side as well and re-brain & stretch and you will have buckskin.

brian March 1, 2010 at 3:42 pm

I was hunting got a squirrel and cleaned it and threw away the brains.I salted it and now it as dry and hard as cardboard how do i tan the skin with out brains or eggs?

Mark March 1, 2010 at 7:43 pm

Hi brian, try this…wash the hide with soap first to de-grease the hide as best you can.
You will not have a nice hide if you leave fat and grease on it through this process.

A note of caution – do not soak the hide to long it will make the hair slip. Watch it carefully.

Turpentine & Alcohol
Pour equal parts alcohol & turpentine into a large mouth gallon jar with a plastic screw top.
Make sure you have enough liquid to cover the hide.
Put the skin in the jar and shake several times a day for 7 days.
Remove the skin – wash thoroughly in water. Make sure all salt, soap removed.
Rinse in clean water – changing the water several times.
Squeeze the skin to partially dry it.
Then apply a finishing oil on the flesh side – a bit of neat’s-foot, just a dab, don’t overdo, just enough to lightly oil the skin.
Work the skin over the back of a wooden chair or breaking stick. (This is called staking the hide.)
This should take you one day, keep at it off and on all day, do this before your hide dries completely.
To produce a soft and supple skin requires repeated stretching, its quite a bit of work, even on a small hide.
But hey its worth it!

We try to stay away from caustic chemicals when we tan, but we highly recommend this book for all you squirrel hunters who threw away your brains.
And we salute you for not throwing away the hides, and making something nice and soft for you couch,
slippers, hand bag, or whatever. Lets us know how you did.
Happy Tanning.

“The Ultimate guide to Skinning and Tanning” by Monte Burch.

kyler April 13, 2010 at 12:10 pm

Can I tan an already cured fur because I’m in royal rangers and no one will buy my furs because they haven’t been tanned

Mark April 14, 2010 at 9:32 am

You can re-tan a fur if you need to. What tanning process are you using?

Cara June 8, 2010 at 7:12 am

Do brain tanned hides work for taxidermy?

Mark June 16, 2010 at 6:03 pm

Hi Cara,
brain Tanned hides may be to luxuriously soft and supple for taxidermy.

Dee June 28, 2010 at 10:00 pm

I am comparing notes from several different sites, and a bit confused. One site states to clean & neutralize the hide in alum & H20, mixing w/ salt. Soak for 6-9 days. What I have in mind is a brain tan. Is it correct to clean & neutraize prior to brain tanning? If not, the sites I have visited do not mention washing & neutralizing the hide, is this necessary after the brain tanning process? Thanks!

Mark June 29, 2010 at 12:50 am

Hi Dee,
for brain tanning you just need to make sure you remove all the flesh and fat from the flesh side of the hide. I assume you are tanning a squirrel. Once you have removed the fat and grease the flesh side is ready for the brains. Brain Tanning is a different process than a chemical tan, where you would use alum. If you have salted the hide make sure you remove the salt by rinsing well before braining. It does not hurt the process if you wash the hide while your removing the flesh and fat.
Let me know how it comes out.

Maddie July 9, 2010 at 10:15 am

i tanned my fur but after i soften it it just hardens back up in alot of spots. i was wondering what i was doing wrong. i let thr fur get so that some spots wer starting to get just a little bit dry then i used myhands and a cleen tree branch to soften it but it still gets hard and thick paper like when im done…what did i do wrong!

Celeste July 9, 2010 at 11:26 am

Hi Maddie,

It sounds like you did not add any brains to it. At this point do not add anymore water to the hide. You can add a small amount of Neats Foot oil to the hardened areas and rework them adding a small amount after you work it each time until it is soft. Let me know how this works for you.

maddie July 9, 2010 at 12:30 pm

i did add brains to it. and mixed the exact ammount of water. i used a blender and hot water to mix them. but it still makes a cracking sound when i bend it. is the results of brain tanning as soft as the results of using the chemicals?

maddie July 9, 2010 at 12:33 pm

and also…whats neets foot oil?

maddie July 9, 2010 at 1:23 pm

will foot rub work it says it softens feet. only thing is is that it has alot of salt in it

Celeste July 9, 2010 at 1:32 pm

Hi Maddie,

Sounds like you did not work it enough while it was drying after you applied the brains. If there is the least amount of moisture in the hide when you quit working it, it will become stiff. Do not use feet rub! Neats Foot Oil is available at most hardware stores and tack shops, (where they sell horse equipment), and/or feed stores. You may even be able to find it at WalMart. It is made specifically for leather products to keep them soft and supple. Keep me posted!

Rabbitguy October 30, 2010 at 6:31 am

Okay, I’ve brain tanned my rabbit hide. Today I’m gonna stretch it. But man! My Mom and sister won’t let me bring in a hide that has had brains on it! Can I wash the hide with laundry detergent or something? Before or after smoking?

Mark October 30, 2010 at 7:02 am

Dear Rabbit guy,
great project! If you wash the hide after you have brained and smoked the hide you will defeat the purpose of tanning. The washing will make the hide stiff and you will have to stretch and stake the hide all over again.

The smoke will set the brains in the hide so they are not going to smell or rot. The hide WILL smell of smoke for a while which can be offensive to some but after a while the smoke smell diminishes and you will hardly notice it. After you finish the Rabbit hide, it should be soft, smell a little like smoke and be a great addition to your home.

Let us know how it turns out.

Rabbitguy October 30, 2010 at 12:30 pm

Thanks for your response! I have another question, the rabbit must have gotten into something before it died, so it’s fur is really dirty. Would it affect the tan if I washed only the fur by sprinkling some detergent on it and rinsing it off? Or does the water soak through the skin onto the other side?
Another idea I had was to wipe it off with a soapy, wet paper towel? This is my first tanning project and I really hope it works! 🙂 Thanks!

Rabbitguy October 30, 2010 at 5:20 pm

Hey Mark!

I just finished smoking the hide! It turned out real well. It’s a little tough in some areas but thats alright with me. Thanks for your help and directions! I’ve been dreaming about tanning a hide since I was 8 years old. One last question, Some hair comes off the hide when I shake it. Do you think that it is just loose hair from when I skinned the rabbit? Or is the hair starting to slip?

Mark October 31, 2010 at 9:54 am

Hi Rabbitguy,
you can wash the fur side of the Rabbit to remove the dirt, you just do not want to submerge the hide completely. If the hide gets to wet, you can bring back the suppleness by stretching the hide again until dry. The hair could be coming off the hide from: fleshing to hard and or soaking the hide to long, or if the hide was beginning to rot.

Congratulations on your first tanning project! Each time you tan you learn more and more about the process. Thanks for sharing.
Keep it up.

Tim Reavis November 15, 2010 at 7:31 am

does smoking leave a smoky smell, or does it eventually dissipate

Mark November 15, 2010 at 8:10 am

Hi Tim,
the smoky smell will go away after time. How did the hide turn out?

Evan December 20, 2010 at 11:05 am

Hi, I was tanning my squirrel hide and I used eggs, not brains. Is that okay?

Also, I soaked the eggs and the skin overnight, in the morning the fur practically came off. What did I do wrong?

Mark December 20, 2010 at 11:26 am

I think the problem with the hair coming off so quickly has to do with the amount of time you soaked the hide – overnight, and the age of the hide. Did you tan the hide very soon after harvesting, or did it sit around at room temperature for several days before you got to it? The eggs will help to soften the hide….tell me more why you chose eggs over brains?

Mark December 20, 2010 at 11:38 am

This is a very good description on the process. Remember, when you are doing small animal hides and you want to leave the hair on, do not soak the whole hide, just brush the tanning solution, eggs, brains, onto the flesh side of the hide. Matt Richards of Traditional Tanners has everything you need to tan hides naturally. Check him out at and Evan, even though you’re losing the hair, you can still use the hide.

Evan December 20, 2010 at 2:07 pm

Yes, the hide sat around for several days. I was trying to use anougher method but did not acomplish it.

I used eggs because the head was already disposed of.

Oh, and I did tan the hide even though the fur was off, it worked, but the finished product was very thin.

Sylph December 28, 2010 at 2:32 am

My daughter’s chinchilla died in transit between Canada and the US, and she wanted his pelt as a keepsake. I gamely case-skinned him for her, but only having ever tanned a racoon hide (and rather stiffly, at that!), I feel ill-equipped to do this delicate fellow’s pelt justice.

I have nearly all the meat and fat off now, but the skin is really greasy, and so thin that much scraping seems out of the question. Obviously, however, it is possible to do a find job on a chinchilla, since people go about in coats made of hundreds of them! I wonder if either of you know a good technique for dealing with such a thin hide.

The pelt was left inside out and wrapped in wet paper towels, soaked in salt and strong, black tea and frozen for a couple of months. Yesterday, I took it out and thawed it in warm water, and removed as much meat and fat as I could, washing the skin side with some grease-cutting dishsoap.

Currently, it is still cased and it is stretched, fur-side in, over a small, glass jar and drying in front of a fan. As it dries, a lot of oil is seeping out of the skin so that I am able to simply wipe it away. It is almost alarming how transparent the skin is! I can literally see the hair right through it!!!

Obviously the hide is now very stiff, and will have to be worked a lot to become pliable again. I am just not sure how to do this without letting the fur slip out. In fact, I am not sure how I can even grip the edges of the pelt for staking purposes without pulling the fur out myself! I have done a lot of searching online for answers, but most of the literature I have found applies either to hides from which the fur is to be removed, or to much thicker, more durable animal skins than the one I am working with.

I have access to both egg yolks and alum. Can anyone here help me out with some sage advice on how to make this cased pelt into a nice little pillow with the fur still on? Do I have to cut it open for staking, or is there a way to stake a cased pelt? I have so many questions! I would be most grateful for any assistance either of you might offer. Thanks in advance for any replies.

Spiral out!!!

Sylph December 28, 2010 at 2:38 am

I wrote:
“Obviously, however, it is possible to do a find (sic) job on a chinchilla, since people go about in coats made of hundreds of them! I wonder if either of you know a good technique for dealing with such a thin hide.”

I meant to write:
“Obviously, however, it is possible to do a fine job on a chinchilla, since people go about in coats made of hundreds of them! I wonder if either of you know a good technique for dealing with such a thin hide.”

Mark December 28, 2010 at 2:19 pm

Dear Sylph,
with any hide freezing them to long before fleshing and removing the fat and grease can make it almost impossible to remove all the grease from the flesh side of the hide. Some animals, like the Chinchilla are especially fatty and greasy, so they can be difficult anyway to degrease. I would follow the recipe for the Turpentine and Alcohol method of tanning at this point. You should be able to salvage the hide with this method.

Turpentine and Alcohol
Pour equal parts alcohol & turpentine into a large mouth gallon jar with a plastic screw top.
Make sure you have enough liquid to cover the hide.
Put the skin in the jar and shake several times a day for 7 days.
Remove the skin – wash thoroughly in water. Make sure all salt, soap removed.
Rinse in clean water – changing the water several times.
Squeeze the skin to partially dry it.
Then apply a finishing oil on the flesh side – a bit of neat’s-foot, just a dab, don’t overdo, just enough to lightly oil the skin.
Work the skin over the back of a wooden chair or breaking stick. (This is called staking the hide.)
This should take you one day, keep at it off and on all day, do this before your hide dries completely.
To produce a soft and supple skin requires repeated stretching, its quite a bit of work, even on a small hide.

These folks have some ready made animal tanning kits. And, An environmentally safe and easy-to-handle kit!
Rittel’s EZ100 Tanning Kit

Good Luck!

Quentin April 30, 2011 at 6:51 pm

Im trying to prepare myself for my first tanning project. I feel pretty confident in myself and i want to try the brain method-or egg if i have to =/. My question is though, do i have to smoke it after doing all the previous steps, because there is currently a fire ban where I live and I doubt my parents will let me construct a fire for any purpose. Is it ok to just leave the hide as it is without smoking it?

Mark April 30, 2011 at 8:21 pm

Hi Quentin,

Thank you for your question. Not smoking the hide right after staking it is not going to cause any problems. Smoking sets the brains, and helps make the hide water resistant.

Store the tanned hide away from access by insects, rodents, and Fido until the fire danger is over, then you can smoke the hide.

Quentin May 1, 2011 at 5:26 am

Ok thank you.
But another thing, do you always mix the same amount of water with the brains of any animal? After my squirrel i want to try maybe like a opposum that we catch every now and then in a trap in our yard.
And what would you suggest is the best way to kill a squirrel in order to keep everything in good condition? If i shoot it in the head, would that just destroy all the brains? And i dont want to shoot it in the body and damage the hide.
I was thinkin of maybe a squirrel snare, which is just a log or pole, anything long really, leaned against a tree that has a lot of squirrel activity, with several snares placed on the log. When the squirrel runs through the snare, it closes around the neck, hopefully, and kills them, or if they try to jump hangs them. Would this damage anything at all, or would that leave the hide intact and ensure that all the brains are useable?
Sorry for all the questions by the way, but thanks so much.

Mark May 1, 2011 at 9:43 am

Hi Quentin.
For squirrels I add a little more water with the brains due to the small amount of brain tissue. Generally speaking larger animals will have enough brains so water/brain proportions will be similar. Using a gun will damage the hide or skull in any animal, so just work around the damage. The law of the sacred hunt requires that we treat our animal brothers in a respectful way and this includes squirrels and possums. Before you attempt using a snare or dead-fall honor the animal by becoming proficient in the use of these tools to minimize the animals suffering. Quentin, make sure you check your states Fish and Game laws for season and the legal use of traps and snares. Let us know how your hide(s) turn out.

Quentin May 1, 2011 at 10:46 am

Ok. Yeah if I have any questions about laws i just ask my dad because he is a game warden, which is pretty good most of the time.
My dad just borrowed a racoon trap from our neighbor since you cant kill squirrels this time of year since they’re not in season, but racoons you can. What would you suggest is the best way to do a racoon hide, since my dad isnt too crazy about the brain method. Thanks a bunch

Quentin May 1, 2011 at 11:40 am

What about egg yolks, would they be a good alternative for brains when tanning a raccoon?
How should i go about degreasing them too?

Mark May 1, 2011 at 7:08 pm

Hi Quentin,
the process of brain tanning is the same for Raccoon as it is for Squirrel. If your Dad is worried about using brains because of bacteria, cooking them will kill bacteria. You can also purchase brains from the grocery store or butcher shop. Your other option with the “no smoking” and no brain method of tanning takes you into chemical tanning territory, which you might consider as an alternative. I have not done the egg method of tanning so I cannot help you with that. By the way Quentin, Raccoon is excellent eating. Have fun!

Quentin May 2, 2011 at 5:07 am

Ok, thanks for all your help.I want to try the egg method if i can. I’ll let you know how it goes

katie May 24, 2011 at 5:04 pm

hello i was wondering if for smoking it would be ok to use dry leaves to burn so there would be more smoke and less fire or would that be worse and thank you for the awsome instructions of tanning

katie May 24, 2011 at 5:29 pm

hello i was wondering if for smoking it would be ok to use dry leaves to burn so there would be more smoke and less fire or would that be worse and thank you for the awsome instructions of tanning

and also my mother is worried that i might get a diseases from a squirel if you use disposable rubber gloves and are constantly washing your hands is it much of a risk, sorry im pretty ignorant with this stuff.

Celeste May 25, 2011 at 3:54 pm

Hi Katie!

Thank you for your kind words. We are happy to supply you with any information we can.

Katie, your mother is wise in her concern about disease and you should become knowledgeable about animals that carry vector borne diseases.

If you live in CA where some ground dwelling squirrels and or rodents carry the Plague or where the Hantavirus is a concern, then it is wise to leave the animals alone.

“Many species of ground squirrels carry fleas which can transmit a bacterium responsible for plague. In wild rodents this plague is referred to as sylvatic plague. When transmitted to humans by the fleas, it causes bubonic plague and pneumonic plague.”

However, if you reside in an area where this is not a concern, wearing disposable gloves and washing frequently will help protect you.

As for smoking, you do not want a flame, you want to create as much smoke as possible. I think you would have to use a considerable amount of leaves to obtain your objective. Perhaps you could use a combination of wood and leaves, keep your fire small and the smoke focused on your hide.

We welcome all your questions and apologize for the delayed response, we are presently in camp with our students and not immediately available.

Good luck Katie, and let us know how things turn out!

tammo May 28, 2011 at 6:44 am

can you use eggs instead of brains? if so how many?

tammo May 28, 2011 at 6:49 am

one more thing. can you use this method on oppossums?

Celeste May 28, 2011 at 8:12 am

Hi Tammo,

Yes, you can use the brain tanning method for any animal. There is an old saying “every animal has enough brains to tan its own hide.”

I have no experience with eggs and cannot instruct you in this process nor advise on the number of eggs to use. In a minimal search all I could determine is you should only use the egg yolk.

There is a good book on the subject of tanning by Ronald Reed called, “Ancient Skins, Parchments, and Leathers.”

I will research the egg process and either debunk the process or provide full instructions when time allows. Good luck Tammo and let us know how things turn out.

Cant tell you June 14, 2011 at 5:05 pm

do you have to cut down the center of the tail to keep it or can you do something else?

Celeste June 14, 2011 at 5:24 pm

Greetings Can’t tell you! Yes you do. The bone and meat must be removed and I know of no other way, unless you are able to turn the tail inside out without cutting it. You might contact a taxidermist they may know of another option. Good luck.

Cant tell you June 15, 2011 at 6:27 am

So if I cut down the tail there is bone and meat I have to remove? Also, does it make the tail look kinda wierd when you cut down the center or does it just look the same as when it was Whole? One more question. Do you know if it’s easy to fold the tail insde out without breaking it and pulling it off the hide?

Celeste June 15, 2011 at 4:06 pm

Hi Can’t tell you,

Yes there is meat and bone you must remove. It depends on what you do with the tail how it will look, you can keep it flat or you can fill it with a substance like a taxidermist would and then whip stitch it to hold in in place.

It is difficult to make a fine cut with a knife, I always use a scalpel for thin skinned areas and the tail.

As for turning the tail inside out, it is difficult and takes patience and even then you may tear it. The larger the tail the easier it is and of course with a thicker hide.

Good luck! Keep us posted.

Cant tell you June 15, 2011 at 5:52 pm

ok. I will cut it. that seams the easiest and since this is my first tanning project, whatever is the easiest!

Ted June 16, 2011 at 8:06 pm

Ok so when smoking the squirrel hide is it going to look like a cylinder so the smoke can run through it or what? And that’s I have messed up slot of hides due to other sites and this answered all my questions but this one

Mark June 17, 2011 at 9:52 am

Hi Ted. Yes you can quick stitch the hide into a cylinder type shape and hang the hide over the smoke. The idea is to expose as much of the hide as possible to smoke. Its just takes a few stitches to hold the hide in shape and then when done you can quickly cut and remove the thread.

Joe July 26, 2011 at 1:54 pm

Ok I have just gotten my hunting course i’m 15 and wanna make several squirrel hides can some1 step-by-step give me the easiest process possible?

Billy Joe October 3, 2011 at 8:09 pm

Wow, thank you so much for sharing in this post. I read through every single comment so forgive me if I missed something and ask a question you’ve already covered.

1. Presumably to make the tail supple, the bones must be removed. Should the tail be fleshed, brained and staked as well? Seems like this would break it.
2. If I opt not to roll the hide up with a brain-soaked cloth overnight, how long should I wait after applying the brain before I begin staking? Will I still need to wring it?
3. Are there alternatives in regards the smoking process? I live in the Rocky Mountains. We have essentially an infinite supply of resinous pines, but hardwoods are harder to come by. Is using pine going to pose a significant problem? Are there other options for setting the brain and preserving?

Thank you!

Mark October 11, 2011 at 7:07 am

Your welcome BJ.
To answer your questions: It is best to remove the bones of the tail and yes the fat and membrane must be removed so the tail will not rot and in order for the tanning solution to penetrate the skin. The tail is very fragile so patience and care are required. Brain the hide for a minimum of three hours to overnight to somewhere in between, The deal with Pine smoke is that it has loads of resin which will blacken the hide. It may not hurt the hide in anyway, but we want to avoid resinous smoke as much as possible. Experiment with some different woods and try Pine and let us know how it turned out.

Have fun.

bryan October 11, 2011 at 6:52 pm

quick question for you, gonna try brain tan on a coon this year and has some questions, seen a video where the brains were put in water an the whole fur put in the mixture for an hour washed and put back in and then let dry while still moist started working it will that keep the fur on or is a paste better also, when you skin it out flesh it imedialy after do you salt it over night then wash is with some dawn soap get the oil out then paste it let it sit for a few hours wash it off let it sit an work it then smoke it or just seen so many ways and wanna keep the hair on it an keep it in my room so just wanna do it right where it last years. or can you just skin it flesh it an tan it all in the same day. just wanna do this right.



Mark October 12, 2011 at 7:54 am

Bryan :Its fine to wash the hide with soap, and rinse, but you want to wring the majority of the water out of the hide before braining. I prefer a paste on the flesh side, but soaking the whole hide in a brain solution will work just as well. For best results flesh hide immediately, then Brain. If you do salt the hide make sure you rinse all the salt out before Braining. After braining the hide wring all the moisture from it, as much as possible and begin staking the hide. Stake the hide until completely dry, then smoke. As long as the hide does not rot, the hair will stay on for many years. Have fun and let us know how it turns out.

bryan October 12, 2011 at 9:36 am

Will do mark is salting optional also u can tan right after fleshing or do you wait a while thanks mark

Mark October 17, 2011 at 1:17 pm

Its best to flesh and tan the hide as quick as possible. Salting absorbs the moisture, fats, oils, from the hide to some degree and is also a preservative action to preserve the hide until you get around to tanning. But make sure you rinse all the salt off before you begin your tanning.

bryan October 25, 2011 at 11:05 pm

hey mark i appreciate the info sir thank you. if i have anymore questions i’ll ask lol again thank you and have a good one

Adam November 9, 2011 at 2:30 pm

I know this isn’t about squirrels, but I’m pretty new to brain-tanning, not tanning in the least however. Do you have any tips on brain-tanning buffalo? I’ve got a yellowstone buffalo, that’s wet-salted for the time being, no hair slippage or rot. Do you recommend any of those DVD’s on braintannin’ buffalo? A friend of mine has done them before, I might just break down and get some assistance. But wheres the fun in that! Also for anyone else here, who can’t get the brains, one thing I do is if you have many acorns, strong hemlock tea, some types of bark (too many to name, but to little too say any type), you can boil them in a pot, and this releases the tannins, you’ll want atleast 2 handfuls of acorns, and let them boil in a big thing of water for about 40minutes. Once the water is a very dark brown, take it off, and let it cool. Then proceed to use that as you would the brains, this is bark tanning, and done quite frequently. That’s just my two cents though.

Mark November 9, 2011 at 6:29 pm

What an awesome project Adam! Way to go. I wonder how much the Bison hide weighs? Any guesses. I know a well tanned Bison hide is worth well over a $1000 US, but by the time you finish your hide Adam, the work you put into it will feel like $10,000. No kidding!

I would suggest a hide tanning party/camp-out and grab your buddy(s), books, video, whatever you can garner to see this project through. Its a worthy adventure and I want to hear all about it when your done. I have never tanned Bison Adam, but I have tanned Elk which is a walk in park compared to what you are up against. But you can do it.

The process: flesh, scrap, brain, stake, and smoke. Wow.
A note on the chemical tan with acorn. Oak bark saves you the trouble of cracking the acorn. For the bark, same process as you mentioned. Out west we have a Oak with the common name of Tan Oak. Not a true Oak, but was the dominate chemical during its day. I have used Black Oak bark with excellent results in place of brains.

Good Luck Adam

Billy Joe November 13, 2011 at 7:33 pm

Thanks again for the info Mark. I just wanted to follow up and let you know my first brain tan project was a super success. I really just can’t believe it worked! I experimented on a domestic meat rabbit, and I didn’t save the brain so I had to use egg yolk, but it worked great! I can’t believe how soft it is. Right now I’m in the midst of brain tanning a wild squirrel. I’m not so sure how the tail is going to turn out but I managed to skin it and flesh it and keep it in one piece.

One question though: after I fleshed it, I applied one thin coating of brain but then let it dry out all week (something came up and I couldn’t get back to it.) Today I tried re-applying brain mixture and warm water and the hide curled up. I read in the earlier posts that a dried hide can be re-brained. Should I soak the whole hide to soften it up? It’s pretty leathery right now, not as pliable as the rabbit, which I did 24 hours after braining.

Mark November 14, 2011 at 3:42 pm

Thanks for the feedback BJ! Good job on the rabbit.

Yes you can brain the hide again. You can soak the whole hide for about four hours in your brain mixture, then wring as much as the moisture out of the hide as possible, then begin your staking until completely dry. The brains can be brushed out of the hair of the squirrel once you have staked the hide, and the smoke from the smoking procedure will also help.

Simpler, as you did before, brain the flesh side of the hide, stake until dry. You can try sanding the finished hide a little to soften it with a fine grit, and you can also buff it using a strung taught rope or cable. You can also add a little Neatsfoot oil and work it into the hide by hand to help.

Do you intend to smoke both hides?
Let me know how this worked out for you BJ.

Julie November 21, 2011 at 6:17 pm

Great post, thanks so much for all the info! My questions…what’s the best way to remove the brains from the skull to preserve as much as possible? Also, I’m wondering if I can lightly rinse the pelt after braining and before stretching as I’m concerned that some of the brain mash might get into the fur especially at the edges during the process, and I don’t want it to soil the fur…I did read that the pelt should not be washed, but doesn’t the brain mixture absorb into the fibers of the pelt?

Mark November 21, 2011 at 6:32 pm

Hi Julie,

DO NOT wash/rinse the pelt after you have brained the hide. Once you have staked the hide completely and smoked it, you will have no problem with any brain residue. Even if you don’t smoke the hide for a while you can brush the fir to make it shine. Insects and other critters will be attracted to the hide until you smoke it.
Getting to the brain of most animals is difficult. Go slow and you will discover how Julie. Thanks for your post.

Julie November 21, 2011 at 11:16 pm

Thanks for the speedy reply! I skinned and fleshed, then I did wash the pelt gently as there was contamination from the gut breaking thru the intestinal wall as a result of injury, (he was a road kill squirrel) and it was impossible to keep it from soiling the pelt as I worked. Hope this was OK. Now I’ve stretched it and placed it in a warm dry spot near a heater and am going to bed. Hoping I’ll find a dry pelt in the morning that has not shriveled up too badly, and I’ll attempt the tan. I’ll keep you posted!

Also, there was discoloration of the skin where the injury was…like a large bruise, but the skin wasn’t broken. I guess it’s reasonable to assume the pelt might fail at this point? Too bad as he looked perfect when I picked him up.

Mark November 22, 2011 at 8:16 am

Hi Julie,
Its a good idea to wash or rinse the hide before the braining especially like you said because of contamination. As before we just don’t want to wash the hide after the braining because you will be making more work for yourself. It won’t hurt the hide as long as you re-brain and stake the hide again.
Thanks for your questions an keeping us all updated on your progress.

Julie November 22, 2011 at 8:18 am

Just did a search on squirrel brain and CJD, and having had personal experience of this tragic disease in my family, I got cold feet. I’m sure the odds are very remote, but I just feel better not taking the risk. I’ll report back on results using egg yolk, water and murphy’s oil soap.

Mark November 22, 2011 at 8:25 am

Latex gloves are always recommended when handling road kill or any type of animal butchering. By cooking the brains the process of heat kills 99.9+ of all Pathogens and you are not ingesting the brains. However if you are concerned why take the risk. Let us know how you do. Thanks Julie.

Chronic wasting disease or otherwise known as (CWD), and how to handle your elk or deer in preparation for butchering.

Butchering in the field:
Be alert for deer or elk acting abnormally or that look sick; report any such animals to agency officials.
Wear rubber or latex gloves when you field-dress your animal.
In areas reported to have CWD, minimize your contact with a dead deer’s brain and spinal cord and wash your hands after contact.
Don’t eat deer brains or spinal cord.
Bone out your deer meat and discard the brain, spinal cord, eyes, spleen, and lymph nodes.
If an animal is from a CWD-suspect area, unused parts, especially skull and spine, should be disposed of in an approved landfill or incinerator.

“In many parts of the country the deer population has grown out of control, causing tens of thousands of deer-related car crashes and the destruction of natural habitat.” By Sean Page

More here on CWD

Here is a link to the Centers for Disease and Control Centers, Atlanta Georgia. BSE (Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy, or Mad Cow Disease)

“Although the origin of the epidemic is thought to have
been caused by a species-crossing contamination by sheep
scrapie during the course of rendering and recycling carcass meat and bone meal as cattle feed, an alternative
hypothesis suggested an origin in a similarly recycled case
of spontaneously occurring disease in cattle. The pros and
cons of these competing ideas have been argued elsewhere
(2,3), and neither will ever be convincingly proved or disproved.”
Emerging Infectious Diseases • • Vol. 12, No. 12, December 200

Julie November 22, 2011 at 8:12 pm

Thanks so much for the info and links Mark! I guess I’m just super cautious about it. I remember hearing that CJD is transmitted by a prion (?) and that it takes extremely high temps to do it in. I’ve even heard it can survive autoclaving i hospitals, but I’m not sure that’s right. Pretty scary if it is. Anyway the squirrels around here sure seem fat and healthy, so I’ll try not to worry, but will follow sensible precautions as you’ve advised.

On a lighter note, my pelt is looking pretty nice, altho it has shrunken quite a bit despite my pulling at it for +/-2 hours till it was fully dry. I used 1 egg, 2/3 c water, and 1-2 Tb murphy’s. There were so many recipes on the internet, I just kind of morphed them together. If the whole process was a little less time consuming it would be fun to do several using different recipes to see what worked best. I have a feeling nothing will be as nice as brains tho…
Anyway looking forward to smoking it on Thanksgiving day!
Thanks for your help, Julie

Adam December 2, 2011 at 1:03 pm

Reckon I’ll give that a shot, see if I can pull some folks together and get this done… Thanks for the advice, a friend recommended some things, I believe I’ll pick up. Again, thanks.


DVS bunny May 3, 2012 at 7:31 am

i have a question for smoking and stretching – my mom dislikes squirrels for the damage they cause but we both love their fur – and meaty goodness – but she would like a pair of mittens for her and my dads “holidays” to vermont new hampshire – and i thought it might be nice to make her a pair of mittens from squirrel fur and in turn i have delicious stew and bones to carve.

can i use sage like from a smudge stick to smoke the pelt? and if i can going to be cutting and trimming could i use something similiar to an embroidery hoop to stretch the hide? i understand that it would take ALOT of sage – but it smells good and has good spiritual healing properties which i would hope would help the squirrel or what ever animal i use rest well.

Mark May 3, 2012 at 8:09 am

Hi DVS, using sage to smoke the hide will work fine. Remember, we are looking for smoke not heat in the smoking process. The process of staking (Stretching) the hide, loosens the hide as it is stretched. The embroidery hoop could work for you, just realize that as you stake the hide it will loosen and stretch.

Thanks for your question.

squirrel assassin May 29, 2012 at 3:51 pm

what if the brains i soaked on the skin got on the fur really bad…will it affect it when its dry,and will the fur fall off?

Mark May 29, 2012 at 5:24 pm

SQ – Brains of themselves are not going to cause the hair to fall off a squirrel hide. Other factors can cause hair to loosen and slip from the hide. The brains will dry on the fur and drop off, no worries.

squirrel assassin May 29, 2012 at 7:01 pm


Kara June 1, 2012 at 8:07 pm


About a month ago I skinned a squirrel with a friend. We both had little to no knowledge of exact procedures. My friend had done once before in a similar method.

We skinned it, scraped the meat and fat off the skin, nailed it to a board and then salted it and left it for a week. After a week I scraped all the salt off the hide until it was smooth. Then I’ve just held onto it for a few weeks. Question: can I still brain tan it? Was going to do another squirrel this weekend and was planning to brain tan this one, and maybe if there was a little leftover try and do this other hide as well. From the other responses it sounds like you recommend getting all the salt off, so maybe I should soak it? Or rinse it? My friend has another older squirrel hide that was salted and has dried out a lot. I think it was resoaked in water for a few days and then was left to dry again. Think there’s a way to still tan it and salvage it?

Great thread! Lots of information.


Celeste June 3, 2012 at 10:16 pm

Hi Kara!

Thank you for your comments and questions. Yes, you will need to remove all the salt and soaking is a good idea. Without seeing the condition of the hides it is impossible to know if tanning will be productive, but I would certainly try it. Let us know how things turn out. Happy tanning!

Suz-e-q June 9, 2012 at 3:09 pm

Hi, I brain tanned a buffalo hide about a year ago and probably made the mistake of washing it last week. Now it’s very brittle and is tearing. Is there any way to safely soften it without having to re-stretch it?

Mark June 9, 2012 at 6:49 pm

Dear Suz-q,
How did you tan the Bison hide originally? Chemical or Braintan? The tearing sounds like the hide might be rotten. Not sure what you mean by brittle…is it brittle like rawhide? If you washed it you will have to stretch and soften/moisturize the hide again, which unfortunately means re-tanning the hide, as you know that’s a huge project. You could try a softener like Needsfoot oil. Make sure the hide is completely dry then rub the oil in and stretch/stake. If the hide can’t take the staking process and continues to tear it is rotten. Good luck.

Brandon September 24, 2012 at 4:36 am

Great article! Its nice to find simple instructions…. I heard some Indians would chew on the hides, obviously its not sanitary, but is that kind of treatment better than, or equal to staking?

Mark September 24, 2012 at 5:37 am

HI Brandon. My understanding of chewing is to soften an already tanned “hairless” hide. It is not necessarily unsanitary to chew on a piece of leather but staking it seems to me would be much more productive. Thanks for your question Brandon.

Ben September 28, 2012 at 7:33 pm

This tanning piece has done me wonders but one thing i was curious about is if using a smoker might work? I can keep my smoker (grill) ranging between 160 and 200 degrees with a very thick smoke. I live in the city and the strays often harass me while smoking my pelts. Any thoughts would be greatly appreciated, thank you.

Mark September 29, 2012 at 8:13 am

Hi Ben,
Glad to hear this post has been a help for you. A very important part to smoking hides is the absence of heat in the process. We want lots of smoke but no heat on the hide. Leather and heat do not mix. If you can figure out a way to smoke the hide with your grill with out heating the hide let us know.

Thanks for your question Ben.

Wayne October 25, 2012 at 7:54 pm

Great information! Thanks for putting this togethor. When smoking the hide, do you want the fur side out or the flesh side out when making the cylinder?
Thanks again!

Mark October 26, 2012 at 5:17 am

HI Wayne,
You will want to have the flesh side of the hide on the inside of the cylinder. If you remove the hair, that side of the hide would also need to be smoked. It will not damage the hide if you smoke the hair side with the hair on. Make sense? Thanks for your question.

Wayne October 26, 2012 at 1:54 pm

I understand. Thanks again..

glen December 7, 2012 at 6:09 pm

how to remove tail bone without cutting tail….when skinning back legs stick finger under hide on back to create space…cut two twigs approx pinkie size diameter and about six inches long…one on top of tail bone between hide and back one under…grab both twigs with hand and pull towards end of tail..take other hand and grasp back legs and tail bone and pull opposite direction…takes a little practice but eventually tail will slide off of bone cleanly

Mark December 10, 2012 at 4:56 pm

Thanks for the tip Glen!

Katti December 14, 2012 at 2:53 am

My cousin killed 3 rabbits a few hours ago and I told him I would give tanning them a shot. Ive been looking for good info for a few hours now and this is by far the most informative site ive come across. I found a few sites before this though and they recommended tacking the pelts down and salting them so thats what I did. Was this a mistake? I also intend to flesh them tomorrow, rinse and tan them but my other question is whether the skins have to be dry before I put the brain tan on them?

Mark December 14, 2012 at 9:05 am

Hi Katti,
Thank you for your questions. All salt must be rinsed off, COMPLETELY, before braining the hide Katti. Once the hide has been fleshed with all fat and meat removed, the hide is ready to brain. The hide does not need to be dry to brain.
Have fun and let us know how they turn out.

Ak December 25, 2012 at 10:53 am

I’m going to try my first tanning project soon on a rabbit hide. I intend to use the brain tanning method but my have to use egg yoks. Any last advice

Mark B January 8, 2013 at 3:31 pm


Tanning a rabbit skin take 2. I was a bit unprepared for my first attempt and only salted the skin, needless to say it wasn’t very successful. I’ve searched a lot for a good description of the process and your site explains it the best.

Can I ask – how much time can I take between each step. I have 2 kids and time spent tanning a rabbit skin isn’t (apparently) a top priority (says the wife!). E.g. I have tonight skinned the rabbit and done the fleshing. Do I need to do the brain tanning as soon as possible? And the staking – is it something I can come back to or do I need to do it in one session.

One more thing. Our house isn’t particularly warm. Is this going to bea problem in terms of getting the skin dry?

Mark January 9, 2013 at 9:38 am

Hi Mark B,
The fleshing process should be done immediately for best results. Once the hide is fleshed it can dry and be put away in a dark place away from dogs and mice until you are ready to brain and stake the hide. (Hides can last a longtime when completely fleshed and dried.) It is at this stage – almost rawhide.

When you are ready to tan the hide using the animals brains, then you simply pull the dried hide out, apply the brain paste (Cook the brain first) to the flesh side of the hide, cover with a wet towel, let it soak in for several hours or as long as overnight, don’t let the hide dry out at this stage, then begin the staking process until the hide and brains are completely worked in the hide should be dry and soft.

If you salt a hide the main thing is to rinse, completely, all salt from the hide. Then you can flesh it, brain it, stake it, smoke it. Thanks for sharing your experience, please keep us updated on your progress Mark.

Mark B January 15, 2013 at 12:56 pm

Thank-you. A little update with where I am and a few more questions (if I may?).

I applied the brains the following evening, and left overnight. I then staked it. I struggled with the edges a bit and tore it in a few places, but not to worry. The main part of skin mostly dried whilst staking and the edges a day or two later. It’s a bit brittle, but I suspect that’s because I could have done a better job with the fleshing (?) and spent longer staking (I had to go to bed!). Next job is to manipulate it a bit more (?) and then smoke. It’s not perfect, but thanks to your website I have got further than last time (when it started to rot!) and so I’m very pleased. Thank-you.

A few questions:
– will more manipulation soften it?
– can the get the skin wet once the brain has been applied and dried, or would you need to repeat the staking process? The fur still smells a bit of rabbit. I wasn’t keen on washing it after I skinned it because I thought I’d struggle to get it dry again (our house is cold).
– Is the purpose of staking to scrape/squeeze the water out….is that how it dries?….or to stretch it?
– Does staking need to be done continuously until dry, or is it something you can do occasionally during the day/evening, i.e. just ensure it does dry curled up

Thank-you again.

Mark January 16, 2013 at 9:46 am

Hi Mark B,
Thanks for your update on your tanning project.

Lets see if I can answer your questions:
– will more manipulation soften it? – Yes, you can re-brain the hide as many times as you want and re-stake it, then smoke.

– can the get the skin wet once the brain has been applied and dried, or would you need to repeat the staking process? – NO, do not wet the hide after its been brained and dried. After you smoke the hide it will then smell heavily of smoke instead of Rabbit. If you do get the hide wet after braining and drying re-stake it until dry.

– Is the purpose of staking to scrape/squeeze the water out….is that how it dries?….or to stretch it? – Both; and of course the staking process stretches the hide fibers allowing the brains to get in between the fibers of the hide which creates the softening and stretching of the hide. Stake the hide until completely dry. It takes longer to stake and dry a hide in cold temperatures but you do not want the temps to hot either.

– Does staking need to be done continuously until dry, or is it something you can do occasionally during the day/evening, i.e. just ensure it does dry curled up – YES! If the hide curls its not properly tanned. Ideally, the hide when tanned correctly should be soft and supple; something you would love to have against your skin.

Your welcome Mark. Once you finish with this hide do another as soon as you can. Keep at it until you have the process perfected.

Mark B January 17, 2013 at 2:45 pm

Thank-you so much. I already have the rabbit set trap. I don’t like killing them, but they eat my veg. If I have to kill them it’s nice to make use of every part of the rabbit.

DaisyTailsMousery January 19, 2013 at 3:17 am

Hi, I run a small mousery and I am breeding mice to get up to show quality and I was thinking of doing this with the mice that have the best coats. I live in the middle of the city and fires are permanently outlawed. Is there any way to smoke it with out starting a fire? And how long will it last if I don’t smoke it?

Mark January 19, 2013 at 7:39 am

Interesting project. I would recommend a commercial tan for your mouse skins if your doing many. The little brained and staked hides will last quite a while without smoking as long as they do not get wet and you can keep critters like mice away from them. I had a brained and staked deer hide that lasted years before I smoked it. Thanks for your question and let us know how it went. Have fun!

DaisyTailsMousery January 19, 2013 at 1:32 pm

I only need to do one for now and I don’t have money to buy all these chemicals. Would smoke from an incense burner work? And how much water would I need for a mouse brain? I can’t image it would be very much.

Mark January 20, 2013 at 7:39 am

I would try the smoke from incense in your case…we do try to stay away from smoke that is oily. Example soft woods like Pine have a lot of resin which we do not want on the hide. But a light incense smoke would work. Clever idea. You need just enough water mixed in the brains for a paste and or enough to make sure that the brains are well cooked through before using.

GP January 30, 2013 at 10:51 am


I’m just satarting tanning with a rather nice Hare pelt. (A friend hunts and passes anything he doesn’t want to eat on to me, it’s hare casserole for dinner)

I also have a problem with the smoking. I can’t build a fire to do the smoking and am desperately looking for alternatives.

Thank you for your help, the article and discussion afterwards have been incredibly useful!

Mark January 30, 2013 at 11:08 am

Hi GP,
Try incense. It creates smoke and you will have to figure out how to set it up but I see no reason why incense will not work. If you are unable to use incense then work Neats foot oil into the flesh side of the hide after its scraped and dried. The hide once it is brained (follow all the steps to this point) will last a long time…next time you hit the camp ground, smoke the Hare pelt. Good luck. Let us know how you do.

Sandra D. February 26, 2013 at 6:52 pm

I brain tanned my squirrel hide then staked and stretched the hide its all dry but now it hard not as hard as a squirrel that I used borax on so it wud hang on my wall but it is hard. I thot it was supost to be soft so I could drape it over a deer head. I have a coon waiting on me to brain tan. What did I do wrong and what can I do now to fix it.

Mark February 26, 2013 at 7:04 pm

Hi Sandra D.
Its possible that when you fleshed the hide you removed to much of the hide…maybe scraped down to the last layer of hide?
Or you need to add more brains. Re-brain and stake the hide again. You can also use fine sandpaper to sand the flesh side of the hide to take out some of the hard spots. If this is your first attempt don’t be discouraged, keep at it until you get the results you are looking for.

Sandra D. February 26, 2013 at 7:28 pm

When I fleshed the hide I didn’t have to remove much at all and I used all the brain mix and even did the rag soaked in the rest of the brain. When I stacked it u nailed it to a board stretching it all the ways it could go. Did I do that wrong? You said I could rebrain it. Is there something I could use instead of brain to get this one rite. I just want to get it rite so I don’t mess up my first coon. Thank u for all ur help. O yea and you said I could use sand paper but its the whole hide that is hard.

Mark February 27, 2013 at 9:46 am

Sandra D. Because a squirrel pelt is so small we generally do not tie it to a frame, (If we do tie it to a frame it would not have be to a solid piece, it would be just an open frame). and stake the hide using the rounded knob of a chair, or sink a pole in the ground with a rounded and smooth top, to use for staking. After braining, we squeeze as much of the water/brain mixture from the wet hide then we begin the staking process. This continues by stretching the hide over, and over, the smooth knob/pole top, until the hide is completely dry and supple. Then the hide is smoked to set the brains which helps make the hide water resistant. So staking means stretching the brained hide by manipulating the hide – pulling, rubbing, stretching completely until supple and dry. If your hide is hard, re-brain it and complete the staking process as described above. DO NOT RINSE THE HIDE AFTER BRAINING.
Let me know how this works for you Sandra.

Sandra D. February 27, 2013 at 5:31 pm

Thank u I’ll give it a try. I started working on the coon today. Omg there is such a big difference in a squirrel hide and a coon. Lol. Thank u for all ur help.

Mark February 28, 2013 at 9:25 am

You are welcome Sandra D.

Justin March 1, 2013 at 11:03 am

Hi I just fleshed my squral And braind it how long should I wate for it to soke in? and this site is awsome mark !!!

Mark March 1, 2013 at 11:19 am

Hi Justin,
And thank you. Glad to hear you like our site.
You can begin the staking process after a couple of hours of soaking the hide in the brain solution, or even overnight if you want. After you brain the hide – do not rinse the hide, squeeze as much of the moisture from the hide as you can to make the staking process go quicker, then follow the staking process I have outlined on this post. Let us know how you did.

Justin March 1, 2013 at 11:21 am

Ok thank you so much man I’ll deff let you know how she turns out!!!!!

Justin March 1, 2013 at 1:10 pm

I did not flesh it all the way can I go back a step from staking to re- flesh it. And instead of brain use egg, my first try ever to tan anything

Mark March 2, 2013 at 8:18 am

Hi Justin, you will have to go back a step and remove completely all flesh, fat, from the hide before braining. The hide will rot if the flesh and fat are not removed, plus the brains will not penetrate into the hide. You can see about egg tanning on this post Justin. Have fun.

Ned August 25, 2013 at 7:13 pm

Hi Mark! Thanks so much for the guide. I’m going to get a few dried skins to try this out until I get the hang of it. Once I move onto skinning them myself though, I was wondering if it’s possible to brain tan animals with the feet still attached. Is this possible or will it simply not work since the brains and smoking won’t get to the feet? Thanks for any help you’ve given to us newbies, I’m really looking forward to trying this out!

Celeste August 26, 2013 at 10:11 am

Celeste here, Mark is in camp. The issue with leaving the feet attached is the tissue surrounding the bone. If you have some way to dehydrate it you could leave the feet, otherwise they will rot and spoil your hide. Good luck!

Calico November 14, 2013 at 10:39 pm

You guys are so great. It’s really amazing that you take the time to write back to everyone.

So like the last person, I’m curious about feet. I raise rabbits and would love to preserve their feet, have you heard of any way to do it other than injecting formaldehyde?
I’ve done 6 rabbits so far. The last two were the only ones worth keeping. My biggest problem has definitely been getting tired of working the hide before it’s completely dry. In between sessions of working the hide (15min) I’ve been turning the hide fur side out and rolling it up (for like 45min). This helps because the fur dries slower than the flesh side.
Someone was wondering about getting brains out, the best way I’ve learned is to use a bent piece of wire and go into where the spinal cord met the back of the head. I’m sure it would be the same for squirrel.
Thanks guys. I read this whole forum before I started, and I’ve felt okay about learning by myself partially from the help you offered. So appreciated!
I’ve had an issue in cooking the brains. I stopped doing it because when I did, they acted just like eggs and hardened up. I didn’t want to use a blender because it’s such a small amount of liquid, I didn’t want to lose any! I tried to whisk it, maybe I just didn’t whisk enough.

Mark November 15, 2013 at 9:33 am

Hi Calico,

Thank you for your comments. Its always good to hear the information here is helpful.

I have never tanned ‘Rabbit Feet” as I think you mean; such as a good luck charm on a key chain. You would want to cut open the feet and completely remove all the bones, except for the nails, remove fat and meat, and acid of some kind might be helpful. Then stuff the main foot with rabbit hair or a recommended material, and sew it up. There are some good links on this thread that will lead you too more commercial type tanning information. Lets us know how you do.

Brains; not much brain volume in either squirrel or rabbit skulls. For squirrel and rabbit add enough boiled water to the brains until you have a thin soup consistently. You don’t have to boil the water, its just a preventative measure to help protect from possible infection. Keep up the tanning you’ll be an expert in no time.

Chris November 18, 2013 at 6:06 pm

A couple things, if I were to do all these steps, after completion is there anyway to make the fur softer. And is it okay to brush it, I’m just afraid of the hair slipping on me. Other than that great description, I’ve been researching for 3 days now and this is by far the best one. Thanks

Mark November 18, 2013 at 9:13 pm

Hi Chris,
The hair can and will slip when tanning with the hair on if you soak the pelt to long. I found this link, check it out. They are using chemicals to tan with. Interesting thread. Thanks for your question. – Hair falling out while tanning.

forgedpony December 1, 2013 at 2:38 pm

This has been a fantastic, information packed read! Thank you for your time Mark.

A suggestion for Calico’s question about preserving feet. When dealing with bird feet, wings and heads, I’ve heard that drying them out in cornmeal works well. Granted there is less flesh on birds but the idea is basically the same. It would seem that as long as you dried out the feet well enough, and then made sure that they didn’t get wet down the road, that they wouldn’t rot, they’d mummify. Cornmeal was used because of the ease of cleaning up the work piece after it dried as apposed to salt which leaves a crust.

Hope that may help. When in doubt play\experiment!

Mark December 2, 2013 at 12:06 am

Thank you for your comment forgedpony.

Garrett January 20, 2014 at 8:03 pm

Hi, i’m just wondering how i can acutually get the brain out of the little buggers head?!?! For right now his head is sittin out on my grill in a ziplock bag since it’s cold enough to preserve it right now, plus i dont think my step mom would like to open up the freezer and have a lovely wide-eyed squirrel head staring back at her! 😛
Thank you

Mark January 21, 2014 at 8:49 am

Greetings Garrett,

The skull, even a squirrels is a hard nut to track. Pardon the pun, but the skull is a tough bugger and getting all the brains out of the honeycomb type structure takes some patience. If you want to keep the skull intact to remove the brains you will have to come into the skull via the area where the spinal column and the skull meet with a sharpened twig or wire and patiently scrape out the brains. Or you can break apart the brain to get to the brains within.
Lets us know how you do. Thanks for your question.

geri February 7, 2014 at 1:22 pm

My son and I are trying to learn tanning. So far we have ruined a deer hide and all the squirrels we have done turn out like hard paper. Some parts are soft and some are “crispy” I don’t know what we are doing wrong. We were told to salt them first then wash and then brain. Then steak them but they aren’t turning out right. What are we doing wrong?

Mark February 7, 2014 at 1:30 pm

Hi geri, and thank you for your question. I hear your frustration. My recommendation is for you and your son to read through this entire thread.
You will find loads of helpful information to help you succeed. Brain tanning takes time and patience. I struggled often in the process when I was learning. The great thing about not getting it right at first, you learn a lot about what does not work. Keep at it and let us know how you are doing.

paine December 17, 2014 at 10:05 am

Hi im getting ready to tan my first coyote and i was looking into this method for soft tanning but i have a few questions

after tanning could you use the pelt for making a soft mount ?
Another question i have is could i use this method to make the pelt soft for clothing?

Mark December 17, 2014 at 10:28 am

Hello paine, thank you for your questions. Yes to both. Coyote hides are very thin so be very careful you don’t tear the hide when fleshing and staking. If you do tear the hide you can close the tear by sewing it with thread and needle. Just regular ole thread will work. Good luck on your project.
An excellent book on Coyotes if your interested – Don Coyote

Sarah December 20, 2014 at 7:36 pm

OK, I was egg tanning a couple of rabbit hides and they started coming out transparent in places. Can anyone tell me what went wrong?

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