John was proud of his Maine bear, taken with bow and arrow. With the bear in the back of his pickup truck, he drove around happily from friend’s house to friend’s house, and stopped by his favorite morning coffee shop to show the bear to the workers and customers there.
Of course, by then the hide on his bear was ruined beyond saving.
What’s the best place to start when you’re skinning a bear? How should you roll up a bear hide if you’re going to freeze it? How long do you have to skin the bear after harvesting it?
Hunters face lots of challenges before successfully getting a bear, but as with most big game, those challenges continue after the hunt. One of the most important things to do is to get the hide off the bear as quickly as possible.
In preparation for the cold temperatures that will drop the thermometer way down during their winter hibernation, bears grow thick coats. But even though their hair is long, their skin is thin. And because the bears also bulk up for hibernation with lots of body fat, it’s easy for heat to generate quickly.
Get The Hide Off Quickly
It doesn’t take long before the hair on the bear hide begins to “slip,” and the sad hunter may find that his planned bear rug winds up in the trash.
“Get your pictures and get the hide off of it,” said Ted Moyer, owner of Ted’s Taxidermy in Schuylkill Haven, Pa. “People let them alone too long and it doesn’t take long at all to ruin a bear hide.”
It’s said there is more than one way to skin a cat, but there is really only one way to skin a bear. The first tip is to take your time. Given the bear’s thin skin, it’s easy to make mistakes and punctures.
Moyer said to start at the heels on the back feet, and work from there to the chest cavity. Then, skin each front leg, going back again to the chest cavity. When you get to the head, stop.
“I got a bear hide in one time that had 45 knife gashes through it, with many of them through the head,” Moyer said. “The heads are really tough to do, and you can leave that part to the taxidermist.”
If you’re going to freeze or refrigerate the hide before getting it to the taxidermist, roll it up so that it is skin to skin, but leave the head outside the hide. Moyer said that if the head is rolled up inside the hide, it can take a while for the head to freeze.
The hair on the face of a bear is very short, compared to the rest of the hide, and again, the skin is thin. If the head is rolled inside the hide, it will continue to generate heat for a long time before it freezes, and can cause the hair to slip.
Salt Hide, If Necessary If a hunter plans to salt the bear hide instead, iodized salt should not be used. Instead, plain salt — available at farm supply stores — can be used. Before salting, hunters should scrape as much fat from the hide as possible.
Salted hides should be stretched out on a big piece of plywood. The entire board should be left tilted, so that moisture pulled from the hide runs off. Each day, shake the salt from the hide and re-salt it.
Moyer said that most taxidermists would rather work with a fresh (frozen or refrigerated) hide than a salted one. But, salting is the best solution if hunters are at camp or at a place where they can’t refrigerate or freeze the hide.
|The author and a bear.|
If the hide is wet when the bear is harvested, and the field-dressed bear carcass can be kept in a cool area, the hide should be air-dried before skinning the bear. Always use a clean, sharp knife and take the time to sharpen the knife during skinning. If available, hunters should use a hospital-grade scalpel for tight spots such as the feet.
“Many mistakes made doing skinning can be fixed by the taxidermist, but if you wait too long to skin the bear, that can’t be fixed,” Moyer said. “I hate to have to tell people that the bear hide they’re so proud of is no good for a mount.”
For a fine selection of Big Game Hunting gear, click here.