After the hunt is over and the rabbit meat brought home by you and your rabbit dogs, what do you do with your pelts? Those who hunt with regularity could be faced with an abundance of pelts that they do not need or wish to use. In some cases, these can be sold or traded off, but in the meantime, preservation is necessary. In order to preserve pelts, it is imperative that they be tanned as soon as possible or else they will become useless waste material.
Photo: Animal Skin Tanning Services
The process of tanning pelts is an economical one that does not take a lot of time, tools, or equipment. The degree of difficulty is low and the end result is a beautiful pelt that can be used for many purposes. When rabbit pelts are tanned, they are essentially toughened up in order to make them last. They become more pliable and durable in addition to resisting water damage and decay. Pelts can be sewn together to make items such as blankets or clothing which can then be sold if you so desire. Even if you do not wish to keep your pelts, or only some of them, tanning them is a great way to preserve them for future use.
Tanning hides is not a terribly complicated process but there is a margin for error. Because of this, it is better to learn on the smaller pelts of rabbits before moving on to larger animals, and it will take practice to advance your skill level. The first step in the process is a correct skinning, which includes gathering as much useful pelt as possible via a deliberate, organized method. Start by cutting the skin around the rear feet; you can cut from the rear end to the head if you wish, but that can be done after tanning as well. You will then need to tear the skin from hock to hock by way of the anus before pulling gently towards the rabbit's head. If the skin sticks, use a knife to carefully free it. Once the pelt is removed, place it in cold water and finish the process of butchering your rabbit.
The next step is to clean the hide in cold water to remove any blood left in the skin as allowing blood to remain will leave stains. Once the pelt is cleaned, squeeze excess water out but do not wring it. At this time you can freeze the pelt should time be an issue. If you are new to the process, freezing some of your pelts is wise until you get the hang of tanning and can process more than a few at a time. Be sure to use airtight containers to prevent freezer burn if you do freeze and remove all water beforehand.
When you are ready to tan, you will need a plastic container that is approximately 5 gallons in size. In it, place a couple of gallons of room temperature water and add 1 cup of coarse or granulated salt (not iodized, available at grocery stores) and 1 cup of common powdered or granulated alum (aluminum sulfate, available at leather shops, pharmacies, and feed stores). Be careful to avoid splashing and allow chemicals to fully dissolve before adding pelts. Once pelts are added, stir them into the mixture and allow to sit for 48 hours, continuing to stir a couple of times daily and weighing them down with a rock if they float.
Photo: The Dancing Farmer
At the end of the 48 hours, squeeze the liquid from the pelts with gloved hands. You will then need to remove the remaining fatty tissue by gently pulling it apart from the rest of the hide from the rear end towards the front of the rabbit. When this process is complete, rinse pelts in cold water and squeeze dry. At this time, return to your mixture and add the same amount of chemicals again and stir once more. Places the hides in as before, allowing to sit for seven days, stirring twice daily and maintaining room temperature liquid. At the end of seven days, remove the pelts and squeeze dry. Any liquid that remains should be safely disposed of; be sure to follow instructions on the label for safe handling and dispose of it safely.
Wash pelts in a mild detergent and allow to air out in an area free of sunlight or place in the dryer with no heat until semi-dry. At this time you need to begin pulling the pelt in different directions, stretching it until it turns soft and white. Pull firmly but not forcefully and keep pulling until the pelt is soft and dry. If it begins to harden, dampen with a sponge and keep going. When this process is complete, gently brush the hair and moisturize with mink oil. If additional softness is desired, a pumice stone can be used to buff the pelt. When this is complete and the pelt is dry, store it in a breathable container until it is to be used.
This method is just one of the many ways to tan rabbit pelts. Depending on your preferences and how comfortable you are handling chemicals, you may wish to adopt other methods of preserving rabbit skin. Though the process can be much more complicated and may require more time and tool usage, this is one simple way to get the tanning job done.
Which tanning method will you be using the next time you and your rabbit dogs complete a day of hunting? Is this a method you've used, or will use in the future? Let us know in the comments.