Thursday, January 28, 2010

Tanning Hides (Part 3)

Several months ago a small box arrived on my door step containing the key elements and directions that would enable me to tan an animal hide. I had started this little adventure with high hopes but now had began to seriously question my abilities and develop reservations that this little experiment would even work. Staring down into the "pickle", reeking of vinegar and putrid coon, I began poking the hide with a yard stick curious if the hair and flesh would vaporize on contact. Seeing that the remains appeared to stay intact, I proceeded to remove the coon hide from the pickle bucket.

Taking the raccoon hide firmly in both hands, I proceeded to squeeze all of the remaining vinegar and salt from the hide. After dumping the pickle down the tub drain, I read further into the directions where it stated, "be sure to reserve pickle for next step". More curse words ensued and yet another unscheduled trip to the store was made. Had I followed the directions, I would not have had to mix another pickle, however, I am running for village idiot this election cycle and really needed to raise my public ratings.

After mixing up a fresh pickle, I proceeded to dump in the kit included tanning solution and raccoon pelt. Everything then received a hearty stir. Lastly, I dropped in a large rock to keep things from floating above the surface and secured the lid.

This mix of 1 gallon of pickle and 9 (22 tablespoons) oz of Rittels Kwik-Tan was allotted to sit a minimum of 24 to 36 hours to give the tanning solution a chance to penetrate and work its magic. I didn't have time available to work with it again until 48 hours had passed and it seemed to have made little difference.

Two days later, I (AGAIN) dumped the pickle and proceeded to squeeze out the coon. I put 1 gallon of water and 2 tablespoons of baking soda in the bucket and thoroughly washed the hide inside and out (perhaps 10 minutes of rinsing). This could have been where I messed up in the process, as the hide still has a slight vinegar scent. So, if anyone is reading and thinking of trying you may want to spend more time on the baking soda wash. (I am going to hang the hide outside for a few days and see if this helps to dissipate the smell. If that doesn't work, I am going to seal the hide in a bag for a few days filled with dry baking soda. IF THAT DOESN'T WORK, I am drowning the whole works in Febreze and hoping for the best!)

So by this stage, you should have a soggy raccoon hide that smells something like a cross between a well aged italian sandwich and New York City taxi cab. The directions instruct you to dry the hide at this point but not over dry. This seemingly contradictory statement is made possible by "damp drying". This is accomplished by turning the skin fur side out to allow the fur to dry but keep the flesh relatively moist. I then tightly wrapped the entire hide in a bathroom towel to absorb additional moisture. After 5-10 minutes of drying, I turned the flesh side back out and proceeded to prepare the oiling mixture.

Mixing 2oz of water and 1oz proplus tanning oil provided more than enough oiling solution to cover the entire hide. A single application was all that seemed necessary and using a small brush it was easily painted on. After a through application, I turned the hide again so that the newly oiled flesh was to the inside. This is done to allow the oil a chance to slowly penetrate over 4-6 hours.

Now once again turn the hide back to flesh side out to allow it to dry. The various sections of the hide will dry at differing rates of speed, so care should be taken to keep a close eye on things. I checked the drying once in the morning and once in the late afternoon. At these points, fold the hide and see if white crease marks are produced. If they are you should pull and stretch these areas working to keep them pliable. This is also a great time to strip the hide of any extra flesh that may have lingered throughout the process. A heavy to medium grade sandpaper works great in removing stubborn areas and also gives the hide that buffed "professional" finished look.

That is the end of the process. I hope I didn't make any of the steps sound to complicated as it is fairly easy. I would highly recommend trying, as the final product makes an impressive wall hanging. Please drop me an e-mail if anyone has questions and I would be happy to assist. Good Luck!

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Ice Fishing in a Canoe?

One of this things I find most exciting about a day on on the ice, is you never know what you might end up seeing. Wild animals like coyotes, moose, deer, otters fox, beavers and other critters can at anytime show their faces and make a average day on the ice extraordinary. When you add to this mix a chance to catch a wall hanging fish specimen, it is no question why a day in the icy wilds of Maine is so attractive to such a huge number of sportsmen.

Along this line of "outdoor entertainment" it never fails to amaze me what creative Mainers will do when they have amble amounts of time and a healthy childish sense of play. Saw these guys out trolling for salmon this past weekend and wanted to share. No worries they had lifejackets in the canoe!

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Aconcagua Revisited

On January 20th 2006, I completed a life long dream to climb one of the world’s seven summits. These peaks, coveted by mountaineers around the world, include the highest spots on each continent. A listing can be found here. At 22,843 feet Aconcagua located on the Argentina/Chile border is the highest peak in the western hemisphere. If you want to be any closer to God, you need to drag yourself to the Himalaya.

Reaching the 4 year anniversary of that climb, I find myself reflecting on the trip and contemplating a future return to the mountains. As I think about the momentous experience and the impact it has had on my life, I wanted to share a few of my favorite photos from that trip.

In order photos depict: Base Camp, Camp 2, Camp 3 w/Aconcagua in the Background, Camp 3, Leaving Camp 3 for Camp 4, Camp 4 and Summit of Aconcagua.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Tanning Hides (Part 2)

Armed with a cup of strong black coffee, I retreated to the quiet sanctuary of my basement with high hopes of finally beginning the process of tanning my recently acquired raccoon hide. Slurping back the bitter hot brew I marveled at how quickly the early winter storm was accumulating. A muffled laugh escaped me, as I pondered the identities of the poor fools who had to actually go out on a day such as this.

As I tore into the small box titled “Trapline Kit”, I was immediately disappointed to find that it did not contain all of the items necessary to begin the tanning process. Missing were several “ingredients” including: Odorless Mineral Spirits, baking soda, 1 lb of salt and 2 quarts of white vinegar. While most people might have these items kicking around the house, I did not. Donning my winter jacket and stumbling into the raging blizzard, a cloud of obscenities burst forth creating a black cloud that followed me all the way to the local country store. Fortunately, I knew that my local country store would not disappoint me and within its aisles all of my items would be found. What else would you expect from a store with a permanent sign out front professing the selling of Beer, Wedding Gowns and Shotguns . . . damn I do love Maine.

Arriving back home, I was further disgruntled to find that the process of tanning was not something to be accomplished in a single day but would instead require two weeks of on and off efforts from beginning to end. Finally surrendering myself to the mercy of the task at hand and the time requirements, I rolled up my sleeves and went to work.

The first step in the tanning process is perhaps the most messy and stinky . . . it is also the most critical. Before any of the other parts of the process can be considered you must completely degrease your hides. For some critters like fox, coyotes and bobcats I am sure this is a walk in the proverbial park, however, for grease balls like raccoons this is a herculean endeavor. Using the odorless mineral spirits, an old rag and about 20 minutes of intense upper body activity the hide was finally “degreased”. I found this process worked well, if you kept the hide on the wooden stretching board and put the bottom in a 5-gallon bucket. As you wash the hide with the solvent saturated rag the extra dribbled into the bucket and could be reused to keep the rag wet. There is a fair amount of splashing that occurs as you slop the rag around so I wore chemical safety glasses and also dishwashing gloves.

After degreasing the hide needs to be washed with 1 tablespoon of tide to 1 gallon of water. Again I used a rag and the 5-gallon bucket to thoroughly wash and then rinse the hide of the solvent and soap. After scrubbing I filled the 5-gallon bucket with water and soaked the hide and then squeezed it out a few times.

Having never tanned a hide before, I found phase two of the process most bizarre. This is when you create a “pickle” that the hide can safely percolate in for up to two weeks. Using a 5-gallon plastic bucket, I mixed 2 quarts of white vinegar, 2 quarts of water and 1 pound of salt to create the pickling formula. Then all that remained is to immerse the hide in this soup and to wait. I waited one week, as that is when I next had the time available to move the entire process to the next step. As the week moved slowly forward, I stirred the pickle as instructed and noted the hide was changing to a pure white color just as the directions had indicated. This I found encouraging as I began to think . . . hey maybe this will work after all.

The completion of the tanning process will be posted soon!

Friday, January 8, 2010

Tanning Hides (Part One)

As a young boy, tanning hides was something the elders of the clan did to us children when we were misbehaving. It usually occurred in the woodshed with a leather belt, random piece of kindling wood or some other close at hand justifiable implement. The entire procedure only took a few minutes and in the “end” always managed to produce a beautifully tanned hide. With the advent of time and perhaps what some would call “advancements” in child rearing, the old methods of tanning hides no longer seems to be an accepted parenting practice. Not to be confused with the barbaric methods of old, I recently decided to try my hand at tanning hides. Perhaps from my previous experiences with getting my hide tanned, I assumed that the process would be rather easy to accomplish, straightforward and quick to complete. I was however wrong.

Of course to begin any tanning process, you must begin with a hide. In order to secure a hide you must first kill an acceptable furbearing critter. Personally, I chose to target fox and coyote because I trapped them as a child. Back then, I sold what I caught and thus was unable to keep any of my original hides. Of course, best made plans never seem to work out quite the way you originally wanted and thus I ended up completing the 2009 trapping season with a single raccoon hide.

Having had much experience with the skinning process from many year of previous practice, I was able to easily separate the masked bandit from his fur coat. For the uninitiated, this is a relatively simple process with the most difficulty occurring around the tail and head. The tail skin can be rolled off the tail bone using a couple of pencils placed one above and one below the tail bone. Held together with your hand a strong downward pull does a quick job of separating the two. To eliminate the chance of spoilage, care must be taken, with a sharp knife, to split the tail all the way to the end. The thin hide around the head, is slowly worked round and round as you cut off the underlying ear cartilage, around the eyeholes and finally off the end of the skull to separate the nose.

The pelt is then placed fur side down and worked with a scraping tool to thoroughly separate the attached fat. It is critical that all meat, fat and membrane be removed, as it will quickly spoil and ruin your hide. With fatty critters like raccoon and beaver this is by far the part of the process I dislike the most, as it is time consuming, hard, messy, nasty work. Of course, the professional trappers have skinning beams and two handed fleshing knives that make this job exponentially easier, however, I did not have access to these tools.

Finally, with the hide cleaned of all fat it was placed on a wooded stretching board with the skin side out, held in place with tacks and left to dry in my cool basement for about a two months, until I was ready to start the initial steps of the tanning process.

Part two of the Tanning Hides Process to be posted soon!

Monday, January 4, 2010

Deer Camp Dissected

As a young boy, deer camp was always a mysterious and sacred rite of passage, a self-fulfilling prophecy perpetuated by the addition of the adolescent males of the clan upon reaching the ripe age of 14. For many of us, this would be the first time we would be fully separated from all female influence and subjected to the intricacies of male bonding. Though forming these bonds would prove primitive and ritualistic in nature, we would all grow to learn that they were a necessary step in the development of the male mind. Lost on our innocence, were the ramifications of this extraordinary life event. With neither care nor appreciation, we the youth, would recklessly accept our first invitation, not knowing that our actions or inactions were about to be scrutinized and evaluated by the family elders. Alas our very futures moving from “gathers” to “hunters” were about to be determined.

Unaware were we that the seasoned adult males of the family would begin to get a rabid look in their eye around mid September, knowing that deer camp preparations were already underway. The importance and organization of said event, was part of an unspoken centuries old code, that’s complete understanding was reserved for the leadership. At our tender age, it was not apparent the level of planning that was necessary to insure an event of this magnitude was successful. A full appreciation of the experience, would be something not realized until many, many more years had past.

To the anointed leader, the obvious logistics associated with this most noble of endeavors are mind-boggling. Hundreds of minute details must be organized in military like precision for a deer camp to be successful. Often an almost overwhelming laundry list of critical tasks rest squarely on the shoulders of the individual offering up facilities or simply inviting everyone "upta camp”. Beyond human comprehension, the most dedicated (foolish) sportsmen among us will accept this leadership role year after year. These poor lost souls most likely enjoy punishing themselves and sinking into the depths of martyrdom.
While certainly not for the faint of heart and usually an utterly thankless job, the leader profits from the fruits of his labors in the form of small gifts or tokens bestowed by the camp rabble. These are most likely but not limited to left behind camp beahs, cans of sardines, salted meats and mason jars filled with pickled products. Also not to be undervalued is the camp's leaders first pick of place to sleep. While this may seem a trivial point, a week of sleeping under the camp's kitchen table, so you aren't stepped on (or much worse) in the middle of the night, may change your mind.

Any deer camp can be judged by its quality and quantity of food. Though some leaders will attempt to organize some degree of rough meal planning, ultimately there will end up being enough consumable food for double your anticipated stay. The discussion of food brings with it an important consideration. To technically classify any item on the deer camp menu, as "food" is likely to be a stretch of that definition. I suppose before it was pickled, smoked, wrapped in bacon, covered in cheese and then deep fat fried it may have at one time been a substance containing some nutritional value. To offer a glimpse into the depths we will sink in our attempts to clog our arteries, I will share that it is a common accepted practice at deer camp to never throw out the morning congealed mass of bacon grease. It has been determined to be a great spread on toast and biscuits should you run low on butter. Contrary to what the doctors and health professionals tell you a week of eating nothing but cheese curls, pig’s feet and sausage links will do little to effect your overall health. In fact, it will lubricate your intestinal tract and speed weight loss!

To insure that you continue to be on the "short" list of invitees asked to return to next season’s deer camp, it pays to remember a few rules and regulations related to the provisions. First, double-check your donated grocery items. It is a sad family fact, that my uncle Ned once made the mistake of bringing broccoli to deer camp . . . well obviously he was never invited back. Second, camp coffee was meant to be drank black from a mug 1/2 washed and still lingering with the after taste of dish detergent. This "party starter" is almost guaranteed to insure you arrive to the outhouse well ahead of anyone foolish enough to not be a coffee drinker. Lastly, repeat after me . . . light beer has no place at deer camp. If the sunsets and you aren't drinking the regular stuff you may as well pack up your panties and go home.

It is an accepted camp practice, that anyone who actually manages to shoot a deer immediately becomes the camp "bitch". This term is of course meant in the most affectionate sense. An undervalued but most necessary of positions, it is bestowed on the individual "lucky" enough to shoot a deer. Immediately they become the anointed person responsible managing all camp cooking and cleaning functions. Categorized as a necessary evil, we always breath a sigh of relief when this person identifies them self and the position is filled.

Age does have its privileges, as typically the younger deer camp participants are the targets of practical jokes. Jokes can range from the funny belly chuckle to the outright hysterical, tears running down my face, please stop my abs hurt, full on I am glad not to be in your shoes experience. The camp classics include, hiding a box of tampons or maxi pads in the backpack of camp "newbies", lighting bodily functions and cheating at cards. Somehow these activities have always seems to provide days of off the cuff comments and entertainment. Why cannot be easily understood and I am sure could be studied by anthropologists for decades.

Overheard at deer camp . . . “If I stay one more night, I might as well stay the winter”. It never fails that every year some poor soul has to leave the festivities of camp early. For these unfortunates, God has apparently chosen to punish, my sympathies are certainly with them. The excuses run for work to kids and everything in between. No matter the excuse, these "quitters" are always sorely missed at camp.

Eventually even for the dedicated sportsman, life will force him to return to civilization an echo of reality that states that eventually all good things must come to an end. Knowing this inevitable circumstance, Sunday breakfast always seems to be a somber affair. The once bright electric spark of excitement now seems dimmer as everyone contemplates the fact that another year will need to elapse before next season’s deer camp. With a happy yet heavy hearted hugs, back slaps and hardy handshake good byes are administered to family and friends. As the hordes climb into their 4x4s and prepare for the long rides home we long to return to this place that houses a lifetime of memories.
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...