‘How To’ Cure Rabbit Skins
Plenty of rabbit based action over the last few weeks on our courses and social media, must be something to do with spring being in the air, although there’s a definite return to winter here in the highlands. The humble rabbit or Oryctolagus cuniculus, Is a non-indigenous species to the British isles believe it or not, amongst the innovations and technology the Romans brought to Britain they also brought the Rabbit! The Rabbit originates from Spain and the Latins brought them everywhere with them as they rated the meat. The Hedgehog is another animal introduced to the UK by the Romans for its eating.
Rabbit numbers have plummeted over the last two years North of the Border due to bad weather, although where we run courses they are abundant. Having caught/shot, skinned and gutted the rabbit (if you dont know how to do any of the prior, book on a Backcountry Course!) Its important that you treat the Skin as quick as possible, if your busy then you can freeze the skin until you have the time to give it your full attention. The skin needs to be kept cool as soon as its off the beast, bacteria starts to multiply within the pelt when the temperature is raised and will cause “casting” (hair loss).
1. Any animal pelt is made up of 3 main layers – Epidermis (top layer) Dermis (middle layer) and the Subcutaneous layer which you can see in this picture. This membrane layer needs to be scraped off, if left on it leaves an unattractive brittle brown layer, it also acts as a barrier for the curing agent to penetrate the full depth of the pelt. Use a sharp knife to scrape off as much as possible before putting into the curing agent.
2.Take a plastic tub/bucket and fill with luke warm water and add a cup of uniodized salt and a cup of Potash Alum. If you don’t have Alum powder you can use another cup of salt. Using salt is technically curing a skin rather than tanning (using tannin’s to preserve the skin) and is a simple and effective way to preserve the skin and kill and bacteria living in it. Leave this bucket for 3-5 days and keep away from heat sources – Room temperature is optimum.
3. After 3-5 days curing drain the effluent away (in an environmentally friendly manner) and add a small amount of detergent to some luke warm water and wash the skin thoroughly Do not wring the skin as this can lead to casting. Once the skin is clean allow to drip dry, keep away from direct heat and allow to dry naturally.
4. As the skin drys use the chance to peel off any remaining membrane that wasn’t removed in step 1. you can tell the dried membrane as it peels off in a paper like fashion. Be very careful not to inadvertently tear the Dermis, the hair folicals are held here and disturbing this layer can cause casting. Make sure you pay close attention to the edges as membrane and flesh can sometimes lurk unseen.
5. This next step is important to the finish of the pelt. It doesn’t matter what you’ve use to preserve the pelt, its the amount of leg work you put into the final stage. Allow the skin to dry at room temperature, until it becomes “clammy” in appearance and touch. Slowly start stretching it in all directions, do not pull too hard, as it drys it becomes delicate. The skin should now start to take on a leather like appearance, continue stretching and drying until supple. A fine grained sandpaper can now be used to take off any missed sections and give the skin a fine finish.