Volume IV, No. 2, Winter 1976




Skinning the Coyote

by Doug Sharp


After the excitement of a successful hunt is over or when skill and patience in trapping has paid off, comes the time for preparing the hide for selling. And selling is what makes the rest all worthwhile. The first step in the complex job of preparing the hide for market is skinning the coyote. After that comes the task of stretching, drying and selling the pelt.

To begin, with a hatchet cut off all four legs right above the second joint. (ill.1) Lay the legs on a log to do this, as not to dull the hatchet. The lower part of the leg is discarded because there isn't enough fur on it to be of any use.

The line shows where to cut off the lower leg.

Begin the cut on the back legs where the lower legs were cut off and continue on down the inside of the back leg.

Before beginning to cut away the hide, lay the coyote on its back to make the work easier. Then place the point of a sharp knife just under the hide on the inside of a back leg where the lower leg was cut off. (ill.2) Run the knife blade along the leg, cutting just through the hide. Be careful not to cut too deep into the flesh, as a deep cut will make it hard to start pulling the hide away from the flesh. Make cuts along the inside of each leg, meeting on the abdomen. (ill.3) Cutting this way will make the pelt stretch out larger. (ill.4) Then from where the cuts meet make another one straight back along the tail, just under the skin. Continue on back to the end of the tail. Since the buyer grades partially according to size, the larger the size of the pelt, the more money it will bring.

Showing the path the knife blade should take in skinning out the back legs and tail.

After cutting across between the back legs, begin peeling the hide off the legs with your fingers, one leg at a time. Start at the end of the leg, working the hide loose. You might have to use a knife to help peel it off some areas if there is a lot of gristle holding it. Peel the hide from each leg to the body and then on over to the back exposing the tail bone.

The next step is to slip the tail bone out of the tail, for if it is not removed, it will rot, causing the hair to fall out of the tail and destroying the value of the pelt.

But first, for convenience, tie a rope around the animal's body just in front of the hind legs and hang it up on a rafter or tree limb until it is even with your shoulder or at a comfortable working height. This position makes it a lot easier to remove the tail bone and also to finish the skinning.

The hide will stretch out larger if the cuts are made as stated in ill. 3.

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Place one large spike on top of the tail bone that the cut exposed and another spike under the bone. One person holds on to the spikes while someone else grabs the tail bone just between the spikes and the coyote's body and pulls the opposite direction. (ill.5) The spikes will hold the hide in place while the tail bone is pulled out.

Two ways of pulling out the tailbone. Above--metal spikes Below--purchased tool designed for the job.

Next peel the hide inside out down over the body to the chest just as if you were taking off a sock. Bring it down to the front legs. Once there force your fore finger and thumb between the hide and flesh until they meet--one on each side of one of the front legs. In this manner you will get a firm hold on the leg to pull it out of the hide. When your fingers meet, pull up with that hand and push down on the hide with the other. This should bring the hide right off. Do the same with the other front leg.

When the hide is free of the legs, continue pulling it down to the head. Skinning the head is probably the hardest area to skin because of the large amount of sinew and gristle and lack of flesh under the skin, so you have to go very slowly. Pull carefully on the hide while cutting it away from the face with a knife. When you reach the ears, cut them off next to the skull instead of trying to skin them out. The small amount of flesh in the ear will soon rot out, not damaging the pelt. Continue on down the face cutting and pulling to the nose. Pull the hide off the nose and the coyote is completely skinned. The pelt all in one piece is ready for stretching.



STRETCHING

To stretch the pelt you can use either commercial wire stretchers which are especially made for the job, or you can use a homemade stretching board. Wire stretchers consist of fairly stout wire that has been bent in the shape of the desired pelt. (ill.6) They come in different sizes, depending on the type pelt to be stretched. Wood stretching boards can also be purchased, but most trappers make them. They are usually made out of a soft wood, like basswood or pine. When making a board, cut a one inch board into the same shape as the pelt. Be sure to smooth all the rough edges.

The metal stretching frames, left, will usually fit most hides, while, right, it takes many different sized boards to fit different sized hides.

An advantage of the wire stretchers over the wooden boards is that they are adjustable. The wire can be reduced in size by just squeezing in on the sides to fit into a smaller pelt. Though they are cheaper, the trapper needs a wooden stretcher to fit every possible size pelt.

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Choose a board the same size as the pelt. Lean the stretcher against something, and then with the hide still inside out, pull the tail end, which is the large end, down over the small end of the board. While fitting the pelt on the board, make sure that it is squarely on the board with both the front legs on the same side. Pull the pelt on down the board until it is tight.

When it is tight the small end of the stretching board should be sticking out of the open area of the face a little. With both hands on the exposed area of the board, raise it about a foot or so off the ground, and then tap it down on the ground. This will cause the hide to slip on down the board even more and also make it stretch out larger. Tap it several times until the hide stops slipping down the board. After it is far down on the board as possible, drive several nails through the edge of the hide into the board at the large end. This is to keep the hide from slipping back up the board.



DRYING

Place the stretched hide outside, but not in direct sunlight to begin the drying process. After two or three hours it will be ready to be fleshed. Fleshing is scraping off all pieces of fat and flesh from the inside of the hide. To do this you can either leave it on the stretching board or put the hide on a fleshing beam--a board especially designed for fleshing.

Fleshing can be done with pocket knives or with regular fleshing knives that can be purchased. (ill. 7) Usually a fleshing knife will be a cleaner job. All the fat has to be removed or the pelt will turn yellow in the spots where the fat is present. What happens is the outer skin dries, but the area under the outer skin still has oil in it. This oil won't dry, causing the spots.

Two types of fleshing knives. These make the job easier than pocket knives.

After fleshing, put the pelt back on the board again still inside out, and set it out to dry for several more hours. This additional time is to dry out the oils that were released after the top layer of dry skin was removed by fleshing.

After the pelt is dry, take it off the board and turn it right side out. Don't let it dry too long on the board or it will become stiff and be hard to turn right side out. Then put it back on the board right side out to finish drying. This final drying usually will not take too long, anywhere from an hour to three. Do not leave it on the board too long because if any moisture is still there in the pelt and it then dries out, it may stick to the board and be very hard to remove.

Comer taps the coyote hide two or three times so it will stretch out more.

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Before you go any farther, you should check with the buyers in your area as to how they prefer the pelt. Some prefer to have them right side out, others inside out.

If they want the pelt right side out, then it is important to groom the fur before selling it. If there is any blood on the fur, let it dry. Later brush it out with a coarse toothed comb. Comb all the fur down toward the tail on both sides, getting it as smooth as possible. Use a curry comb to finish it up. If the buyers prefer the pelt wrong side out, all that is necessary is to comb out the dried blood and burrs.

Now it is time for what makes all the work and time put in on the hide worth while--the selling. Selling is usually done with local buyers, at small fur markets in the area, or sent off to large fur barns through the mail. At current prices a coyote pelt will bring about $15. Comer said that he has received as much as $36 for one pelt.

Some of Comet's hides outside drying. The one on the left is inside out.

Part of Comer's fall catch of coyotes. Some of these were hunted with dogs and some were trapped.

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The prices that a buyer will pay for a pelt depend on several things--the area of the country the pelt was taken, the size, color, and thickness and texture of the fur. Where the animal lived determines a lot. In the northern states where the weather is colder than in the southern states, the fur as a rule will grow thicker and fuller, bringing more money.

The hunter and trapper are needed to control the coyote population. If it weren't for them, the coyote would literally overrun the countryside. Then along with this growth of population, would come a dangerous decline in the numbers of small animals, such as rabbits, squirrels and quail. It is still possible for several professional trappers to make their living by trapping the coyote and other species of animals, or even for schoolboys to earn spending money. These hunters and trappers take a lot of pride in being able to outsmart the wily coyote, deriving pleasure out of doing it, not just by catching them, but by being in the outdoors and experiencing its many beauties. In the present day conditions of wildlife management the trapping and hunting of coyotes are needed and probably always will be needed as long as our country has enough wilderness to support wildlife.

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Copyright 1981 BITTERSWEET, INC.


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