I was wondering how the hunters out there preserve the skins, tails, etc for fly tying. Last year I trimmed the hairs off of the carcass and placed it in zip lock bags, but that got messy to say the least.
I was thinking about preserving the full tails and strips of hide this year, but I have no idea how I would preserve it.
Does anyone have any hints or resources they could point me toward?
I always used salt for a day (24 hrs) and followed that with Twenty Mule Team Borax. When you salt a hide don't spare the salt. The idea is to draw out the moisture and cure the fat so the pelt doesn't go rancid on you. After the salt rub and then leave a layer of borax on for another day or two.
Someone who does their own skins a lot will no doubt respond but what I gave you is a good start.
Salt to draw out the moisture followed by Borax is a time honored way of dealing with animal skins and hides. Hides are a bit tougher to deal with than bird skins because it is much easier to get a clean skin off a bird than it is to get a clean hide, by clean I mean having any type of meat on the surface. With hides you will need to spend some time scraping them to make sure you get any small chunks of meat off the hide. Salting and borax on the hide will also make the hide very stiff and brittle. The deer, elk and other hides you buy from fly tying wholesalers are generally tanned which is a much more complicated process. If you can deal with the stiff hide that go for it. One good resource would be to contact the guys at Blue Ribbon Flies in West Yellowstone. They process a lot of their own hairs and they would be able to send you in the right direction on the processes of curing hides.
One last note on your processing your own skins, tails and hides. I would be sure and keep your wild animals separate from your purchased materials, especially expensive hackles. Many wild animals will carry bugs and if these bugs get into your valuable hackle you will be very upset. I usually take my pheasant and Hun Skins and put them in ziplocks in the freezer for a couple of months before I get them near my materials. Good luck with your harvest!
If anyone has the chance at a lot of hides or skins I can recommend "Fly-Tying Materials" by Eric Leiser. It comes in a hard or soft copy. There is a soft copy on Amazon right now.
This book covers just about anything you might want to know about skinning and preserving animals or birds. It also covers dying and tanning. He suggest that for thicker skinned animals plain salt is all that is needed. He suggest Borax on birds skins that are very thin and don't have as much fat. A hide should be stretched and tacked to a flat board to reduce shrinkage. The most important aspect is to remove every bit of fat or meat remaining on the skin before it is salted.
A freshly killed hide or skin should be washed with a detergent to get rid of any critters that might be there. The skin/hide is then dried, scrapped, tacked to a board and salted. With very thick hides like bear or moose you might have to salt more than once.
It's always good to set aside sufficient time to tie... but also occasionally to get familiar with the materials you have and spend some time setting up things that may help you effectively use your time when you do tie.
I learned the importance of having CLEAN, well packaged and labeled materials at a pretty young age after having an infestation cost me a few pelts, tails and capes. Don't assume that materials you purchase or receive are always insect free or have been properly treated and cleaned. SMELL them on receipt, check them for excess fat or oil (on the skin side), and NEVER introduce them into your inventory until you have given them an opportunity to prove themselves worthy! This isn't usually a problem with synthetics, but natural materials definitely need to be 'studied'.
Eve with the highest quality on-skin or on-hide materials (Hoffmann, Metz, whatever) you will periodically find problems that can be easily cured by spending a bit of time checking them over and washing them. Look at the skin and see if there are any 'blobs' of fat or greasy/oily areas- you can typically find these by running a piece of medium blue or grey paper across them and see if it darkens. After using a razor blade and sharp scissors to cut away any fat or excess skin, you can use the edge of a spoon (dedicated to this purpose, NOT a kitchen utensil!) to scrape the back of the skin and make sure there's no more surface fat.
Now, smell the patch and see if you pick up any oily scent. Even if you don't, washing the materials is a good idea. Fill a clean sink with warm water and a small amount (a couple of tablespoons) of Dawn dishwashing detergent. Place the neck in the water and allow it to sit for a few minutes, then using your hands, rub the skin surface gently to remove any surface oils. Turn the neck over and 'swish' the feathers through the soapy water while fanning them away from the skin. Drain the sink and rinse both sides of the neck under running warm water until there is no soap remaining. Rinse the neck again under cool water and place it skin side down on a pad of paper towels to drain and dry. If you have a ceiling fan, place it on the table under the ceiling fan and turn it on medium to help dry the feathers out. You can also do this with a hair dryer on low heat by draping the skin side of the neck over your hand and aiming the dryer at the feathers.
Allow the neck to dry completely for a day or so and then place it in a NEW, CLEAN, ziploc-type bag and label it with the date you purchased it and the source you obtained it from. IF YOU'RE REAL PARANOID... you can pop it in the freezer for a couple of days and pull it out before introducing it into your inventory... this way if there were any insect eggs you may have missed, it will kill them.
One thing you'll notice after doing this is there will be a bit of a difference in the color of the feathers from before and after washing, the other is how much the feathers will shine. You can do this with necks, saddles, full capes, any "feathers on skin" patches and you REALLY should consider it. All it will take is one rancid or buggy patch that ruins the balance of your materials to change your mind.
The same can be done with fur patches, it's not necessary to do this with tanned hides but with dry cured furs it's a good idea. I've routinely done this with bucktails, calf tails and any on-hide fur I get from live kills. You will need a utility knife (to remove excess skin and fat), a comb and/or brush, and a bit more time for drying these materials after washing. It's also a good idea to consider making a 50/50 mixture of baking soda and table salt to use to sprinkle on the skin to help cure and dry it after the majority of the water has dried out.
And furs, capes, pelts from live kills should ALWAYS be frozen, defrosted and frozen a second time after they are completely dry to kill off any eggs.
A little time spent up front will provide a better long term experience when tying, especially with the high cost of materials currently.
As I said, firdst time around for me (early 1970s) it was a costly lesson- one jungle cock cape, a hunk each of pre-CITES polar bear hair and seal... all because of some untreated black bear and a wood duck skin =(