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The Fur Harvester’s Field Guide

Many years ago I ventured out to do some coyote calling in late December. It was a beautiful morning — cold and sunny with several inches of snow on the ground. As luck would have it, I managed to call in and shoot a beautiful pair of coyotes. I thought they would make a great photo, so I shouldered my rifle, grabbed the coyotes by the hind legs and dragged them all the way back to the truck. When I got home I had my photo shoot. The next morning I headed out to do some more calling, and on the way to my first stand, I stopped by the area where I had harvested the coyotes from the previous day — and I threw them back!

Many weeks later, after I had the film developed, I began to show off my coyote pictures around town and tell my stories. After several stops and a considerably better story, I managed to end up at the local sportsman’s hangout, where I showed the photos one more time and gave my best rendition of the story yet. After I had finished, an older gentleman I’d never met before asked me what I’d done with the pelts. I told him I just threw them away. The older gent then lowered his brow in a stern, puzzled manner and said, “Would you just throw away a $100 bill?” My mind flashed back to that great classic movie “Jeremiah Johnson,” and I felt like the old mountain man had just asked me, “Are you sure you can skin grizz?”

It’s been many years since that wise oldgent spurred me on to learn the value of fur, which has now become my livelihood. For years now I’ve worked for a fur-buying company. I’ve spent thousands upon thousands of hours behind a knife, sewing needle, fleshing beam and stretcher, preparing pelts from the carcass to finished, dried skins ready for tanneries and various garment industries around the world. Buying and skinning countless numbers of coyotes, bobcats and every other kind of creature known for its fur has definitely given me a different view on fur. Everything now has become as much about the fur as the hunt. Here are a few good ideas to tuck under your hat to make your predator hunting a bit more profitable if you so choose.

Firearm Selection

I always pack a 12-gauge chambered with #4 buckshot. It really doesn’t matter which brand of ammo you use, but I prefer Hornady. I love the stuff. Whatever you use, don’t use birdshot — it almost always ruins the leather side of the pelt as well as the fur. The fur damage on a coyote is minimal with #4 buckshot or larger, unless it’s really close and you’re using a full choke. Last year alone I shot more than 30 coyotes within 20 yards or less, and the pelt damage was almost always nonexistent compared to many other types of firearms.

Rimfire rifles hardly ever damage the fur, but shot placement is always king. Many predator hunters we buy from love using the .17 HMR round as their primary predator-hunting rifle. Yes, it does have limitations, but with practice and good quality ammo it can be a very effective coyote, bobcat and raccoon round. I’ve personally made ethical one-shot coyote kills out to 200-plus yards where the coyote dropped. Shoot for the crease right behind the front shoulder and a little low where a coyote’s lungs are. If you’ve spent your time fine-tuning your rifle, put it in the brainpan!

You’ll always have an endless argument on which centerfire rifle is the most fur-friendly and effective predator round. I’ve seen great results with everything from the .204 Ruger to a .308 Remington at a variety of distances and conditions. I’ll say that quality ammo designed for predators and good shot placement is key. Again, try to shoot a bit low and behind the front shoulder when looking for the least amount of sewing and actual fur damage.

The Pack Out

Some guys like to drag their kill out. There’s lots of cases were you can safely drag a coyoteout, but I must say predator hunters lose tens of thousands of dollars annually as a collective whole by using the drag-out method. I’ve seen big beautiful coyotes lose well over half of their value or more due to dragging them out. It’s always best for the fur to have as little friction and drag applied as possible. I really like using the Game Carrier by Timber Butte Outdoors. It harnesses the feet, making it into an excellent over-the-shoulder sling. I personally find it rather comfortable on those longer treks out of the stand.

Field-Skinning

I’ll field-skin coyotes to avoid packing them out. In my backpack I carry several pairs of latex gloves, a couple of sharp smaller-size pocketknives, a dogcollarchoke chain (sold at any local pet store) and a small-game skinning gambrel (can be found online at all trapper supply stores), which makes the job of field-skinning much easier. You can almost always find a tree, metal T-post or H-type brace in many of the areas you hunt in. Just slide the gambrel over a T-post or use the dog chain to attach the gambrel to a tree or H-brace, etc.

  • Start with the coyote laying on his back. Make your opening cuts on the inside of the back legs along the color line of the fur from the feet all the way to center of the coyote’s anus area. Skin close around the genitals and anus, then on down the center of the tail. Cut down the tail about 3 or 4 inches.
  • You can use the two small pocketknives (blades closed) as a tail puller, placing one knife on each side of the tailbone and sliding them down together toward the tip of the tail. It takes some practice, but you’ll get it down.
  • Now that the coyote is essentially opened like the end of a pillowcase, hang it by the tendons on the hind legs just below the knee on the gambrel, toes up. Next, begin pulling the hide down and away from the carcass, starting on the tail side first, and pull the hide straight down about 5 to 10 inches.
  • Then move to the stomach side and carefully “punch” your way down and around both sides of the carcass, until you come between the front legs and shoulders by the base of the neck. Try to keep the tail portion of the hide held up toward the back legs a bit; it will help as you work your hand down.
  • Cut the hide on the front legs just below the knee all the way around, and pull the hide straight down toward his head as if you were removing a pillowcase.
  • Next, pull the front legs through to release the hide and pull the rest of the hide to the base of the head. Make a cut at the base of the ears and continue to skin out the rest of the head carefully, cutting close to the eyes. Once you’ve cleared the eyes, pull down, skinning along the gum line to the nose. Cut it off at the tip of the nose cartilage, leaving about a inch or so of hide left on the bottom jaw. Once this is done, turn the hide fur-side out, throw it over your shoulder and go. With a little practice you can skin out a song dog in minutes. My 14-year-old son can do two coyotes this way in 10 minutes flat.
  • I also like to keep a pallet in the back of the pick up truck to keep the coyote hide or carcass off the bed. It’s usually pretty cold during fur season, and this prevents the animal from freezing to the bed or soaking in blood, which makes for a lot more work washing out the pelt later. Try to spread the coyotes out so they cool faster, which will help prevent those dreaded “slip spots.”

Stretching And Drying

When it comes to taking your pelt from a “greased hide” (skinned but not dried) to a stretched, dry skin ready for sale, there’s a large learning curve, so be patient with this process. There’s much to know, but I will give you the basics right now that will give you at least a good starting point. You’ll need some basic furrier tools. These can all be found at any trapper-supply house and online as well.

  • First, you’ll need to get a good fleshing beam. I would recommend one at least 5 inches wide by 48 inches long. Then you’ll need a good fleshing knife with at least a 12-inch blade length. You will also need a metal dog comb.
  • Start by giving your critter a good comb-over to remove any cockle burrs, etc. This will help eliminate cutting holes in the hide as you begin to flesh the pelt. Then turn the hide flesh-side out and place the pelt over your fleshing beam like a sock. Begin working your way down the pelt from the top of the neck to the base of the tail, removing all the heavy fat down to the leather. Don’t overflesh. If you see the roots of the hair, you’re too deep.
  • Next, take a 5-gallon bucket with a little bit of Dawn dish soap and some conditioning shampoo and wash the pelt fur-side out to remove all the grease and blood. Rinse and swish a couple of times and ring it out like a towel.
  • Now you’re ready to start the stretching. You can use wire or wood stretchers; both are available from trapper-supply houses and both work very well. Pull the pelt good and tight over the stretcher leather-side out. Place a fan off to the side a little ways so it blows on the hide to dry it. The hide should be mostly dry, not crunchy, but still pliable to the touch. If you do overdry it, just wet a rag and rub it over the skin and let it sit for a few minutes, then carefully turn it.
  • Now you’re ready to restretch the hide fur-side out. After you have the hide stretched, make sure the hide is centered on the stretcher, then comb the fur. On a coyote, I like to brush the fur up — it dries better and makes a better finished product. Leave it on the stretcher another day or so.
  • Finally, your pelt is dry and ready to be taken off the stretcher. Pull the hide off the stretcher and grab the nose with one hand and close by the tail with the other and give it a shake. This will open up the hide and let the air move through the inside. Give it another good brushing and hang it back up for a day or two. Give it one more brushing — this time downward.

Other Things To Consider

If you can’t get the animal skinned right away, try to hang the coyote up by a hind leg somewhere so it’s not lying on or freezing to the ground. You’ll pull out those premium guard hairs when moving the carcass, and that really hurts the bottom line. It will also move the entrails down into the chest cavity, preventing bloating and hair slippage.

You can also freeze the coyote whole. They will last for months or longer bagged up in the freezer. We have several customers who freeze a bunch of coyotes in the carcass and bring them in whole. There are a lot of fur buyers out there who will buy your fur in the carcass. Ask your local fur buyer. You can generally expect to get anywhere from $5 to $25 for a carcass coyote in many Western states. The price will drop on Eastern coyotes, but a good, heavy Eastern ’yote can bring very good money, too. Prices can change from year to year depending on the market.

Fur is a resource that is used all over the world. North America has some of the best pelts there are, period. Plan ahead of time how to get your fur from the stand to the truck, practice some field-skinning techniques, and talk with other hunters and learn what they do. Follow through with the process until you get the fur into a buyer’s hand. It’s very fulfilling and worth the effort, and it might even put some extra coin in your pocket. Like my good friend Jim Walker says, “If it’s worth a buck, it be in the truck!”

Resources

Timber Butte Outdoors

(208) 365-7393

Hornady

(800) 338-3320

PCS Outdoors (they carry a full line of fur-handling products)

(989) 569-3482

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