How to Tan Deer Hide & Remove Hair

Updated February 21, 2017

Deer hide tanned with the hair removed is often referred to as buckskin. Native Americans used buckskin as common clothing material before the introduction of European goods. The traditional tanning process used only natural materials–modern hide tanners have other options. Deer hides are often tanned because deer are the most common large game animals harvested in the United States.

Prepare the hide by removing any fat or muscle tissue adhering to the inside of the hide. Stretch the hide across a workbench and carefully trim the excess materials from the back of the hide. Be careful to avoid cutting holes in the hide. If the hide won’t be tanned within a day or two, cure it with salt. According to the New Mexico State University Extension office, the proper ratio is 0.454kg. of salt for each pound of hide. Rub the salt thoroughly into all parts of the back of the hide.

Soak the hide in a mixture of water and baking soda to soften the dried hide. This step is not necessary if the hide was not cured by salting. Place the hide in a non-metallic container such as a plastic garbage can. Mix enough of a solution of 1 gallon water and 29.6ml. of baking soda to cover the hide. Soak the hide until it is pliable. Stretch the hide flat on a work surface and continue to remove fat and tissue from the back of the hide with a dull knife or hacksaw blade.

Remove the hair by soaking the hide in a mixture of 5 qt. hydrated lime and 5 gallons of water. Work the hair free of the hide with a dull knife. After the hair is removed, soak the hide in a mixture of 10 gallons of water and 1 pt. of vinegar, which chemically counteracts the action of the lime.

Soak the hide in a tanning solution made of two chemical mixtures. Begin by combining 0.454kg. of ammonia alum with 1 gallon of water. Make another solution of 113gr. of sodium carbonate, 227gr. of salt and 1/2 gallon of water. Add the later mixture slowly to the first mixture. The hide is soaked in the resulting mixture for up to five days. Remove the hide from the solution and allow to dry.

Oil and flex the hide. Neat's-foot oil is commonly used to treat leather. Work the buckskin, flesh side down, over a block attached to the workbench to loosen the hide into a flexible leather.


Always use non-metallic containers during the tanning process. The chemicals can react with metal.

Things You'll Need

  • Deer hide
  • Knife
  • Salt
  • Baking Soda
  • Hydrated Lime
  • Ammonia alum
  • Sodium Carbonate
  • Neat's-foot oil
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About the Author

Keith Allen, a 1979 graduate of Valley City State College, has worked at a variety of jobs including computer operator, medical clinic manager, radio talk show host and potato sorter. For over five years he has worked as a newspaper reporter and historic researcher. His works have appeared in regional newspapers in North Dakota and in "North Dakota Horizons" and "Cowboys and Indians" magazines.