Skinning Secrets: The Flat Incision Method

There's more than one way to skin a cat ... or any other animal for that matter.

You’ve filed your tag with the trophy of a lifetime and you want to create a stunning rug, shoulder or life-size mount. Many sheep, goat and bear hunters might find themselves backpacking for days before they can bring their trophy in for refrigeration or get it to a professional taxidermist. This is where you, as the hunter, must ensure that proper care of your animal is taken in the field. But rest assured, this skinning method will work just was well if you hunt on your own Back 40.

Taking a few quick measurements before you skin your trophy will ensure your taxidermist gets your mount correct and accurate to real-life size. I covered the “dorsal” skinning method in detail in my previous blog, but these measurements are imperative, so here they are again.

Measurements To Take Before Skinning

  1. The tip of the nose to the inside corner of the eye
  2. The circumference of the neck at the throat and around the neck crossing the atlas of the neck (base of the skull)
  3. Measure around the neck tight to the head just behind the ears
  4. Measure 3 inces below No. 2 measurement around the neck
  5. End of nose to base of tail
  6. The circumference at the belly

The Flat Incision Method
If you’re not familiar with the flat incision method of skinning, don’t be afraid to print out and bring along a basic diagram that demonstrates the cut lines. Your taxidermist might have a handout that will help you in the field as well. You can never have too much information to make sure that everything is done to the best of your ability while in the field.

With the animal is laying on its back, make your first cut under the tail, cutting forward around the genitals, leaving them attached to one side, and continue the incision toward the head of the animal. This cut should stay in the middle of the belly and end mid-chest.

Next, starting at the paw or hooves, make your cut on the inside of the animal’s leg to the “elbow,” then toward the “armpit,” and then to the chest. On the rear legs, begin at the heel up the backside of the leg toward your starting tail cut.

On bear paws, don't slice through the pad. Instead, carve around the pad, leaving it attached by a flap of skin. This will allow you to more easily remove the knuckle bones in the feet. (Tip: Tying a rope to the bear’s knuckle and hanging it over a stout branch will allow gravity to help you while you remove that knuckle bone.)

On hooved animals such as deer, elk, sheep or goats, you can use a dorsal cut or the flat incision method. Either way, be sure to split between the dewclaws and up to the base of the hooves. Be sure to remove the toe bones because this will cause the hair in that area to potentially slip.

Once your cuts have been made, remove the hide from the carcass. Take your time in this process, removing as much flesh and fat from the hide as possible.

When the hide is off the carcass, you can peel and remove the skull from the hide. There are some great videos on YouTube that you can download to your smartphone and reference in the field to help you. Many high-quality guides and outfitters know what they’re doing and can help you with skinning your hide off of the skull, too.

Turning ears takes a lot of practice, and the face is a delicate area, so if you’re not comfortable removing the skull from your hide, be sure to remove as much neck meat as possible, sever the spine at the base of the skull, and get it all to your taxidermist as soon as possible to prevent slippage.

If the temperature is below 40 degrees, you don’t need to worry about salting your hide; however, if it’s warmer than that, liberally apply a non-iodized farm-type salt to the hide. On bears, be sure that you salt inside the holes left in the hide where the knuckles once were. On hooved animals, be sure to salt clear down to where the hooves once were. Work the salt into the hide, ensuring that all of your edges are covered in salt, including the ears, eyes, nose and lips.

Lay your hide outside if possible, out of direct sunlight and sheltered from the rain. When you’re heading out of camp, roll up your hide—flesh sides together—tucking in the feet and head. Do not store your hide in a plastic bag or container because this could cause the hair to slip.

Many bush pilots don’t like having salt on flights, so it’s up to you as the hunter to find out if the outfitter that you’re using has salt readily available or if you need to find any specific way to transport salt into your hunting camp. Do not assume that your outfitter or guide will provide adequate amounts of salt to preserve your trophy of a lifetime.

Most importantly, choose what works best for you. These are principals that’ve worked for me in the field. I strongly urge everyone to talk to their individual taxidermist and get their recommendations before entering the field.

Good luck, shoot straight and send lots of pictures to when you get your trophy of a lifetime.


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