I’m a fan of the saying “work smarter, not harder.” With that sentiment, I bring you this photo. It’s easy to prevent getting a hide bloody if you’re a trapper—most of the time. But if you do any predator hunting with a rifle, you know darn well that you’ll often end up with bloody hides. Over the years, I’ve spent countless hours washing out coyote, fox, and wolf hides in five-gallon buckets. It doesn’t always have to be so difficult though.
In some cases, a hide is best left bloody. If you’re only planning on tanning it, cleaning out the blood can be more trouble than its worth. The blood will dry, and unlike the hollow hair of some big game, the blood will be completely washed out at the tannery. However, when selling fur or if you’re concerned about the presentation of the skins you’re putting up, cleaning can be important.
Through trapping, I’ve grown accustomed to keeping hides clean and not having to wash them in the first place. Sometimes it just doesn’t work out like that though, especially for predator hunters who are shooting their quarry. After shooting, transporting, and skinning, it’s not uncommon to end up with a bloody mess.
One of the most memorable examples of this was a coyote that I shot in the head with a .17 HMR a few years back. I dreaded putting that hide up; the coyote was a mess when I dragged him back to the truck.
After thawing him out and case-skinning him, I spent some time figuring out options to cheat my way out of the less than appealing job of cleaning the blood-matted fur. Then it hit me: Use a washing machine.
At the time, I had an older top-loading washer and had used a washing machine to degrease fleshed beaver hides in the past. This taboo time-saver was rumored to work great for cleaning blood. One particular trapper, a living-legend here in Alaska, was rumored to sneak into the 24-hour laundry mat in the wee hours of the morning to clean batches of bloody wolf hides. At least until he got caught and banned for life.
A washing machine works surprisingly well though, and is one of the easiest and most effective ways to clean a hide. Bloody, messy hides come out perfectly clean, and I think it makes them look better once they dry because the detergent takes care of all the dirt and grime in the fur. It doesn’t really matter what kind of detergent you use, and about one laundry-load’s worth is enough to get the job done.
Washing Hides Should Be a Last Resort
A washing machine typically works great to clean hides, but getting hides soaking wet presents some challenges and potential hazards to keep hides from slipping or spoiling. Traditional methods for putting up fur usually involve stretching and air-drying to preserve the skin. Introducing excess moisture can impede this process—especially on hides that are close to souring and slipping. Bigger animals or furbearers with thick hides like wolves and wolverines require extra care to make sure they dry properly. So if you don’t have to wash them, don’t.
If you do have to wash them, make sure to use cold water, and wring as much water out as you can. Don’t wait to get them boarded, and adding a fan can help the hide dry out faster. Finally, you’ll want to groom them with a dog brush to even out the matting and finish with a good-looking product.
If you can get away with using the washing machine, give it a try the next time you get a messy one. I will not, however, be held accountable for angry spouses or irate roommates who find hides in the washing machine. If you’re putting up lots of fur, it might even pay to buy an old junker that you can use strictly for cleaning hides.