Quality fur like this really nice cross fox can easily be ruined if not cared for properly. Whether foxes, coyotes, lynx, or almost any other furbearer, these same basic techniques will help you come out with quality hides to tan, mount, or sell.
The first thing I do is skin out the front feet. To start, I push the tip of my knife (edge up) through the front of the pad (right where my thumb is). Then run the knife up the back of the leg to the armpit. It is very important to make all cuts from the inside of the skin! I just use a small pocket knife that I can easily re-sharpen, but you've got to be more careful with a sharper knife to avoid cutting the skin when you don't want to.
After splitting the skin, peel and skin it back around the leg, and away from the foot bones. It's best to use your knife as little as possible, just peeling the skin. Many furbearer hides are very thin and this will reduce accidental cuts! If you're new at this, just remember that the idea is to cut only the membrane binding the skin to the muscles, leaving as little muscle on the skin as possible.
Skin all of the toes out to the last knuckle and cut through the joint. This leaves all of the toes on the foot and many hides will bring better prices with the feet still on. Keeping the feet is also a must for taxidermy, and it's pretty easy to do it right yourself.
Skinning the feet is tedious and is the most time consuming part of the job. It takes me longer to skin the feet out than to do the whole rest of the critter.
Taking your time is key. Probably 99% of the accidental cuts I make are when I get in a hurry. It would be a shame to ruin such a nice hide as this to save a few minutes! It is WELL worth it to do everything right the first time!
Keeping tension on the hide while cutting and skinning around the toes makes things much easier.
Once you get the toe on either side skinned and cut through the last joint as such, the rest go pretty quick.
After skinning the front legs up to the shoulder, I take one of the hind legs and make a similar cut from under the skin all the way from the paw, up the back edge of the leg, to the anus, and skin out the hind leg from the paw up. Then I hang it from the skinned leg and repeat with the other leg.
Once you've skinned the hind legs down, cut all the way around the anus, leaving as little fur as possible. Then make a cut from under the skin down the back of the tail, and skin it out by hand until you can get the tail to pull out.
Pulling the tail is another critical spot to not rush, I squeeze around the tail bone to slide the hide off, and pull the bone out with the other hand. It's very important to get a feel for how far to skin it before the skin will start to pull out, otherwise you can tear the tail off.
So you've pulled the tail out successfully. Don't forget to split the tail!!! Make a cut from the inside, all the way down to the tip of the tail. This will allow the tail to dry and the hair won't slip during tanning.
This is how the tail should look. I have ruined several tails and I am ALWAYS careful, as fur buyers aren't too excited about buying foxes with half a tail! Next, you will peel the skin off like you are turning a sock inside out. This is called tube or case skinning.
A cool trick my uncle taught me was to wrap the animals' nose with paper towels using masking tape. They will nearly always be bleeding from the nose and this will save you from having blood smeared all over the hide! It's much easier to keep the blood off than washing it out!
Peel the hide down until you can pull the legs through. Care should be taken around the brisket because the hide sticks tighter to the meat and be accidentally cut fairly easily.
Now that the legs are free, the hide will bind up again once you get to the ears. Skin them down as much as possible while they are on the head. Then cut the cartilage off right where it connects to the skull as shown.
Next, on many animals, it is necessary to skin the ear cartilage out almost completely to keep the hair from slipping off the ears.
Skinning the eyes can be tricky. It is VERY easy to cut and screw up the eyes. The skin binds to the skull and you have to know where to cut. When skinning it, cut horizontally behind the eyeball where my knife is pointing until the membrane thins and you can see the eye. Practicing this on furbearers can hone your skills for doing a perfect job on trophy big game animals when it really counts!
We're almost done! After getting below the eyes and cutting into the mouth, it is convenient to pull the lips down to keep tension while you skin out the face. There is very little meat, and the skin sticks basically to the bone, so it's pretty easy to slip up and cut a hole in the face.
Once you have the hide off the animal, it should be stretched to dry. Slide the hide inside out over the proper sized stretcher. My uncle made a bunch of stretchers like this specifically for fox. It's very easy to look up dimensions and contours for whatever fur you are wanting to stretch.
Pull the skin tight and secure it exposed to the air to dry. I use thumb tacks and extra boards to stretch the legs out. If the hide is allowed to fold or bunch, it can cause the fur to slip.
Keep your fur in a cool dry place so it can dry. After a few hours I turn the hide right side out. At this point, a lot of it is really dry. Especially in the belly, it is paper thin and VERY easy to tear while you are "turning" it. While the fur is inside out, crumple it up like a newspaper. This makes it less stiff and it won't tear as easily. Finally, push the nose back down through the skin, slowly working the hide right side out, then put back on the stretcher to dry for a few days.
Spending the time to learn and practice and do the job right can give you a trophy to remember!! These techniques can be used for most all furbearers and I find that there are always new tricks to learn! Shooting or catching that critter is great, but it's even more rewarding when you know you have the skills to properly bring it from field to trophy room!
With the predator hunter ranks growing by the day, knowing how to properly handle your fur after the adrenaline wears off can give you quality trophies and even make you some money!