A lot of hunters go out, shoot something and that’s about it. Others feel that what you do afterwards determines what kind of hunter you truly are. And only you can answer that. Do you hunt for sport, subsistence food, or money –or a combination of those choices? If you do it for the “sport of it,” that’s OK; and if you do it for subsistence that’s respected and “plenty OK.” And then, if you do it for money – well, then that’s OK too, but you better know what you’re doing big time, if you expect to succeed.
Enter the coyote hunter who sells the pelts of the coyotes that he/she kills (don’t kid yourself – -there are plenty of “shes” who are great coyote hunters and know a good pelt when they see one). By the way, I use the term “pelt,” others say “hide,” and at times those words are used interchangeably; and such is the case in this article.
Here’s how a good number of experienced coyote hunters and trappers remove a coyote pelt and prepare it for sale. I’m sure there are many other specialized methods that are used, but what is stated here is a good “norm” for anyone to start with.
And yes, this a generic “teaching” article. Don’t get in a tizzy if some tiny specialization that you have heard of isn’t mentioned.
Now, most coyote hunters don’t bother with any preparation. They just take the entire carcass to a fur buyer, and sell it as is. If you do this, that’s great – -just know you’ll get less money, but on the other hand unless you’re an EXPERIENCED skinner, you can easily ruin the hide and you won’t get diddly for it. So most hunters are satisfied with getting maybe $20-$25 for a “whole” coyote , while those who do it themselves can get maybe $50 for a prepared hide. And I might add that even some of the best coyote hunters I’ve known don’t bother with skinning. One told me, “there are too many variables, and its time consuming. I know how to do it, but let the fur buyer take the risk.” Well, that’s fine, but “what the hey,” for those of us who are rank amateurs (yeah, that surely includes me), I still think it’s a good idea to explore a bit, and at least have some basic knowledge of how to remove and prepare a coyote pelt.
OK, you’re hell bent on giving it a shot. Basic things you’ll need are a first class “fleshing knife,” a sharp, small to mid sized hatchet or axe, and two other items, one of which is called a “stretcher,” and the other a “spike” (all items are described later on in the article). Buy new. This stuff is usually available at any outdoor outfitter, especially those specializing in hunting – and more particularly geared toward coyote hunting. No bells and whistles are needed, but QUALITY is essential. Sell a few pelts and you’ll amortize your investment, and then it’s “all gravy.” I don’t have a ton of money, but I do know that when it comes to hunting gear, buying top quality, while never “cheap,” in the long run is always the least “expensive.”
First thing you want to do after you get your coyote is make sure the animal is still warm when you skin it. So do it quick-like after the kill. The hide will come off far more easily if the semi-liquid membrane between the hide and the carcass is warm. Indeed, if you follow the suggested steps in this article you can almost peel it off. When the body cools that membrane with its fatty tissue hardens, and it can become tough as all get out to get the pelt off the animal.
Put on a pair of latex or rubber gloves before starting. Never know what’s lurking in a carcass or hide. Now, many hunters will start by laying the coyote out “flat” on its back on a table, board or the ground.
Start by cutting off all four legs right above the second joint, using a real sharp hatchet. Make sure you lay the legs on a sturdy log or steady, rock-solid surface of some type. By doing this you won’t dull your hatchet. The lower part of the leg is discarded because there isn’t enough fur on it to be of any value.
I’ve found that after you cut off the legs, it’s a good idea to take the animal and hang it by its hind legs (tie a rope around the body just in front of the hind legs) from a ceiling, rafter, a tree, or even a sort of “lodge pole” set up, leaving it at eye level. It’s a lot easier to work with, and in the end you can literally peel off the hide like a banana.
Take your fleshing knife, and cut up each back leg, towards and around the tail bone and anus, and then pull the hide off the legs, exposing the tail bone. Then slip the tail bone out of the tail. If you don’t do this, it will rot, causing the hair to fall out of the tail making the pelt worthless. There is a special “gripping” tool, that is generically called a “spike” which is needed to extract the tail bone from the tail. You can buy them at an outfitter store. You place one spike on top of the exposed tail bone, and another spike under the bone. One hunter (you’ll need two people to do this), holds on to the two spikes which grip the exposed bone tightly, while another hunter grabs the tail bone just between the spikes and the coyote’s body, and pulls in the opposite direction. The spikes hold the hide in place while the tail bone is pulled out.
Then you start SLOWLY — like in S-L-O-W – -working your way around the hind quarters and buttocks, and gradually start working your way around the stomach and back, working your way towards the front of the animal. DON’T CUT THROUGH THE FUR. You’re not working “outside in,” you’re working “inside out.” All you want to do is separate the hide from the carcass, without cutting the hide Your fleshing knife should be located at the fatty membrane which is between the carcass itself and the hide. You’ll cut the tendons, gristle, musculature, and membrane, that connect the hide to the carcass. Also be very careful not to puncture the stomach or intestines, or you’ll have one heckuva horrific stink – -on you, and on the pelt. That you don’t want.
Keep going to the front of the body, and work your way to the front legs, and cut up the legs and pull the hide around the legs, and then continue up toward the neck. Now this is where it starts to get tricky. As you near the head, don’t forget you’re dealing with the ears, mouth, eye sockets and nose.
Work your way like a surgeon, cutting around the eye sockets, the ears and the nose, because you want the facial features to come off the skull, and remain part of the hide, when you peel it off.
Then, while maybe still having to cut a piece of connective tissue here and there, which you may have missed, start at the hind quarter and just peel the hide off the coyote- – and if you’ve done your skinning work right, it’ll come right off. But be careful. Remember, that hide has got to be in perfect condition to bring top dollar.
Don’t forget that fur buyer want the hide all intact — plenty of people like to wear coyote pelts as head covers, or literally wear the entire pelt which then runs down their back. That head cover or “hat,” if you will, is the literal head of the coyote. That includes both ears, both eye sockets, the mouth and the nose. I’ve seen that type of “coyote hat and pelt” go for hundreds of dollars at any number of outdoor events and festivals. Indeed, some coyote hunters- – and trappers – – bypass fur buyers totally, and actually go into business and sell the pelt and items made from the pelt (like jackets and coats) themselves. That way they get the maximum bucks from their efforts. That means attending trade shows, outdoor events, and advertising etc. It also requires a lot of talent and work to make these items, and is whole ‘nother story in itself.
Back to the subject at hand.
Now that you’ve got the pelt off, stop clicking your heels, you’re not near done with your work. Remember I told you, that you’d need what is called a “stretcher.” It will do what it name says it will do – – it’ll “stretch” the hide and allow it to dry. These stretchers are sold at specialized outdoor outfitters, and are made of some type of metal “wire” – -the thickness and style will vary, but the stretcher looks like an ironing board. It’s about three to four feet long, about a foot wide at its base, and the top part comes up looking like a “rounded triangle” – -like the front of an ironing board.
Now – -some “purists” (and I’m not one of ’em), will make and form a stretcher out of wood. I don’t like wood, because it’s not adjustable, or easy to work with, and doesn’t have a lot of flexibility to fit around any number of different sized pelts. And it’s a pain in the you-know-what to have to build wooden stretcher boards for every different size of coyote. I know – -In all my articles I always try to state things that will save money; and making your own wooden stretcher will save money. But I don’t think it’s worth it. There are those “mountain men” who do, and that’s fine. They have my respect, but I’ll stick to the manufactured ones.
Are we done yet? Not quite.
Slide our hide, FUR SIDE IN, over the “stretcher.” Then stretch it tight (there are usually some type of adjusters or “clips” that can be loosened or tightened), but not TOO tight, and then quickly inspect the hide for excess flesh, fat or tendons, taking your fleshing knife and scraping this excess off. Once that’s done, hang the hide in a cool, dry place. Drying can take a week, maybe two weeks, maybe somewhere in between. Depends on the hide, the place where it’s hung to dry, and the weather. So what you have to do is check the hide every few days, and continue to test it and make sure it remains “stretchable,” and can be easily removed from the stretcher itself. If you don’t check it, it may over dry, and it may end up being so tight on the stretcher that you can’t get it off without cutting it. That’s a no-no, and if that happens all your work and effort will go for naught. Proper stretching will also increase the value of the pelt, as fur buyers use “size” as one of the items they consider when grading a pelt as to its value.
And that’s about it.
I know. I know. Right now after reading all of this you probably need a shot of Jack Daniels. Save one for me.
I recognize how complex this must all sound, and in total honesty, it’s not for an amateur. I have told you before, my guide friend is an absolute expert on all things “coyote,” and that includes this type of skinning and pelt preparation procedure. My sincere suggestion is do what I do – -find someone like my friend. Follow that person around. Watch. Help. Keep your mouth shut, and your eyes and ears open. You may never get to be an expert, but you’ll be able to do this type of skinning, at least fairly well – -after lots of practice. Candidly speaking, my friend doesn’t do a lot of coyote skinning or pelt preparation, anymore. Frankly, he now pretty-much just takes the carcass and sells it as is to a fur buyer. He’s busy, so since he knows how to do it so well, unless it’s such a supremely beautiful hide, he just won’t bother.
Don’t let anything dissuade you. If you’re the kind of coyote hunter who wants to go the “whole nine yards,” then go for it. As I’ve “preached” before – -use this excellent site as a source to find a guide in your area that can do the same things for you that my dear friend has done for me over the years. Sure, you’ll pay for it, but it’s well worth it, if in the end, you can sit down with all those people who had to pay the hundreds of bucks for a “fashion statement” like a coyote pelt may be, and smile quietly knowing the one YOU ARE WEARING, you did yourself from square one to completion. Plus you’ll join the ranks of the minute few who have done the same thing. And that my friends is one of the best compliments and sense of pride any hunter can attain.