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Preserving the trophy

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I’ve been in the field a lot lately, targeting small game for my family’s table.  Mostly, I’ve been wandering the oak hammocks along the Withlacoochee River and searching the tree tops for squirrels.  Over the last week, a dozen have rode home with me to rest comfortably in my freezer, awaiting their turn as guest of honor on the supper table.

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My favorite way to prepare them is chicken fried and plated besides a pile of smashed taters with a wedge of cornbread.  It’s a meal sure to make you happy you spent all of them hours in the woods!  But, is the meat the only real trophy from the hunt?  I don’t think so; which is why I save the pelts and preserve them for any number of craft ideas.

I prepare the pelt by scraping away as much visible meat and flesh as possible.  A dull knife can be used, and is preferable as it will scrape the hide without nicking.  I then make a solution of five cups of salt to a single gallon of water in a five-gallon bucket.  Submerse the pelt in the salt solution overnight then scrape away any remaining flesh and membrane after the soaking time.

Next step is to tan the pelt, so to make your tanning solution, begin with two pounds of salt to four gallons of water.  Stir it until you dissolve the salt completely.  Next, in a separate container, mix two pounds of alum in just enough water to dissolve it and then mix it thoroughly.  Add this to the salt mixture.  Place the scraped pelt into the tanning solution.  Allow it to sit for twenty-four hours, but stir it at least twice a day.

Remove your pelts from the tanning solution and rinse the entire pelt under clear water.  Hang the pelt, fur side up over a banister or railing out of direct sunlight and let it hang for several days.  Roll up the hide, by folding flesh sides together and let it sit overnight.  After this drying period, our pelt will be shrunken and hard, you’ll have to flex and stretch and work the pelt vigorously to limber it up.  One way to work the hide is to rub back and forth,  over a straight edge to soften the leather.  Patio railings or table edges work well for this process.

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Rub Neat’s Foot Oil or other leather lubricants into the leather with your fingers; this insures the tanned hide is both soft and pliable.  Use a dog brush or other comb to work out any mats or tangles on the fur side of the hide, especially the tail.  Now, your pelt should be ready for display in your home, or used in any number of outdoor crafts.

Now, small game isn’t all I’ve been targeting lately as Deer season is still very much active.  I had an opportunity recently to spend a few days on the Alston Ranch in Zephyrhills where I was fortunate enough to bring home a pair of fine hogs, which are now entirely ground into sausage.  This coming weekend, I’ll be taking advantage of the last deer hunt of the season on the Citrus Wildlife Management Area, just north of our county line.

For any others fortunate enough to have a permit for this weekend’s hunt, focus on the foods.  We’re in a pretty defined period between the cycles of the rut with a moon just leaving full.  Late morning and mid-afternoon feeds are to be expected and it’d be best to try to locate the feeding grounds.   The bucks will be most active racking on as much weight as they can to recover from the last rut cycle and to prepare their bodies for the rigors of the next.

There have been some tremendous bucks taken off of this property so far this year, including a handful qualifying for the book.  Not a real surprise as this particular WMA has a reputation for bucks harvested there which have met the minimum standard for entry into the Florida Buck Registry.

 As always, I’d love to hear about your adventures and maybe see a photo or two of your successes at [email protected]  God Bless and Good Hunting!

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