Unless you are within close proximity of your taxidermist, 30 minutes or less, your bear should be skinned in the field. Bears will retain their body heat for a long time, especially if they are carrying a lot of fat. Heat, as well as moisture, create big problems for furs. Not only does the combination of both heat and moisture cause bacteria growth, it will likely make the hair begin to slip. Large bald spots in hides are less than ideal and create problems if you want a full-size rug or mount. Waiting too long to skin and cool the hide can create irreversible damage and you could ruin the hide completely. And while we’re talking bald spots, don’t drag a bear out of the woods. Naturally, dragging can damage the hide and cause the hair to rub or pull off leaving you with patches of naked hide. If the outside temperatures are cool, around 40 degrees or below it gives you a wider window to work. However, in warm temps you should work quickly to ensure that your hide stays in good shape. You want it to stay as cool and dry as possible.
Once your bear is skinned and you are ready to pack it out, don’t put the hide in a plastic bag. The heat of the hide inside the plastic bag will create an oven like atmosphere where temperatures can soar. Instead, put the hide in a burlap bag or some other material that will allow it to breathe, but keep flies and other insects away. Burlap not only lets air circulate but it also allows fluids to escape too, keeping your hide as dry as possible. Remember, moisture and heat are the enemies of a hide.
Once back at your vehicle or camp, a good way to cool your hide is to put it in a cooler filled with frozen water bottles. If you can’t get it to the taxidermist right away, freeze it. For best results, don’t roll your hide, instead fold it, skin to skin. By folding, it will thaw out quicker and more evenly. Once folded, place it on top of a plastic bag in the freezer, not inside the bag. The bag will keep the hide from sticking to the freezer walls and anything else inside. Once it has frozen thru, then put it inside a plastic bag. When transporting bear hides, some hunters place the skull in the center of the hide and then fold it up, essentially creating an envelope for the skull. The problem with this method is that it can take days for a bear skull to freeze all the way through when it’s buried in the hide. Keeping them separate ensures a more expediated cooling process.
Quick field care tips for bear hides:
- Don’t drag your bear.
- Don’t parade it around in the back of your truck in the heat.
- Skin it as quickly as possible after shooting.
- Keep the hide as cool and dry as possible.
- Don’t lay hides in the sun.
- Don’t put your hide in a plastic bag, unless it’s frozen.
- When skinning, always cut from the skin side up. Cutting down can cause hair to fall out.
- Don’t salt the hide unless it has been properly fleshed first.
- Get it to the taxidermist as soon as possible.
In order to prevent slipping and hide deterioration, it’s important that you take care of it properly in the field from the start.