A couple months ago, while traveling to a friends property in the early morning, I came across two roadkill raccoons within a few hundred yards of each other. One female with a light tan color, the other a male with a darker grayish tint. Each one small and juvenile, and not even a shred of a winter coat. Poor little creatures most likely died instantly since they both lay in the middle of the road. I picked them up and took them to my friends where we skinned them and ate their meat. Raccoon legs taste amazing, if you ever get the chance, seriously try it. I don’t quite know what to do with organ meats yet, so we left the rest of the carcasses for the coyotes or other scavengers.
The fist raccoon hide I skinned I stapled to a board as you can see in this video. Scraping it felt difficult and awkward, but I didn’t know anyone who had worked on a hide differently. The tanning process didn’t really work out either. I tried washing out the grease in the hide, then stretching it dry over a post. Then I added a brain broth by rubbing it on the flesh side, soaking a t-shirt in the mixture and rolling it up for a night. The brains didn’t seem to get all that deep, perhaps because the scraping process didn’t get as deep as it could have, or perhaps because soaking it that way just doesn’t work all that well. Regardless, I had to do this process twice, which means in the end I stretched the raccoon hide dry three separate times, using a stretching beam or post each time. By the end I had a raccoon hide with not a lot of fur and still very stiff. I managed to make a half of a hat out of it anyway as you can read here. But of course, regular readers with know that a dog ate that hat while visiting LA.
So when I came across two raccoons I knew my chance had come to have another go at making a cookskin cap. This time I figured I’d put them on racks and scrape them on the rack and tan them on the rack. This way I thought I wouldn’t lose as much hair. After spending some time putting them on racks and trying to scrape them, I felt so insanely futile. The sun had crest past the tree line and darkness would soon fall. I cut them off the racks, threw a big log against a tree, pulled out my buck knife and started vigorously wet-scraping them. To my surprise, it worked very well. The fat came right off, the membrane came right off and the hair didn’t fall out as I had feared.
With the hides nice and clean, I put them back on the racks not sure what to do next. I took them with me to the Porcupine Palace skill-share and asked advice of several people there and heard their different experiences tanning raccoon. One person said brains, another eggs, another soap, another urine, another said nothing but the oil in the hide itself. I brought eggs because they don’t cost much and I figured I’d experiment with that technique, but the idea of trying nothing first seemed like the most efficient way to go. Like I said, on my previous raccoon the advice I took involved washing the natural oils out of the hide. This time I just soaked the hide over night in the creek and stretched it dry the next day. I began stretching it on a post like before, but noticed the hair really getting pulled out by that tool. My friend Lonnie suggested stretching it only by hand, as he had seen the same thing happen before using a post. So I stretched the whole thing by hand, without anything added into it. It worked out really well, although some stiffness came back as the fur side still had some moisture in it when I thought I had finished, and it wicked back into the hide, stiffening it slightly.
With the next hide I again used nothing but the natural oils in the hide and again, found it to work really well. Again, I stretched only by hand. This time around I made sure it did not have moisture in the fur when I finished. It still had some stiffness, especially around the neck/face. But way less than my first attempt using brains. I figure next time, ideally I will stretch the hide dry right after skinning. This will make sure the oil has freshness and the fur won’t have the dampness from having to rehydrate the hide through soaking.
Next I sewed the two hides together tails in, with an opening where their mouths meet. I sewed my smoking skirt into them and assembled this cool little smoking setup. An average mini barbecue, my tipi poles, the smoking skirt and the hides. I used the pine shavings for the chicken coop as punk for creating the smolder. The rain came before I could really help it but I didn’t mind. I did worry a little about the hides getting too wet while smoking, so at one point I took them into the garage and brought them back out when the rain stopped.
Skinned, scraped, stretched and smoked, I could finally start cutting. Before I did, I bought a classic fur hat pattern from the local leather shop, to make sure I didn’t fuck it up. I also found this amazingly helpful and silly video from “thecoonskincap.com”:
Although I didn’t watch the whole thing before I started cutting and sewing, I think next time I’ll go for the whole wrap around deal. Instead of using buckskin and my bone awl I decided to go easy on myself this time around and just use my glovers needles and artificial sinew. I stabbed myself numerous times with the needle and ended up bleeding into the buckskin liner quite a bit. I don’t know though, it seemed right to offer a little blood to those who died and this project. That might seem weird but it felt right to me, so I didn’t mind it.
I sewed the whole thing together and noticed it didn’t quite look right for two reasons. I switched the layout of the pattern to save space on the hides and ended up cutting them out with the fur going in the wrong direction. Not that big of a deal. Also the stiffness of the neck area made the seam on the top part stick out in a weird shape. All in all, not that bad of mistakes. It still looks pretty fucking cool, and I feel happy with the project. I’d really love to get super good at tanning hides and making clothes. I can’t wait for my next project to come along. Hopefully I’ll get some furs trapping in the next couple of months.
Thanks to everyone who helped me with this and who continues to help me figure these things out and experiment with them. Thank you to the raccoons who lost their lives at the hands of a hateful car culture.
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