Preparing Buffalo Hides for Tanning

Buffalo have a short time frame to produce a perfect hide. In most areas of the U.S., December 15 to January 15 is the best time to have a buffalo hide tanned hair on. There are exceptions of course! When considering on having your hide tanned, remember the cost of tanning an excellent winter robe is the same as tanning a poorly haired robe from an animal killed in April.

Problems we may encounter when receiving buffalo hides are:

  • Meat and fat left on hide around hump
  • Tail is not split out completely
  • Hide is not salted properly along edges
  • On large bulls, neck area is thick and not dried out
  • Hide has been air dried and has grease burned
  • Hair is completely matted with manure
  • Hide was unsalted and frozen, then shipped
  • Hide is shipped wet and in plastic bag
  • Hides are salted, wet and folded with hair on the outside
  • Hides are nicked and cut around hump and butt area

Any skin should be completely fleshed of all meat, fat and any connective tissue before salting or drying.

Why do you need to salt a hide?

Bacteria action is stopped when the moisture content is reduced to below 15%. It is important that this process is carried out as soon as possible. Even though some of the bacteria is killed by drying, other bacteria and the spores deposited by bacteria only become dormant and will be activated upon rehydration. Bacteria indiscriminately attacks the hide substance by secreting enzymes. They in turn redigest the broken down protein. This is especially important to control when tanning to prevent skin degrading and hair slippage. Once the protein that holds the hair follicle is destroyed, hair slippage is irreversible. Although drying a skin as quickly as possible is important, drying by direct heat or exposure to the sun can cause gelatinization and case hardening. The water soluble glues and fats become insoluble. This is seen when hides get a hard yellow appearance on the flesh side Salting not only dehydrates the skin but it combines with the proteins and separates the fiber. This makes rehydration much easier.

Raw skins should never be salted below freezing. A skin salted at 0 degrees F. will only have 20% penetration. Do not salt a skin and then store in the freezer, it does the hide no good. It takes approximately 12 hours at room temperature for salt to penetrate the average skin. Buffalo hides from large bulls can have a thickness of one to two inches in the neck and shoulder area. No matter how much salt you use, it will require several days or even weeks for these areas to completely dry out. Bacteria can cause hair slippage in these thick areas while drying. Once the hide is off the animal, you can thin the thickest areas with a sharp knife before salting. The salt will only penetrate from the flesh side. After 24 hours the salt should be shaken off and the skin re-salted with clean salt. Only then can the skin be stored in a cool, dry area.

For skins that are very thick (older bulls) or to be stored in the summer months or skins that are extremely bloody, the following soak solution is recommended. For each gallon of water add three pounds of salt and a bactericide/fungicide (Pinesol). Leave the skin in this solution for at least 24 hours, drain, salt, and dry.

Hides stored during the summer months can be infected with hide weevils. You will notice small gray larvae cases or actual larvae on the flesh side. They like warm wet and fatty hides. Storing hides folded hair in will help you see them on the flesh side. Another element that is common with buffalo hides is Red Heat Mold. Hides that are stored damp and in a warm area can be infected with a rust red mold. This mold will cause hair slippage and can damage the epidermis of leather hides. Drying the hide completely or spraying them on the flesh side with a bactericide will help avoid this.

Remember if you hang your hide over a rack to dry, REMEMBER TO FOLD IT HAIR SIDE IN BEFORE IT DRYS STIFF. It is a pain in the butt to try and ship a hide that is dried flat. Folding it dry will crack the skin and cause damage! We discourage receiving hides this way as they are hard to get into our rehydrating tanks!

Our Hair-on Tanning Method
The buffalo hides processed for hair-on are tanned by us here in Dubois. We use a syn tan. This produces a soft durable leather. All hides are machine and hand combed. If your hide is in the shedding stage, the long golden on the shoulders hair is not attached to the skin and will probably be combed out! Matted hair tends to pull out. We trim all the edges of your hide to ensure a uniform appearance. Faces and ears are trimmed off unless otherwise instructed. (Extra costs may be added to tan entire head) Large cut holes are sewn free of charge. We measure the square footage by multiplying length X width. ALL OF OUR HIDES HAVE A FREE LIFETIME CLEANING AND RECONDITIONING POLICY. This should be done at least every two years under normal conditions. We also can recondition any other hides you may have. Call for pricing.

We are now producing rawhide using only organic materials. Absaroka can offer custom processing of your skins into rawhide or you can purchase skins from us. Buffalo rawhide is an excellent skin for drums.

Hide Preparation

Make clean straight cuts! Stay in the center of the hide when cutting. Keep tail intact, skin to just behind the ears and down to knee on legs. Do not cut scrotum in half, go around it.
Once hide is removed follow the next instructions:

  • Remove all flesh and fat, The better job you do, the better results you can expect.
  • Lay skins flat and salt thoroughly, using a fine or medium grade salt, livestock or hay salt works fine. We recommend 50 lbs. per elk, 25 lb/deer, 100 lbs/moose, buffalo, cow and horse. Salt is an inexpensive investment. Use plenty of it.
  • Allow skins to dehydrate, not puddle. After a couple of days hang on a rack or incline to drain fluids. Shake off loose salt and re-salt with clean salt. Allow to dry (not hard). Flip hide over and allow hair side to dry. Leave hide with hair side up………then
  • Fold skins carefully, hair side in.
  • If skins do not dry in humid weather, a fan to circulate the air is helpful.
  • Handling & Shipping
  • Be sure to count your hides accurately! Enclose a packing list with each order. Include your name, shipping address and phone number for a safe return.
  • UPS is suggested for shipping parcels under 150 lbs. Use a cardboard box or burlap bag. Do not ship in plastic! No exceptions!!! DO NOT SHIP FROZEN HIDES!!!!!
  • For larger shipments, use common carrier. In state shipping is inexpensive for multiple hides
  • When calling your shipper, be sure to inform them you are sending green salted hides for the lowest rates.
  • Ship all orders prepaid. Return shipping is COD

We reserve the right to reject items, prior to finishing, which have major hair slippage or defects to the point where skin value is lost. We will call you if any problems occur.

Any additional skinning or fleshing on our premises is done at a rate of $20.00 per hour. Each hide is punched with your three digit receiving number and marked with a plastic tag upon arriving at our tannery. Cuts, rubs and other marks are noted on the receiving ticket.

Conditions of acceptance: In view of the many factors which have a definite effect on the final results of tanning (such as primeness, general conditions of each specimen, climatic conditions, lack of knowledge) we assume no responsibility nor guarantee the results of any tanned hide.

All tanning is done at owner’s risk, due to the fact that we have no control over the handling prior to receiving shipment.

We believe our tanning is the best around and take great pride in our work. We have tanned buffalo robes available for sale also. Many items created with buffalo can be produced for you with your hide or ours. We are always in the market to purchase raw buffalo hides.

Stop by and visit our tannery and store.

Joe Brandl


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