Most of the hunters I hang out with are good at peeling the hide off a deer, but put a furry 300-pound bear down on the ground in front of them and they’ll step back, scratch their heads and ask, “Uh, now what?” But skinning out your rug is not hard. With our quick and easy 3-step plan you’ll have your hide ready for the taxidermist in less than an hour.
The Main Incision
Roll the bear onto its back and lay it spread-eagle. A buddy or two holding and stretching the legs are a big help, or you might tie a couple of outstretched paws to trees. Just get the animal flat and wide.
With a sharp knife, make an incision in the hide near the short tail. Insert your blade and cut all way up and over the belly to the bottom of the bear’s head and jaws. TIP: Stick your forefinger and middle fingers into the incision and just under the hide, and use them to guide your knife as you work toward the head. This greatly helps to make the 60- to 70-inch-long incision straight and clean.
Now at the underside of the front legs, cut straight out two feet or so from the body incision and stop at the knees. At the hind legs, start at the bottom of the main cut inches from the anus and slit straight out to the knees.
The Leg Cuts
Saskatchewan bear outfitter Grant Kuypers taught me this trick. At the point where your leg cuts end, cut and work through all four knee joints with your knife (or a small saw) and leave the lower leg bones in the hide with the feet, paws and claws. “A lot of taxidermists like that because it gives them something to hold onto as they skin out the lower legs to the claws,” says Kuypers.
We tried it and like it because it gives you four good hand-holds as you roll, lift and turn the bear for a full-body skinning job, which is what you do at this point. Simply pull the hide, skin with your knife, tug and skin some more until you peel the entire hide free from the body and legs. Skin and pull the hide up and tight as you can to the back of the bear’s head.
The Head Skinning
Skinning a bear’s head is just like caping a deer, so go for it. “Except that it’s easier because you don’t have to work around antlers with a knife or screwdriver,” adds Kuypers. Remember one rule and you’ll do fine: Go slowly and methodically and cut as closely to the skull as you can. Run your blade under the hide and right along bone and you can’t go wrong.
Skin up and over the back of the big, wide noggin until you come to the ears. Simply lop the ears off whole tight to the skull. Continue working down to the eyes. TIP: Insert a finger into the sockets from the fur side to get a good feel for where you’re cutting. Carefully cut under each eye socket; be careful to leave the entire membranes ringing the sockets on the face hide.
Keep skinning down the cheeks and through the tissue to expose those big, sharp teeth. Cut and skin as close as you can to the jaws. Leave lots of lip tissue inside on the hide. Once you separate the skin from the gums, skin down the snout, cut straight down through the nose cartilage and separate the whole hide from the skull. You’re done.
Never stick your hide in a plastic sack, but rather carry it in a breathable game bag. Get the hide to a taxidermist or freeze it asap. “Definitely the same day when it’s warm in May or June,” notes Kuypers. “The rug you get back in several months will look just awesome.”