Skinning Birds

You may have already tried skinning or, after you have gone off the deep end with your tying, you may encounter deceased feather or, fur producers. Since this series really focuses more on feathers than fur, I will give the steps I take to skin birds. If you want my steps for fur bearers, e mail me and, I'll be glad to give them to you.

It takes me about hour to skin a bird like a Pheasant. You can certainly rip a skin off a bird much faster than that but, when I remove the skin every feather the bird grew is still attached to the skin and, the very few that fall off are put in a numbered bag that follows the numbered skin.

My "system" for skinning Pheasants/birds is as follows. While you are doing all of this it's important not to open the body or sever blood vessels and to keep the feathers from touching fluids during the skinning. I use surgical scissors that have dull points. Make an incision just under the lower beak where the feathers end. Insert the scissors under the skin and cut straight down the neck and keel short of the vent. Separate the skin from the meat carefully and work your hands around the body and neck as far as possible. Note, while I am skinning a bird, I dust a little Borax on the skin as I go. This dries the moisture and eliminates any ruined feathers. Now, cut around the face at the feather line to the top beak. Lift the neck and peal the skin as far forward to the beak as you can and then cut the skull off of the beak with heavy scissors. Now hold the neck and work it away from the skin down the back as far past the wings as you can. This is the tricky part. Pull the skin down one of the wings like pulling off a glove, carefully working the skin off the wing as far as you can without tearing the skin. Cut the wing bone and, do the other side. Again holding the neck, pull the body off the skin to the legs and do the same as you did to the wings. I leave the feet on and you can pull the leg inside out to the knee where you cut the bone. There is no meat in the feet so there is nothing to rot. Now, pull the skin to the tail and go as far as you can without tearing the skin. Cut the tail off and, that's about it. All you really need to do is spread the skin out on news paper or other absorbent material to get rid of most of the moisture. You can either leave the skin on the paper to completely dry or, as I do, I use a hair dryer right after the bird has been skinned rather than leaving it to dry naturally. It only takes 5 or 10 minutes to dry the skin enough to handle it easier. Also, since I am trying to preserve the natural shape of the head, I stuff a paper towel in there after the hair dryer treatment. I also put some salt on the inside of the tail and stuff a towel into the area to absorb moisture. You could also do it in the legs and wings too but, I haven't. After the skin is dry or, mostly dry, turn the skin feather side up, turn the wings over and make a cut the length of the ulna and radius where there will be a little meat left. Open this up and remove some of the meat. I don't worry about getting it all out at this stage, it will be easier when it has cured and dried a bit. Then put a little pile of salt on the exposed meat. You can leave it this way until it completely dries. I don't do anything else to preserve the skins. In about a week the wings and feet will be dry. If the skin has any blood or dirt on it you can wash it at this stage and, dry it with a hair dryer. If you feel the need, spray the skin with an insect killer.

Note: I've recently done the wings a little differently and, it seems to be a better way that leaves the wing flexible so selection of feathers is easier. When peeling the skin off the body and wing, continue to strip the skin off the ulna and radius. This will require more work by forcefully separating the feather anchors that seem attached to the bone itself. This eliminates 90% of all the meat in the wing and makes a cleaner skin. When I grade a skin #1 that I have processed, it is the finest example of a skin and, most complete that you are likely to find anywhere.

There is a book called From Field to Fly by Scott Seymour, published by Frank Amato Publications that gives a pretty good overview of skinning birds and mammals. You can see a review of it here.

Happy Trails! Ronn Lucas, Sr. ~

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