Experimental Homestead

Skinning Deer and Goats for Perfect Hides and Carcasses



I slaughtered a goat a couple of days ago for meat and used the opportunity to make this video on proper skinning.  I’ve skinned hundreds of animals to develop this simple strategy, which works well for me.  It could be streamlined by anyone with enough practice and experience, but I think the approach is pretty solid.  Yes, some of you aren’t as big or strong as I am and may think this method is not possible for you.  It may take quite a bit longer and you may have to do a little more cutting, but don’t give up too easy!  You may have to use the knife a little more, but use it only where you really actually have to and do your best to muscle and technique your way through the rest of it.  Get all up in that carcass and use your bodyweight, and you may be surprised at what you can do!  No need to be a purist.  If you have to use a knife, then so be it, but it seriously takes FOREVER to skin an animal carefully with a knife and you will still slip up and cut the skin sometimes.

Countless hides are ruined every day due to poor skinning which is by far and away the norm, even when people are well intentioned.  Share this video with those hunters and animal raisers you know to help change that!  Hides are a valuable resource and tanning is an accessible skill for homesteaders and small farmers.  I’m still working on that tanning book, which is going to make it more accessible than it has every been, but this goat was a bit of a distraction among others.  It’s almost processed and put away now, just have to render the fat and salt the skin (which may also be videos) and wrap some stuff for the freezer, then I won’t have to worry about meat… at least until buck season opens in a couple of weeks.

This approach is somewhat applicable to lambs and sheep as well, and some parts to skinning almost any animal.

August 1, 2015 - Posted by | animal parts, skins, tanning | , , , , , , , , , ,


  1. A friend came and helped us slaughter, skin and butcher our sheep and aside from hanging our sheep by the rear legs, this is the method he taught us. Using the fists to separate the skin is surprisingly effective. Quite an experience for a city born girl like me I can tell you. And yes, I did get my hands dirty. :) Best meat I’d ever eaten too.

    Comment by rabidlittlehippy | August 1, 2015 | Reply

    • Awesome! Way to go Rabid, get right in there! :)

      Comment by Stevene | August 1, 2015 | Reply

  2. Nice work, good video.should be obligatory for butchers. I’ve seen some of those criminals actually slitting the skin in purpose just for to get a better hold.
    Though I have skinned more than a hundred goats just those past two years, I don’t have much to add – just a few points really. Oh and I’ll adopt the towel in the belt idea. so good and simple… I keep wiping my knife on the poor creature’s nose. Also having 2 knives around looks clever, but I don’t predict much success for myself in breaking the habit of just using the buck-knife from my belt and constantly sharpening it. alright:
    1. a cable ratchet puller comes extremely handy for lifting the carcass. this one is a smallish goat, but you sometimes get those 80 kg monsters, or if you skin he-goats (I find their skin inferior to females, so I rarely do) even heavier. I for the final pull, raising the carcass higher helps a lot. then also you don’t have to gut it on the ground (I guess this is hunters’ habit. I only know butchers). Also, when I get a carcass that’s not so fresh (not for human consumption… just hide and dogfeed) I don’t wanna cuddle with it so much i skin it on ground level, on a tarp between two posts with ratchet pullers, but that’s another story.
    2. I do all the initial cuts when still on the ground. I find it easier: I hold the hoof between my knees to get the skin stretched, and then remove the lower leg straight away. I also remove the udder/scrotum (the udder skin is useless, and the scrotum skin useful separately). If hanged from the back feet, I remove the head when carcass is hanged high enough for the neck not to touch the ground.
    3. with heavy or weak (pregnant, sick, just after giving birth, etc.) goats, I have seen necks breaking (the sinew always holds, but the muscle may tear), which is a real bummer and maybe even dangerous to a certain extent. such goats are better off hanged from the rear legs. not the case in this video of course.
    4. when this side flank whatever it was you called it starts to peel with the skin, which almost always happen, I use my thumb and never the knife to get between it and the skin – a little hard to explain… it has to do with holding the flank’s edge between the forefinger and the thumb of one hand and push the other hand’s thumb or fingers between the layers… you probably know what I mean. it tends to look like it’s too late for it, but it usually isn’t. I guess if you are very skilled with a knife it’s ok to use it like you did on the video. I’m definitely not, I’m sure I’d make score marks.
    5. I never bother to start the skin with a knife all the way from the neck down. from what I’ve seen, the only spots that really want knifing are the knees and *sometimes* the skin at the sternum (I start peeling in the corner where the front leg incision meets the neck incision, and when I get, by pulling with both hands, to the sternum, if it doesn’t give in I touch it with the knife, and that’s it).
    6. the front leg incision I do a bit more to the front – still on the inside, but more to the front. I’m not sure if it’s better or worse, I just mention it because it might have something to do with the previous point.

    It became a bit long maybe, my apologies to those who got bored I hope you all know the PgDn button

    Thanks for the video, I know skinning and talking simultaneously can’t be easy in such heat!

    Comment by nimrod | August 2, 2015 | Reply

    • Good stuff Nimrod! I’ll bust this out next time I skin a goat. I don’t skin consecutively enough any more to make those kinds of refinements. I’ve done a lot more deer than goats too, and they tend to be tougher and require more opening cuts, especially around the neck and breast, though it depends on the animal and the size. It can just about all be fisted off, but it’s usually not worth it. I’m not a purist, so I’ll use the knife when I think it will save me time/energy and I think I can get away with it without cutting the skin, like at the breast. Also, those little two inch breast tags on the skin always get cut off eventually anyway. I think the big revelation for me at some point was flaying as little as possible, going in high, working down and coming out the cuts from the inside. That saves all the finicky starting in at the edges, and it’s cleaner. Deer also shed like crazy, almost always. It’s a constant battle to keep hair off your hands.

      I’ve actually skinned a lot more animals hung upside down. It has it’s advantages, but on deer, the skinning the neck on an upside down deer can be brutal and require a bunch of knife work. Also, the fell tends to want to come off with the skin more. I’ve used the ratchet hand winches a lot before, but never had one at home. I’ve got one that I picked up at a yard sale, but haven’t had a place to set it up. I’ve also used an electric winch, which is awesome if there are a lot to do. I always manage somehow to get them up, after gutting on the ground, but it’s not always easy.. I tend to gut on the ground, but always thought it was easier to make the front leg cuts while hanging (if hung by the neck that is). Everyone comes up with different stuff that works better for them. In some way, I’m always relearning it every time, because I don’t remember most of the small details and don’t think about it enough to rememeber. If I did it more I would probably have more small specific things like you do, but my skinning is spread out over long periods of time now. I used to skin more consecutive deer, but only in a short season, or even over a couple days a year at check points and meat processors. With intent, anyone could shave off a lot of time and effort if doing it every day. At this point, I find it “easiest” to follow my basic strategy, get the thing off and move on to whatever else I have to do.

      I hope skins will start becoming valuable again. It is a shame that we have gotten to the point that they are pretty much considered worthless.

      Thanks for the extensive comments.

      Comment by Stevene | August 2, 2015 | Reply

    • BTW, that backstrap sinew video is coming, probably next week….

      Comment by Stevene | August 2, 2015 | Reply

  3. So what about that golf ball/vehicle method of skinning deer I’ve seen online–not quite as intimate, but it looks a cinch. Is it suitable, or problematic? I suppose you could ruin a hide before you knew it if it didn’t go right. Have you ever heard of that?

    Comment by Vic Johanson | August 5, 2015 | Reply

    • That works. I’ve used a winch like that mostly. It does work really well. If using a car, you need someone to drive really slow and someone to monitor/skin. I remember needing to stop for a second to get in there with a knife a few times, but I don’t remember where. It’s been a while. Probably the flank. we just left the ears on the deer and tied a rope around them instead of using a golf ball. That’s how I was taught by an old timer friend that set the thing up and it always worked fine. I know you don’t want to be anywhere near that carcass when the hide comes off, it swings around like crazy! By the end of the pull it’s hanging at a pretty extreme angle. I’m not sure when I’d ever bother to set that up though. I’ve known about it for a long time, but never seem to use it.

      Comment by Stevene | August 5, 2015 | Reply

  4. Reblogged this on Paleotool's Weblog.

    Comment by George Crawford | August 6, 2015 | Reply

    • Awesome, thanks, more hides saved!

      Comment by Stevene | August 6, 2015 | Reply

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