How to Skin a Bear

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Congratulations on harvesting a bear. But now what’s next?

Maybe you plan to keep the hide for a rug, a half mount, or a full mount as well as some meat. So the next steps that you take will be crucial to maintain your trophy.

Despite the working conditions of the wild, knowing how to go about skinning a bear makes the process simpler and alleviates complications. 

Essentials for Preparing to Skin a Bear

Before making the first cut on the bear hide, make sure that all the necessary tools are at hand. This is vital to successfully skin a bear since time is of the essence.

There will be a need for a short length of rope, some stout string, and paper toweling for which to wipe your hands with.

Check your thin-bladed and sturdy hunting knife, plus a thin blade and latex gloves to counter the slippery, greasy bear carcass. You’ll also need a headlamp, a flashlight, or a lantern if you’re skinning the bear after dark. 

Your short-bladed hunting knife should be of the best quality and recently sharpened. A blunt knife will have you hissing and grunting before long.

The toughness of bear hide can dull sharp but low-quality knives in a couple of minutes. Your knife’s blade shouldn’t be longer than 4 inches or shorter than 2 ½ inches.

I prefer a short blade to a long one, as it works better in the bear’s skin’s nooks and crannies. It also gives me greater control since my fingers are closer to work. 

How Long Does It Take to Skin a Bear?

If you are working in the field, skinning a bear can be a time-consuming task. Expect to spend at least two hours with good lighting, and over three in poor conditions.

How to Skin a Bear for a Life-Size Mount or Rug

Before making the first cut, look your bear over procedurally. This will help you convert your bearskin into a rug by a taxidermist, or when you are looking to mount your hide.

Familiarize yourself with your bear’s body, and note all the significant pelt blemishes before starting the skinning process. Check the groin, armpits, ears, and paw bottoms.

Make sure you’ve taken photos of your bear kill before stripping it of its coat. This will help for Fish and Game while making for a nice album to hang next to your half mount, full mount, or bear rug display.

Making the Initial Incision

Roll over the bear, so that it’s lying on its back, legs, and head facing skywards. You can spread the legs wider by tying them to adjacent tree trunks or logs.

Make the incision starting under the bear’s tail, cutting forward onto its genitals. Remove the tailbone by cutting the underside of the tail. 

If it’s a male, cut around the testicles and penis, leaving them attached again for Fish & Game purposes. Don’t cut deep or too close, as the former causes bleeding while the latter can put holes in the bearskin.

Stay in the middle of the belly and make your cut straight up the bear’s chest. Your cut will traverse the neck and stop parallel to both lines at the corners of the bear’s mouth. 

Cutting the Skin off the Front Legs

Start your cut from the paw and continue up the leg until you’ve reached the elbow point of the bear’s front legs. Make sure to place your knife to the armpit’s center, which then angles from the legs to the middle of the chest. 

Each cut of the front arms should meet at the same point on the bear’s chest. 

Working along the Bear’s Rear Legs 

Start from the paws of the rear legs and cut the point of its heel. Cut up the bear’s back leg, looking toward its vent under the tail as the point to direct your knife.

Stop your about three widths of your finger from the bear’s anus. This leaves enough skin or fur at the back and sides of the bear for a rug. Avoid cutting too far into the animal’s groin or the inside of its rear legs.

Ensure that each cut is made in a way that will appeal on the end bear rug product. 

Skinning the Bear’s Body

After making all the necessary limb cuts, you can begin to remove the skin from the bear’s carcass. To get the hide off the body effectively, cut properly through either the toe joints of each paw as well as the ankle joints. 

On the rear paws, work your skinning knife up towards the tail and then skin the bear forward to its head. 

Next, I will tell you how to skin a bear’s paws.

How to Skin a Bear’s Paws

To keep or not to keep a bear’s paws? Removing the pads or leaving them depends on what you intend to do with the bearskin. If your bear skinning is to get a rug, the paws are not a requirement.

Taking the Skin without the Paw Pads

For full or half-size mounts, paw pads are usually left on the hide.

If you decide not to keep the pads, cut around it on the hairline and peel the skin until you can see the bear’s toes’ bones. 

With your hunting knife, sever the toe bones away from the foot, leaving the entire pad on the bear’s bony structure. Later, I will tell you of a string trick to use for removing the toe bones

If you are looking to make a bear rug from your skin, there’s no need to take out the paw pads. 

Taking the Bearskin with the Pads

When your intention for skinning a bear is to make a life-size full or half mount, keep the pads on the skin you remove. Start cutting at the paws hairline, and cut forward only two-thirds of the way around the pad to leave one side attached to the bear’s hides.

Cut under the paw pad and skin the hide away from the toe bone structure. You now have good access to the toes’ joints, which makes it easier to remove the bear’s foot.

How to Skin a Bear’s Head

To cut your way around the bears’ head, always start with the mouth. I make my cuts from the lips, stripping them away from the lower gum line to skin back up towards the bear’s eyes. 

Do the same for the nose, cutting through the cartilage to pull it over back to the eyes. Loosen the muzzle skin as far back as possible as it’ll be of help later in your bear skinning process. 

Go up to the eyes after finishing with the muzzle, and the lower part of the bear’s face. Cut as close to the skull bone as possible before beginning to cut the rear of the head. 

Skinning the Backside of the Head

Pull the skin towards the nose, and begin to cut up towards the ears. Once you reach the ear canals, cut carefully to leave long ears for your mount. 

Ensure that your knife runs below the ear-butt. You can insert your finger into the ear canal, squeezing with the other hand to feel how far to cut below the butt. 

Cutting Around Eyes and the Eye Sockets

This is the point that most bear skinning mistakes happen. To be precise, stick your finger into the eye socket, familiarizing yourself with the orbit before starting to cut. 

Once you’ve noted the points at which the lower or upper eyelids align, begin to cut against the skull bone. Cut into the eye socket but don’t let any excess skin remain around the openings of the bear’s eyes.

Turning out the Bear’s Ears

Both of the bear’s ears should be turned inside out to make cutting the cartilage effortless. Use a slender prop or your sharpening steel file to force skin downwards while cutting.

First, cut the ear butt’s muscles from the bear’s ear cartilage. After inserting your prop, turn the skin inside out and stop at about an eighth of an inch to the ear’s edge. 

Leave the cartilage attached to the skin for full or half mount purposes as well as for a bear rug

Get within 1/8th inch around the edges and to the tips of the ears. Complete the ear turning to achieve the original shape of the ear. 

Splitting the Lips and the Nose

Opening the lips of your bear will allow salt, used for preservation, to enter into the underlying hide. While holding the lip’s skin with one hand, start cutting from the gum lines and cut downwards to the lips’ thickness. 

While cutting, use your thumb to price away from the skin from the teeth. Cut the upper and lower lips, going around the bear’s mouth.

After the lips, split the nose cartilage open as well. You will have to identify the septum, the nostril separator, and cut right down its middle. 

How to Remove a Bear’s Toe Bones and Joints

Your bearskin is now hanging onto the feet by the toe bones. You want to take the foot with its nails for a full size or half mount or remove them if you’re aiming for a bear rug.  

Use the string trick, one I had mentioned earlier, to effectively remove the toe bones and joints, freeing your bearskin.

By now, you’ve skinned under each paw, splitting the toe bones from each other. Take a length of cord or string and, on one end, tie a slip knot.

Hold each toe bone as you cut it with the string, with the other end tied to something strong. Do this for each of the bones, removing all joints in the process. 

What to Do after Skinning a Bear 

All the work is done when you’ve removed the skin of the bear’s carcass completely. It would help if you also got rid of any excess meat or fat from the bear’s hide.

Once you’ve removed most of the inner debris from your skin that your knife missed, leave the rest for the taxidermist. 

It’s also vital that you set the hide’s fur and salt the inner side of the skin. Use approximately 15 to 20 pounds of salt for your average sized bear. 

Spread the salt over the skin, rubbing it into the face, ears, nose, and lips. After rubbing in salt, fold the skin fleshy part over the fleshy part, and then roll it up for transport.

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