If you’ve ever worn a pair of white rubber boots on a date…You might be Cajun.
If your date did too…Your offspring might be Cajun.
Every self respecting, swamp creeping Cajun (or any breed of gator hunter), must “learn yourself” how to skin an alligator for leather.
Below is an easy to follow guide on how to skin an alligator. This method is used in order to achieve what is known as the “belly skin.” This is the piece commonly used to make leather products out of tanned alligator leather. The other method known as “horn back,” which is more common if you are using the hide for taxidermy, or to display the hide on the wall will not be shown here.
How to belly skin an alligator:
First of all, you want to make your initial cuts with a sturdy blade that is as sharp as you can get it. A dull knife if a dangerous knife. You will need a sturdy knife because you will be cutting around the scoots, and through the tough hide so you don’t want a flimsy blade for this purpose (and you also don’t want to dull your skinner all up either). The actual skinning is best done with a skinning knife like a havalon, or something similar because you will not have to waste time stopping to sharpen the blade.
Start your initial cut by making a cut across the head (width ways) from the rear of one eye socket across the top of the scalp to the rear of the other eye socket. Then make a cut (length ways) down the head of the alligator to where the scoots (the bone filled bumps on the back of the gator) start to branch out across the back.
Next you will make a fork in the incision you’ve made, and begin cutting down the length of the gator in the direction of the tail, keeping your blade on the inside (closer to the spine and away from the belly), of the first set of scoots. Notice that you can “snake” your cuts so that the incision makes its way from the neck of the gator to where you can follow the line between the first and second row of outer scoots.
Keep this cut between the first and second scoots all the way down to the tail (we will take it from there later). Make this cut on both sides of the gator.
Keeping your cuts inside of the first scoot gives the leather maker room to trim the excess after the leather is made without having to loose precious amounts of leather. The leather that contains the scoots is not considered prime leather, and is usually discarded by those who make leather goods out of alligator hide.
Make your cut (staying inside the scoots) all the way down the length of the alligator’s tail until your cuts meet back again toward the skinny part of the gator’s tail.
When the tail gets so thin the scoots meet in the fin-like ridge along the aft side of the gator tail, then you will simply cut that ridge off as shown below.
This allows for you to skin the gator all the way to the very tip of the tail (which is still holding your tag).
Please note that YOU ARE NEVER TO REMOVE THE ALLIGATOR TAG. The alligator is not considered a leather product until it is returned from the tannery, so you MUST keep the tag in the hide until it is considered leather. Please read the regulations/laws regarding same before doing any of this work.
Next you will make an incision from the top side of the gator’s leg (remember all of your cuts should be in the top of the animal, because the good leather is on the belly side of the alligator) completing your incision at the intersection with the previously made between the first and second row of scoots.
Now you can start skinning around to the belly side of the alligator. Do not nick or cut through the hide or the hide decreases in value substantially. The spots that you are most likely to make a slice in are in the arm pits and the neck area. These areas are where the skin is the thinnest, thus making the most supple leather. The catch is that they are also the most likely place to screw up, so take care. Go slow, take your time, and make certain that what you are cutting through is not the hide itself. You can always scrape the extra material off later, but you can’t “un-cut” a hide.
At the head, you will skin around the neck & jawbone until you get the the throat leather.
When you get to the throat area run your knife along the inside of the jaw bone as shown below.
Then using the skin flap from under the gator’s chin, skin along the throat area until you have met up with the rest of the skinned out hide.
Fleshing the Hide:
Once you have the hide free from the carcass, you can begin fleshing the hide. To flesh the hide, you must use a hide scrapper (sold at most taxidermy supply stores, etc.), a knife, or I’ve even heard of a sharpened metal spoon being used to remove any and all flesh, fat, or other material from the hide. If you do not remove absolutely all of this material, you will likely end up with a spoiled hide where the material has not been removed. Many veterans start off using a pressure washer to get the bulk of the material off, then finish with a scrapping technique.
Salting the Hide:
(1) Once the hide is all white on the flesh side with no fleshy material remaining, you will pour at least an inch of salt across the flesh side of the hide making sure to coat the entire hide. Use kosher salt that does not contain iodine. You can usually purchase 10 to 50 pound bags of non-iodized salt from big box stores or feed supply stores for dirt cheap. Do not be stingy here. The salt will pull out the moisture within the hide, and help to prevent bacteria from growing, which will help to preserve it.
(2) Fold the hide with the flesh side touching, then roll the hide up.
(3) Place it on a board at an angle to allow for the hide to drain fluid, and store it in a cool place out of direct sunlight.
(4) Let the hide drain for roughly 24 hours.
(5) Unroll the hide, and scrape off all the damp salt and discard the used salt. Never reuse this salt. Once the hide has been scraped again, you will add another layer of salt on the hid just as thick as the last one. Roll the hide as before.
(6) Let it sit on the angled board to drain for 48 hours, and repeat the scrapping of the salt (and any remaining flesh material), and reapply the salt. Once the hide is salted in this manner, it can be kept in a cool dry place until it is ready to be shipped to the tannery or taxidermist (or until you begin tanning it yourself).
Make certain that you read up and fully understand your local, state, federal, international, and intergalactic laws regarding the act of harvesting, skinning, shipping, tanning, or storing of any game species prior to starting this process. If you are in any way unsure of the laws regarding any part of the process, then contact the appropriate authorities who will be more than happy to assist you in not being a moron. Lets act responsibly as sportsmen and sportswomen in order to be able to continue to enjoy and have our descendants enjoy the good Lord’s gift of natural resources.
Excellent article, my friend! Very enlightening. Am I correct in assuming that this technique will work just as well on the crocodiles that we have over here?
I’ve never had a chance to try, but I’m sure it would work just fine for any crocodilus at the family reunion.
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