Rattlesnakes are fascinating creatures that are found throughout North and South America. These large, venomous snakes are concentrated more in the Southwestern United States and Northern Mexico. They are one of the most iconic snakes in North America because of their characteristic rattle at the tip of the tail. Snake lovers love to know how to preserve rattlesnake skin for special purposes.
Rattlesnake skins are usually harvested for their aesthetic appearance and are used in making a wide range of products such as boots, wallets, guitar slings, and gun slings. If you happen to kill a rattlesnake, you might want to put its meat and skin to best use. Therefore, it is important to know how to prepare and preserve rattlesnake skin.
How to Preserve Rattlesnake Skin
Over the years, there have been lots of methods for preserving rattlesnake skins. Most of the old techniques were passed down from generations of Native Americans. Some of the techniques involve the use of diesel, anti-freeze salts, boards, and nails; but these methods yield poor results at best. However, we would be exploring the easiest and cost-effective methods of preserving rattlesnake skin. Here’s a breakdown of how to achieve this:
Basic materials to preserve rattlesnake skin
- Scissors or knife
- Staple-gun and staple pins
- Corkboards (a mildly large one that the skin would fit)
- Tanning solutions
- Butter knife
With the above materials, you can commence the skinning process of removing rattlesnake skin.
Cut and skin your dead rattlesnake
The first step would be to behead the dead rattlesnake. You need to remove the head because rattlesnakes are venomous and you really need to avoid the fangs. After beheading, keep the head carefully in a safe place. The head of any dead rattlesnake is still dangerous, up to several hours.
Cut the skin along the belly scales. Boxcutters are good but a pair of scissors will always work best. Be sure to cut slowly and very straight. The smoother and straighter your cut, the cleaner your finished product will be.
The next step would be the fleshing out. This involves separating the rattlesnake’s skin from its meat. Simply use a sharp knife or scissors to do this. However, there will be some flesh remaining on the underside of the skin. Use a blunt blade or butter knife to scrape this away and discard it. Do the best you can without damaging the skin. An undamaged skin is better for craft and other related uses, just like fabric.
Hold the snake and use short, quick scrapes to flesh the skin properly. You will need a little bit of pressure to achieve. Stretch the snake out with your other hand to remove all the creases around the edge. Fleshing the hides of a rattlesnake can take from one to two hours, depending on the size of the snake. Meanwhile, the middle skin of the snake can be particularly resistant to scraping. This is the part you will find the belly scales. You will need extra force when you get to this point.
Place the rattlesnake skin in a tanning solution
After fleshing, rinse the skin and dry. Place the skin in a jar full of equal parts of alcohol and glycerin. This is the tanning solution. It is basically 50% glycerin and 70% isopropyl alcohol. Be sure to completely submerge all of the skin and remove every air bubble from the skin. This will prevent contact between the skin and the tanning solution. When done, keep the jar lid closed for 2-3 days. You can stir the content once or twice a day.
On day three, remove the snake from the tanning solution and rinse with water. Any membrane that you couldn’t remove during the first round of fleshing will now be easy to discard.
Hang the skin at room temperature to dry out. This can take the entire day. At the end of the drying process, you will find the skin dry and supple. Turn it inside out so that the scales are facing outward. It is normal for the scales to shed during the fleshing process. If this is the case – then no worries.
The next step is stretching out the rattlesnake skin. You will need a staple gun to do this. Stretching involves tacking the skin to a board using staples pins. You can stretch the skin in either of two directions – length or width. If you stretch it in length, you are going to lose the width; and if you stretch it in width, you are going to lose the length.
The last step in the tanning process involves applying glycerin to the flesh side of the skin. Do not apply too much – just a little coat. You can now take the staples out. This is an easy and inexpensive method to tan your rattlesnake skin.
Other Ways to Preserve Rattlesnake Skin
While preserving rattlesnake skin with glycerin and alcohol continues to be a popular method of preservation, there are other methods that don’t require the tanning solution. We have commercially manufactured tanning chemicals or homemade solutions with lime and aluminum. You could also employ the use of borax, or even a rather unorthodox method involving the use of brain oil made from the brain of the rattlesnake. Here are the steps to take:
Flesh out the snakeskin right after cutting the skin from the body using a sharp fleshing blade. Wash and clean the skin completely using fresh water and soap. Be sure there are no traces of blood or other foreign materials.
You need to dry out the skin for a few days before tanning it. Attach the skin to a drying rack to allow for even drying. To achieve a larger hide, ensure that the skin is thoroughly stretched before hanging on the rack to dry.
Now that the snake is skinned and dried, you can move on to the tanning process. However, instead of utilizing glycerin and alcohol for the tanning, you can work with a number of other materials including brain oil obtained from the animal’s own brain. This oil acts as a natural tanning chemical.
Put the brain in a cup of water in a pot. Cook the mixture until it looks like soup. Pour the mixture into a blender and smoothen it out. Remove all moisture from the skin before applying your brain oil mixture. Once you’ve done this, wrap the skin in a bag and freeze for 24 hours. The freezing will enable the snakeskin to absorb the oil.
You can also try out the tanning process using pickle lime and aluminum, borax, or a snake tanning kit if you don’t want to use brain oil. Once you become adept at this craft, you have mastered how to preserve rattlesnake skin with reputable proficiency.