How to Tan a Squirrel Hide For Fly Tying

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How to Tan a Squirrel Hide For Fly Tying

Squirrels might be the ultimate critter. They are fun to hunt, taste amazing, and their fur is extremely useful. Squirrel tails and pel

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Squirrels might be the ultimate critter. They are fun to hunt, taste amazing, and their fur is extremely useful. Squirrel tails and pelts in particular are great for crafts and decorations, but where they really shine is fly tying. Tying flies and jigs with squirrel tails is nothing new. The multicolored fibers have been used for tying streamers and lead jigs for decades. With strokes of gray, brown, black, white, and even red, squirrel tails are a fantastic material for mimicking things fish love to eat, especially minnows and crayfish. 

Less appreciated but equally useful is squirrel body fur. Squirrel fur can be used as dubbing material for tying nymphs, dry flies, and more. To make some of the buggiest, best dubbing you’ve ever used, all you have to do is mix squirrel’s fur, hare’s mask, and your favorite flash dubbing in an old coffee grinder (see below). This yields a spikey dubbing that rolls on fly tying thread well and imparts a lot of movement and character in the water.

How to Tan a Squirrel Hide With Borax

The process is simple for preserving a squirrel pelt for fly tying. All you have to do is skin the squirrel, then stretch and pin the skin to a piece of cardboard before curing it for a few weeks. Salt has been a favorite way of preserving skin for fly tying for decades, but borax is far superior for curing hides and feathers. Furs cured with Borax come out much drier, less oily, and less prone to attracting bugs than hides cured with salt. It also leaves the pelt smelling like laundry detergent and not like a dead animal. If you follow the steps below, you’ll end up with a clean, dry, pelt and tail that is bug-free and perfect for tying flies. Fur cured this way will last much longer, too, and you can feel good about giving a nice, non-stinky gift to the fly tiers in your life. 

  1. Skin the squirrel: Cut from the groin to the neck, then along each leg. Peel the skin away from the back legs until you get to the tail. Cut around the base of the tail, then carefully twist until the bone breaks free. Peel the pelt upwards, skinning the body and top legs, then cut the head from the body at the base of the neck. 
  2. Cut the head from the pelt, then scrape and cut off any remaining fat or flesh. 
  3. Place the pelt fur-side down on a piece of cardboard, and stretch it out using tacks or pins. 
  4. Cover all exposed skin with Borax. Make sure to pack some around the base of the tail. 
  5. Set the pelt in a cool, dry place for a few weeks, and let it cure.

Read Next: How to Skin and Tan Your Own Bucktails For Fly Tying

How To Make Dubbing From a Squirrel Fur

Once your squirrel pelt is cured, remove the pins and brush off the borax. Shave a patch of fur from the cured pelt using a beard trimmer. Place the shaved squirrel fur in an old coffee grinder with a few pinches of hare’s mask fur and a pinch of your favorite sparkle dubbing such as Hareline Ice Dub. Pulse the grinder a few times to blend. You may need to pull some of the fibers apart if they wind too tightly.  



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