How to Extract Deer Brain For Hide Tanning

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We are going to learn a simple way to extract the deer brain. If you are interested in tanning deer hides with brains, then this post is for you! I will link below to my step by step tutorial on tanning deer hides with brains. This post will help you understand how to extract deer brain for hide tanning.


Let’s make sure we are on the same pager first, shall we?

We shall!

We choose to eat meat – it is important to me that the animals we eat lived a natural life.

It doesn’t get more natural than free in nature, so we hunt. We respect the animals we hunt by using the whole animal (what we don’t use we feed to other animals or give back to the earth).

If you are concerned for the welfare of animals I suggest you do some research about hunting. You’ll find that it actually benefits the overall population of wild animals.

Unfortunately, many of us are so removed from nature these days that we don’t see this as natural.

Well, you and I and everyone around would not be here today if our ancestors hadn’t hunted. I can assure you that they weren’t vegetarians.

When most of your time is spent living in nature a salad just ain’t gonna cut it.

How to Extract Deer Brain For Hide Tanning…

Tanning deer hides with brains will require that you extract the deer brain. It's actually an easy job! Let me show you how to extract deer brain for hide tanning...
#tanningdeerhidewithbrains #hidetanning #deerhidetanning #deerseason #huntingseason

If you chose to stop here I assume you have an interest in bain tanning a hide like the natives used to do for many years. If that’s true, then you’ll need to extract the animal’s brain.

If you stumbled here somehow but have no interest in hide tanning, you are welcome to stay. But if you choose to stay, please be respectful.

Ok, enough of this… This is actually going to be a quick post.

If you read my step by step post on how to brain tan a deer hide you saw that I suggested using a small ax to open the skull.

The problem with the ax method was that I ended up with a brain that had a lot of tiny pieces of bone in it. 

Maybe I didn’t do it right or maybe my ax wasn’t sharp enough, but it smashed the bone and I had to spend time fishing sharp little pieces of bone from my brain tanning solution so they won’t damage my deer hide.

You can certainly still use an ax, however, I found a much better way that I would like to share with you today.

Tools That We Are Going to Need…

A metal saw to open the skull.

Metal saw – instead of using an ax, use a hand saw equipped with a blade meant to saw metal.

We also use this saw when we butcher deer on the homestead. It really works well when you need to handle bones.

Gloves – I used my garden gloves but you should probably use rubber or latex gloves instead…

A teaspoon – to scoop the brain out.

Freezer bags – I use the sandwich size ziplock bags and I freeze one brain per bag. Usually, one brain is enough to tan one hide.

That’s all we need…

Step 1: Remove the Antlers…

Getting ready to remove the horns from the skull.

Start with a deer head that is fresh or thawed (if you stored it in the freezer), you can scoop a frozen brain but I found that it’s easier to handle it when it’s not frozen.

Removing the horns from the skull.

If you have a buck’s head, go ahead and use the saw to remove the antlers. Save those for buttons, craft, or for the kids (my kids love playing with them).

The horns are removed from the skull.

Here is the head after I removed the antlers. Now we can work more comfortably.

Step 2 – Remove the Skin…

Peeling the skin from the skull bone.

Make a V cut on the top of the skull to remove the skin. You can do this with a knife or simply use the saw. I did everything with the same saw.

Please make sure you wear rubber gloves from this point on.

Step 3 – Open the Skull…

The opening in the skull is ready to be removed.

Once you have the skin removed or peeled backward, go ahead and saw the bone in the same V shape but add another cut on the base to form a triangle.

This only takes minutes since the skull bone is not thick at all. You’ll feel it when your blade goes all the way through.

Removing the skull bone.

If your three cuts crossed each other to form a triangle, you’ll be able to remove the triangle from the top of the head to expose the brain.

Step 4 – Scoop the Brain Out…

Deer brain exposed in the skull.

Now you are ready to remove the brain…

Using a spoon to scoop the brain.

Use a teaspoon to scoop it out…

Deer brain on a spoon.

And place it in a ziplock bag.

Extracting deer brain with a spoon.

It will take a few minutes to empty the skull.

Brain in the skull.

The brain is protected by bone from all sides so you don’t need to worry about scooping something else by mistake. Just go ahead and scoop as much as you can.

Deer skull is empty from the brain.

That’s it. When there is no more brain in there you are done.

I give the skull to the dogs. They eat what they can and usually expose the deer teeth really well in case you want to collect and use them for crafts.

Step 5 – Freeze or use the Brain…

Deer brains in a bag ready for the freezer.

If I do more than one animal I make sure to place one brain per bag because I use one brain per hide.

Deer brains stored in a bag.

I store the bags in the freezer with the hides and when I’m ready to tan the hide I thaw one bag of brain for one hide.

I freeze as many brains as I can come by during the hunting season because I use them to also tan rabbit hides or raccoons and so on. You can use them on other hides, not only deer hides.


It’s really much easier to use the saw than to use an ax. If you do this another way please share it with me in the comments below.

Tanning deer hides with brains is not an easy job although it’s fun and very rewarding! I was happy to discover that at least the brain extraction part was relatively easy.

I hope this helps!

If you liked this post, make sure to check other ones as well…

How to Butcher a Chicken

How to Butcher a Duck

How to Butcher a rabbit

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11 thoughts on “How to Extract Deer Brain For Hide Tanning”

  1. Thank you for this article. I once brain tanned a hide and it came out ok. I would have liked to do more but life intervened . Like you I had six kids and ended up on my own. Life is never fair!

    1. You can always get back to it! It’s all working out. Hunting season is just about to start so there is a lot that can still be done this year.

  2. Oh my goodness! This brought back some memories! Namely, my older brothers only attempt at using deer brains for tanning. Mom wasn’t home, so they tried to warm the goods in the microwave before spreading them on the hide. Of course, the brains exploded everywhere and they had to scramble to clean everything up before she got home. I don’t think they ever told her about that one… But I would love to take up brain tanning sometime in the near future!

  3. Jackie lee Nichols

    You are awesome ! Shame i never meet someone like you. lol I make my own Bows & Arrows, And trying to learn to flint Knap & Brain tan and smoke hides. Thanks was looking for a easy simple way to remove brains. Some people say they like to use more than one head .

    1. Bow and arrows are my dream! I have to learn how to use a bow and arrow!
      It’s always fun to meet “our kind” of people. Did you hear about primitive stills gatherings? They have them in almost every state in the Spring and Fall and this is where a lot of our kind gather. Great learning experience too.
      I get as many deer heads as I can during the fall and save the brains. During the year, if I tan a rabbit or a raccoon or whatever, I’ll use deer brain for them too.
      Thanks for stopping by!

  4. Have you tried to use a pressure washer to flesh the hides? If you do a handful at a time it saves a lot of scraceing effort.

    Also I have not saved deer brains for other animal hides but I wondered if you could blend them up and freeze them in an ice cube tray. That way you could defrost a small amount on an as needed basis. Maybe a cube or two per rabbit. Just a thought…

    1. I’ve never tried a pressure washer! Might give it a try.
      I definitely think that you can blend the brain and freeze it in ice cubes. Good idea! I don’t see a reason for it not to work.

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