taxidermy reporting forms, federal duck labels
after skinning, a cape or hide must be "fleshed". the act of fleshing removes the fat and meat from the skin. this is important, not because fat and meat are intrinsically bad, but because the fat and meat will prevent the salt from penetrating to the hide. and if the salt doesn't penetrate into the skin, into every crevice and fold, hair loss will occur. this is the dreaded "slippage".
to flesh: settle in for a long haul. you will wonder if you are doing something wrong, if there is an easier way to flesh than what you are doing, one that doesn't take so long, because, surely, not all taxidermists spend this much time fleshing. put in a good movie, or turn on the radio, and get into the zone.
first, let's get the face and ears done.
*lips: when you skinned out the head, you were careful to leave extra flesh around the lips, from the mouth, all the way down to the teeth. this area needs to be split. split the lips by cutting through the meat between the inner and outer lip skin, laying the skin open until the very end of the lips are reached and it cannot be split and rolled anymore. the inside skin has to be separated from the outside skin by slicing through the lumps on the inside enough that the outside skin lies nice and rolls out flat. remember back to when you mounted your first deer with a commercially tanned cape. remember the excess hanging out of the eyes and lips and nose. remember how flat and thin it was. it got that way because the person who fleshed it was careful to work those linings out, slicing through the back and rolling the skin out to extend it as thinly as possible. by not having the skin in these areas doubled up against themselves like they are in real life, you are enabling wonderful salt to penetrate and you are preserving the natural beauty (and hair) of the deer.
*nose: with the deer face inside out, cut down through the cartilage through the center of the nose, staying on track between the nostrils. the flesh and meat around the nostrils needs to be removed and scraped clean, being careful to not cut so deeply as to shorten the length of the nostril skin. you will want enough skin left to make a secure nostril when you mount this back on a form. use your knife to score the flesh behind the nose pad, and the edge of your scissors to remove the meat. (no where on the face do you want to cut so deeply that you cut through the hair follicles or whisker butts. if you cut through these, the hair will fall out and/or the whiskers will fall out.)
*eyes: like the lips, the eyelids have to be split from the back and rolled out flat. you don't want to lose hair around the eyes (the eyes are the mirror of the soul, you know) and you want a nice thin eyelid to shape around clay later. trim away extra meat from around the tear ducts and the fat from the base of the eyelashes (being careful, again, not to cut through the follicles and lose the eyelashes).
*ears: you'll need to turn the ears, getting the back of the ear loose from the cartilage inside the ear. we will leave the cartilage inside the ear through the tanning process to give strength to the ear, but it will have to be separated from the back of the ear and turned inside out for this to work. skin between the butt of the ear and the back of the ear, cut between the ear and the muscles. skin and turn far enough that you can get your fingers or the ear turner far enough up in there to spread the ear and cartilage (gently!) apart. too much pressure at this point will pop a hole in the back of the ear. keep spreading, skinning, and turning until ears are inside out. work toward the edges of the ears (the "seam" between front and back of ear). you will be able to feel when the edges are completely turned by rolling this seam between your fingers. if you can feel the ridge yet, there is some more turning to do. (leaving unturned ear here will make the ears draw and curl inwards when the deer is mounted. you'll know when you've mounted it that you should have turned it more back when.) when the ears are completely turned, clean off all flesh and meat and the ear butt. there should be only a nice clean, inside-out ear with cartilage on the back of it. leave the ears this way for salting. they won't be turned back around until the cape is tanned and you're getting ready to mount it.
for the rest of the cape, not so much finesse will be required. the large, easy (relatively speaking) areas of your cape just need to be perfectly clean. good luck! any method you can come up with to separate the hide from the fat and flesh (and yes, that sticky membrane close to the skin) will work. some people use, believe in, and advocate strongly 'necker' knives and a fleshing beam. some use an ulu (eskimo scraping tool, and face it, they've been doing this for a lot longer than any of us, and at a lot greater motivation--their survival). some use their skinning knife, and scissors. some use a shaving wheel, or a fleshing wheel. some use a pressure washer. whatever. whatever you can do to get the hide or cape clean is what you need to do.
just as soon as it is fleshed, get salt on it. the reason you've been doing the fleshing is not for some time to take in an old james bond movie. pause the vcr and get that baby salted. all the fleshing in the world won't help if the salt isn't poured to it as fast as you can. salting.