Wild Awake

How to Skin and Tan a Snake

Step 1. Get yourself a snake. Preferably a dead one, on the fresh side. The Pacific gopher snake (Pituophis catenifer catenifer) in this post is from road kill. I could never kill a snake because I’m a snake worshipper, but if I find a dead snake, I’m going to skin it.

Step 2. Give gratitude to your snake. Thank your snake for its life, and tell that snake you are going to honor their life by creating something beautiful and useful with their skin.

Step 3. Lay your snake belly up, and find the vent, otherwise known as the cloaca. My son calls this the poop-hole, a neat slit near the tail of the snake.

Note: if you have a rattler, or other venomous snake, then cut the head off first, and bury it more than a foot underground. Otherwise you could accidentally snag yourself on a fang, or snuff out a dog when they sniff out the head and chow it down.

Step 4. Slip a sharp knife in the center of the vent, and slice carefully upwards to the head, near the surface of the skin, and down the middle of the belly. Try to keep the line clean and straight, so your snake-skin will look neat when it’s stretched out.

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Step 5. Pull the skin away from the flesh, starting at the head end. Make sure you use even tension when you pull the skin downwards, otherwise it might tear. It should pull away fairly easily, but in some places (like the head and the cloaca) you might need to carefully use your knife to separate the skin from the membrane.

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Step 6. Take your time and use your knife and hands with care when you peel the skin of the head away from the mouth, nose and eyes of the non-venomous snake.

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Step 7. Lay the skin on the ground, flesh-side up, and use a dull, smooth blade to scrape any scraps of flesh or membrane left on the skin. I used a small kitchen knife that was fairly blunt. This part takes patience. You want your skin to be clean.

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Step 8. You’ve skinned your snake! Eat the flesh part if it’s not too old (waste not want not) or offer it back to the land. You can glue your freshly-fleshed snake-skin directly onto the back of a bow, on a knife sheath, on a belt, or any other project.

You can also dry your skin by pinning it carefully to a board – careful not to overstretch or break the skin – and then use it dry, or rehydrate it for later use.

Step 9. If you want to tan your snake-skin, then mix 1 part glycerin and 1 part denatured alcohol in a glass jar with a fitted lid. Shake to mix, and add your snake-skin. Make sure the skin is completely covered.

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Step 10. Keep in jar for 2 or 3 days, shaking jar once a day. Then remove, rinse with water, and hang to dry. You snake skin will come out slinky and ready to sew onto a hat band, belt, clothing, or a medicine bag, or whatever else you might want to make. Note: this tanned snake skin will not adhere well with glue and is better for sewing projects.

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