So, I'm driving home, I get to the end of my street and lo and behold, a gift from God awaits me. Poor little red-fox squirrel has bit the dust, no, bit the tire, and lies in the wet street. I come back with my latex gloves, pick him up by the tail. In examination he looks ok, he's bit his tongue off on the side of his face that impacted with the tire, but otherwise his head and body were intact!
Step 1: Place squirrel with fleas all over it into a ziplock bag, spray roach & spider killer in there, seal, let sit for 20 minutes.
Step 2: Prepare the skinning area. Place garbage bag on top of patio table. Place #20 blade on scalpel handle. Place #22 blade (slightly smaller) on second scalpel handle, to save time. (The other blades are on top left corner of photo, in their sterile packages.) Don't forget slicker brush. Have other garbage/plastic bags handy in case of gut spill. Place box of new latex gloves nearby. At this point, I'm forgetting something, but I don't know it yet...
Step 3: Groom the squirrel! Brush brush brush... An alarming amount of hair from the tail started to come free, so I did it as gently as possible...
Step 4: Initial cuts. The .pdf file I printed out about fur-handling from Fur Harvester's Auction Inc, statesWeasels and red squirrels are easy to skin and are ideal to learn the basics...Using a sharp knife, cut in a straight line from one hind foot to the other...across to the anus...use your fingers to work the pelt loose from the hind legs.
So I do this, but it opens up the abdominal cavity because I cut to the anus, like they said. Doh! And the skin doesn't want to peel off with finger pressure. I finally realize you really, really need to dig your thumbs up under the skin and pull hard with the other hand. Ok. So I free the legs of skin...now I want to keep the feet on, for taxidermy skinning practice, so I cut around the muscles of the ankles, and try to snap the bone with my hand. Conclusion #1; I'm a weakling, I can't even break a squirrel's leg! So, I look around, and go get the garden shears...THAT was the thing I forgot! Need shears for bone!
Here you can see the abdominal cavity is opened now; the little round pellets on the paper towels are his poop that I had to dab off...his feet are attached to the pelt but it doesn't really show. Time to split the tail...
Step 5: Splitting the Tail.Free the bone from the tail and pull the pelt down over the flanks.
Those are my instructions? Bah!
I make a V with my pointer and middle finger of my left hand, to pin the tail down and stretch the skin tight, and with my right I begin cutting the underside of the tail, on the bone. This really dulls the scalpel. I easily free the tail at it's base, and proceed further along. It's amazing how far down the bones go into the tail. The skin of the tail is only a few MM wide, I almost lose it a few times. I finally get half-way down the tail, and at this point the bone starts pulling out just when I tug on it with my fingers. So, I put the tail in my fist, between my fingers, and give it a yank like my fist is a tail-stripper. A horrible ripping sound is made, then I realize I've broken it! Gaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah!
Step 6: Peeling the skin.
I realize it's worthless for taxidermy now, I've got half a tail here. So I begin to tug on the skin, trying to peel it off. That's when the guts start to spill out. I realize I can't hold onto the hips or abdomen with one hand and pull with the other, because the pressure is squeezing the guts out like toothpaste from a tube. I cannot hang it from a gambrel, the body is too fragile, so I proceed to cut with a scalpel ALL THE MEMBRANE on it's entire body, in an endless spiral of cuts. This takes quite a long time, about 20 minutes.
I get to the arms, and pull them through. At this point I see where the wrist is, so I ring the rist with scalpel, and cut off the bone again, leaving the foot intact. Then I pull the foot through. I go to the other arm, and I pull too hard...the skin rips off the top of the foot. *Another anguished yell*
So much for the taxidermy!
Step 7: Neck and head. This is when it really becomes a nightmare. The light is fading, so I flip on the porch light and move my garbage bag and carcass to where I can see better. How long have I been out here? An hour?
I cut the membranes from the top of the skull, easy...but then I look at the underside of the neck...it's all a mess of clotted and congealed blood, and the blood has stained the bone, the skin, the muscle, I can't even tell where the skin starts and mess begins! Apparently the neck arteries were severed in the accident. He's more messed up than I thought!
I work on the good side of his face, carefully skinning out the eye, but the other side is a mess. As I'm skinning his good side, I poke my finger, the finger that is touching the lower jaw. I flip the carcass over and see that his skull is fractured into about 13 pieces, some of which are sticking to the skin, others are jagged and sticking up, ready to cut me and tear my glove if I pressed too hard. Oh God...
I freed the pelt from the throat as best I could, I had no way of telling where the skin and mess separated, so I probed the skin with my finger underneath the pelt, stretched it tight, and prayed as I cut. I lost the black skin lining of the eye on the messed up side of his face, the corner portion of it, and when I tried to free the lower jaw the yellow incisor teeth came off with the skin, and I had to pull it off because it stuck. Ew! I finally got to his nose on the top side, and because it was fractured I coudln't keep it, there was no tension between the bone and skin, so I lost it. But who cares about a nose at this point!
I finally freed the lower jaw, picked out the tiny bits of bone stuck to it, and turned the skin inside-out. It was marvelous! NO HOLES!
How in the world did I do this without making a hole! I take the glove off and stroke the fur...wow it's so soft! It's incredible, it's very very dense and soft, if gloves were made out of it, they'd be fit for a king. It's so soft it reminds me of petting a chinchilla.
I flip the skin fur-in again, and take a look. It's almost completely clean-skinned. The only place fleshing is needed is at the neck. There's mess on the neck and around the jaw but that's it!
I put the skin in another zip-lock bag, and toss it in the freezer.
I look at the carcass, ooooooooooooooh man.
It looks like somebody tortured a poodle!
Oh well, at least I'm making my newbie mistakes on stupid little squirrels. (I ended up cutting off the feet anyway, if you mess up one, you mess up them all!)
This fur I'm going to flesh in a few days, wash it in Dawn (cold) to remove the blood, then I'll salt it and tan it. I'll eventually get enough squirrels to make a pair of gloves.
Lesson Learned: Roadkill animals are a PAIN to skin, they have all sorts of hidden trauma to their bodies, be warned!