Harvesting your own tying materials

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    Does anyone do it? I preserved a few wood duck flanks and have several other types of duck feathers. I also preserved a pheasant cape – those are certainly easier to buy at the shop. I didn’t have much luck with deer hair (was trying to keep some white underbelly) but I was obviously doing something wrong.

    The place where my dog is trained has some interesting hybrid pheasants so I will probably preserve at least one more cape to get some of those different colors.

    Does anyone else use material they have harvested or found on the side of the road? Bug infestations are always a concern but the freezer and borax seems to take care of feathers for me.

    Alan Corbin

    I usually do between 4-12 deer tails and body/belly hair every year. I will then dye them various colors also.
    I have done squirrel tails and also a few birds. While I don’t hunt i know plenty of guys that do and will trade some flies or rod repairs or just a few beers for the stuff. I will freeze them until I have enough to make it worth the time it takes. I usually wash them in a degreasing bath and rinse several times after I have deboned and scraped away any flesh/fatty tissue and then lay them out with Borax and salt and check them every other day. once dry I will bag them individually. I have had good luck with no insect infestations. I have used the freezer to microwave to freezer process on bird skins to be sure and rid them of mites etc.


    Alan, what are you using for a degreasing bath? I have always gone with straight Borax and a few months of deep freeze (after scraping) but that did not work on the belly hair. Are you dong something like salt/borax/salt/borax?

    I will do a few squirrel tails this year. Doubt I will get around to shooting a deer this season.

    Alan Corbin

    for most everything I use dish liquid like Ivory or Dawn and hot water. You just want to get most of the fatty tissue off first.
    Bird skin is thinner than deer hair so you need to handle it gingerly. Let it soak for as much as 4-6 hours if you plan on dying it.
    I usually soak them for a couple hours maximum and if I dye them will degrease it again. Deer hair and tails I will use either dish liquid and add some liquid laundry detergent and let soak for a bit longer. I usually stir it every so often. I use a 5 gallon bucket usually.
    After soaking rinse in warm water and gently squeeze out the excess water. and I will either lay on newspapers to let dry, or with bucktails I will clip them to the inside of another bucket tip down. Once the excess water is out I will lay them out out newspaper and coat with salt and Borax on skin side, making sure the hair or feathers aren’t distorted from their natural lie. with bird skins and body/belly hairI will flip over every other day and try to keep the skin flat. bucktails I will clip to a bucket skin side against the bucket and work or stretch the skin as it dries, say every couple days.
    Hope this helps

    Zach Matthews
    The Itinerant Angler

    I’ve preserved quite a few squirrel skins and other exotics like roadrunner or heron that were hit on the highway or given to me by farmers. All I’ve ever used is salt, but I understand Borax is a better deal. Salt eventually needs to be reapplied or you can get mites and other nasties in there. It helps to keep each item in an individually sealed bag so you don’t get cross-contamination.

    I need a pattern that requires quail feathers…


    Chris BeechChris Beech

    Zach, try tying a Mrs Simpson using those quail feathers. I used to fish them as small as a #12, worked well on the swing as river wet.

    Best Regards,


    Jeff SmithJeff Smith

    I have been saving/collecting fur and feathers for the better part of 40 years for my fly tying.
    Grouse of all types, pheasant, rabbits, the odd squirrel, deer, elk, bear and moose have all found their way into my stash. I have so much deer hair I could likely open a shop lol.
    In Oct a friend gave me a box of peacock swords and eyes. Apparently his aunt raises them. I have high hopes he will lay his hands on an entire skin one day for me!

    I plan to start trapping in the near future as there are plenty of furs that are great tying materials but shops don’t carry. A trapper friend gifted me a damaged Marten hide a couple years ago. (He couldn’t sell it due to damage) What a fantastic material!

    Don’t overlook any type of wild game, the potential is incredible.

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