Simple Home Tanning With Methylated Spirits
Tony Pizzata and his grandson settle the score on a few foxes and show how to remove a fox tail and home-tan it using only methylated spirits.
My daughter had rung to tell me she’d lost several chickens to foxes over the past few days and needed some help in controlling them. In past, my fox whistle and a charge of BB’s had kept them at bay; but they were back. The grand kids were still at home following the Covid pandemic, as schools were still closed and they too had seen the odd fox while out riding their motor bikes on the farm. So, the following morning I decided to head out and investigate.
As always, at least one of the grand kids wanted to tag along with me, which suited me fine. This time it was Carlo my youngest grandson who accompanied me. He had his own fox whistle, powder puffer (to check wind direction) and set of dowel sticks I made him for removing the tails. In fact, I’m told he’d been practising with the whistle at bed time and had become quite good at it from all reports. My daughter whispered to me, “We know when he’s asleep as the whistling stops”. Needless to say, this is probably why Carlo had asked me for another whistle, as his last had mysteriously disappeared.
Leaving the homestead, we headed for the back paddock where the boys had last seen foxes. This gully was ideal habitat featuring a tangled maze of blackberry bush, bracken fern and fallen trees. In fact, there were several similar sites around the property that would probably also produce a fox and Carlo and I were about to go knocking at their doors.
Like most adults who take their youngsters camping and hunting, I always attempt to demonstrate the safety aspects of the bush and firearms in an effort to teach them young.
This has paid off over the years, as although they are still too young to legally handle a firearm, they are being taught the basics of safety for the future by our actions. Something I often see in them already, that many adult green horns I’d taken, simply didn’t have in the outdoors.
Nearing the area we were about to whistle, Carlo produced the powder puffer and whispered “The winds right” to which I quietly sniggered, but was very proud. Sitting down with the breeze in our favour Carlo donned his ear muffs and sat quietly. At the first whistle a fox emerged and at less than 20 meters was quickly dispatched. The pelt was in excellent condition but worthless to buyers, so after several photos we settled on removing only the tail as a Memento.
To remove a fox tail I simply cut around the back side of the body leaving a few inches of butt fur attached to the tail itself, then when the fur and skin are free, with approximately an inch or so of tailbone exposed, grip the tail bone with your two fingers and slide the tail fur free. Now this is where the dowel sticks I mentioned earlier come into play if you’re not strong enough to remove the tail using your fingers. The tail sticks are basically two pieces of wooden dowel approximately five inches long, with a small hole drilled through the top and a short piece of string to hold them together to prevent losing them. I carry mine on my cartridge belt and find these days it’s a lot quicker and easier for me to use them when removing a fox tail. After removing the tail, most will split the tail tube and salt it to help preserve, but tanning a fox tail using only methylated spirits doesn’t require splitting. However, I’ll tell you more on that process a little later on.
Moving on to another area, Carlo and I picked another likely spot to do some whistling and in no time were ready to repeat the process. “Ok mate, it’s your turn now” I whispered to Carlo. At that moment his eyes lit up as he raised the tin whistle and gingerly produced the goods. “A little louder” I whispered. To which Carlo raised the bar and gave a series of loud shrills. Moments later a fox came tearing out of the ferns some sixty meters distant. At that moment I don’t know who got the bigger surprise, me, Carlo or the fox. On previous trips I’d taught him to freeze if he saw a fox and he also knew that the whistling should stop if the fox was spotted coming. So, Carlo knew exactly what to do. As the fox got to less than fifteen meters distant, I shouted stop. As the fox froze and pinpointed us, I released a charge of BB’s, dropping him where he stood. Carlo and I just looked at each other in amazement. I was actually gob smacked he’d done it on his own and even Carlo couldn’t believe he done it. Needless to say, he’s now stopped whistling indoors, but phones me regularly to ask when we’re doing it again.
After a few more photos, Carlo helped me remove the tail and we were at it again.
To cut a long story short, we did manage another fox for the morning and later that week, a few more on the neighbouring property. With a dozen or more tails in the freezer from previous trips with each of the grandkids, I eventually made time to do some tanning for the boys. The process of tanning tails using nothing but methylated spirits is very simple and quite inexpensive. All you need is a sealable container and enough metho to keep the tails submerged for two weeks. Plus a small bottle of hair shampoo and conditioner. Here’s how it’s done.
After removing the tails from the freezer and allowing them to thaw out, pour a little methylated spirts down the tail tube, then drop it in the container you’re tanning them in. Repeat this process with all the tails, then top up the container with metho until they are completely submerged. I like to poke them down a bit to ensure there are no air pockets trapped in the tails. Then seal the container and allow them to sit for a minimum of two weeks. Once the skins are tanned, simply remove the skins and wash them out with cold water, then re-wash with a well lathered dose of hair shampoo. Next, repeat the process with hair conditioner, then thoroughly wash the tails with clean water. Last but not least, pat dry the tails with an old towel, then using a hairdryer, completely dry the tails. Once thoroughly dry I find an empty 410g or .223 case slides down the base of the tail comfortably and with key style ring attached at the end for hanging, the jobs done.