By Troy Hoepker
Congratulations!!! You’ve shot a coyote! Now what???
You can certainly sell that coyote on the carcass, or you could get a few dollars more with a little extra work. If you plan on knocking down plenty of coyotes this season the extra work of skinning will add up in dollar value by the time you are done. Beyond the money, and the extra storage space, there is a self-satisfying feeling you have when you take coyotes from the field all the way to the fur buyer finished out. Plus you aren’t letting a perfectly good specimen go to waste. You’re doing the animal its due justice by making use of the fur. There becomes a sense of pride associated with putting up fur and every trapper or coyote hunter that goes that extra mile will tell you it makes them a better rounded predator hunter and a more knowledgeable one at that.
Skinning a coyote isn’t all that hard to do once you’ve done it a few times. Sure the first time might be ugly, and hopefully that beautiful fur doesn’t resemble Swiss cheese when you’re done but we never learn until we get our hands dirty and do something for the first time. I promise you the second coyote you skin will be much easier and every one thereafter easier still. Now let’s roll up our sleeves and get to work.
Before we get to undressing coyotes, there are a few things to remember in the field. Once you’ve got a coyote on the ground, look him over well. Make sure that pelt is going to be a sellable one and that there are no signs of mange or rubbed fur. Take it from someone who has hastily skinned a coyote only to find out there was a nice sized patch of fur missing. Look over any exit holes or check for any other irregularities. Consider how you’ll get the animal back to the vehicle. Dragging the coyote over snow isn’t so bad but dragging it across rough ground full of briars might damage the hide or lead to more work later on. I carry a length of parachute cord with me and hook up the animal’s legs so that I can carry it out when the situation dictates. Others like to skin right there in the field, which can be a wise choice. The warm carcass will skin much easier than when it’s allowed to get cold. Once you get an animal back to the vehicle try not to let it freeze to a metal surface like the truck bed and pack any entrance or exit holes that might be losing a lot of blood.
Once back home it’s time to get to work sooner rather than later. The longer you wait the harder skinning job you’ll have. First off, I like to brush out any matted areas of fur that may have cockleburs or briars attached. I find this is easier to do on the carcass. Now it’s time to start skinning. You’ll need a gambrel or chain to hang the animal, a sharp knife, tail splitters, latex gloves, and possibly a short piece of steel can come in handy. I use a 12-inch piece of rebar. The only other tools you’re going to need are your own two hands.
Lay the coyote on a flat table and ring the front legs with a sharp knife above the second joint. Some even cut the leg off completely here. Either is fine. Then slide your knife up the backside of the leg and run it all the way up each leg to the armpit. You can now quickly grab the loose hide with one hand and the leg bone with the other and pull the hide toward the chest separating it from the carcass. Now take one hind leg and get it ready for cutting. Both coyote and fox have a color line running down the back legs. This is your cut line. It may be beneficial at this point to secure one of the back legs to a hanging chain or a vice so you can spread the legs apart adequately while you are working especially if your coyote is cold and rigid. Insert the point of your knife inside the leg near the Achilles tendon area and keep the back of your knife to the heel area as you run the knife up the color line to the anus area edge up. A sharp knife will cut the skin from the inside out. Run the knife to the belly side of the sex organs and right down the color line of the opposite leg to the ankle.
At this point you can also grab the tail with your left hand and find the tailbone inside the tail by feel from your fingers. Once you’ve found it, with the tail stretched away from the animals back, insert your knife 3 or 4 inches up from the base of the tail knife edge up once again and slide the edge under skin all the way down to the vent and go on either side of it and the sex organs until you meet the cuts you made earlier.
Now is when I start the peeling. Go back up to the leg you started with. It should be the leg you have secured in a chain or vice and pinch the skin with your left hand and slide the knife edge in at an angle between the bone and the hide cutting upward as you go. With pressure from your left hand pulling the hide away it should just take a few strokes of the knife to completely ring the leg. Once you have enough hide unattached you can begin pulling down the leg and with occasional knife cuts as needed you can bring the hide down the leg completely. Now is the time to insert your knife between the Achilles tendon and the leg bone making sure that you slit it while staying away from the tendon with your knife-edge if are hanging the animal on a gambrel. A small slice in this area is all you need to push the gambrel ends through to hang the coyote. Adjust the gambrel hanging height to eye level so that the skinning process won’t hurt your back. Once the coyote is hanging repeat the cutting process on the opposite hind leg.
Once you’ve got the skin totally loose from the legs grab fur and pull from each leg down to the hip. If your specimen is cold this will be a harder pull. With a warm coyote it is fairly easy to pull it over the hip, so be extra careful not to get too carried away at this point. Pulling too far here can lead to tearing the hide where it is still attached to the tail. Next, go to the inside of the leg at the rear belly area and pull down. You’re bringing the entire hide around and over the hips like a pillowcase. If yours is a male, you will need to make a quick cut of tissue from the penis right at the skin and leave the bone on the carcass.
Now it’s time to remove the tailbone. For first time skinners this is where things seem hard. Once the hide is loose all the way around the coyote up to the tailbone don’t pull any longer. You’ll risk tearing the fur where it is still attached to the tailbone. Cut underneath the tailbone being careful to keep your knife working the backside of the hide until you can freely see the 360 degrees of the bone itself. Now insert your tail splitter around the tailbone and use both hands to pull the splitter right down the length of tail. On cold coyotes you may have to extend your cut with a knife up the tailbone even farther. Using the splitter the tailbone should pop out. Just be careful the bone doesn’t pop you in the face as the tail breaks free. Ask me how I know. After the tail is out, split the fur tail down to the tip.
At this point you’re ready to pull down the coyote’s body. With coyotes you can now pull with a lot of force. Warm and they will pull well but coyotes can be a tough pull if they are cold and may even require a little knife work from time to time. You can use a towel or try rolling the fur up in your hands until your knuckles are right at the baseline where skin and carcass meet. Now roll your knuckles into the carcass as you pull down. This is referred to as “punching” and I don’t envy you if you have to do a lot of this.
Once you have gotten to the front shoulders things get a little tight in the brisket area. Roll the skin over the shoulder blades and into the neck area and make a few simple cuts underneath the armpit area to make some room. Make sure you’re cutting at the skin line where it is separating from the carcass here. It’s easy to cut through the hide in this spot or slice blood vessels that make a mess of the rest of your operation. Once you have the hide down the shoulder area a bit you should be able to poke your steel rod through between the leg and the skin. Now just take ahold of each end of the steel and force the skin down the front leg. You’ll have already slit or pulled apart the skin from that leg earlier and it should come off the rest of the way.
Once you’re safely past the shoulders grab and pull your way right down to the base of the skull. Once there you’ll find the pulling to be harder as the skin gets tighter to the skull. Using a sharp knife or scalpel cut and pull at the skin line as you continue to roll over the hide until you see two bumps on top of the head. These are the ears. Skin over them just a little and if you’re keeping the cartilage in just make a firm slice right down into the base of the bump where it meets the skull until you feel your knife stop at bone. To remove the cartilage skin down low enough on the ear that you can get a long screwdriver between the ear and skull. Pull straight down until the ear and cartilage separate.
Now pull and cut some more if needed until you are at the eyes. The head will begin to narrow here so watch any cuts you make. Cut close to the head. To keep from getting an enlarged eye hole pull with your fingers through the ear holes as you cut close to the skull around the eyes. Now run your knife deep enough around the lower jaw and up to the back of the mouth so that the lower jaw lip stays on the carcass. This is not needed to sell your pelt. If you get some bleeding here don’t sweat it, you’re almost done. Now simply pull tension downward on the pelt and touch the knife to any troublesome spots until you’re past the bone of the nose. Once there, simply cut through the cartilage of the nose and the pelt is now free from the hide completely.
If all you are doing is simply skinning the animal and not finishing it any further you can still flesh and scrape it at this point to remove any excess fat and clean it up a bit. Otherwise, you can wash the fur if it needs it. Coyote fur is dense and when prime handles a washing well. It fluffs back up nicely after it’s been dried and a good washing with cold water and dish soap for instance will clean the grease and dirt from it removing that coarse feel and making it soft and fluffy once dry again. Just make sure that you have the hide completely dry before you freeze it.
Freezing a hide improperly can lead to spoilage or hair slippage. Roll the hide up nose to tail fur side out and place inside of a bag removing as much of the air as you can before tying it shut or sealing it and placing it in the freezer. When it’s time to sell let the hide thaw out slowly, back brush them out and head to the fur buyer. Hopefully you see your profits increase from properly skinned coyotes! Good luck!