Tanning deer hides involves chemical treatments to preserve them after they are removed from the body of the animal. This is an ancient art that was used by native peoples in North America long before the arrival of Europeans. Although tanning will preserve the hide from decay, it will not make it pliable. To create the soft and supple material known as buckskin, the tanned hide must be softened. This is a simple process, but will take much time and work. It is easier to do if you prepare the hide for softening at the end of the tanning process.
Rub the hide with neat's foot oil just after tanning it. The hide should be removed from the cleaning solution and allowed to dry partially before the oil is applied. Rub warmed neat's foot oil into both sides of the hide with a cloth, then use another cloth to remove the excess.
Allow the hide to dry completely out of direct sunlight.
Dampen the hide slightly by wiping it down with a damp cloth.
Grab each end of the tanned hide and rub it gently over a smooth surface with a back-and-forth motion; a sawhorse or a metal pipe works well, as long as neither produce any splinters. Continue this until the hide is soft. Apply small amounts of neat's foot oil as needed to keep the hide from drying out.
Rub the hide with sandpaper or pumice stone -- or both -- to give it even more softness.
- deer image by Anton Chernenko from Fotolia.com