Alligator Hunting

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Skinning Your Alligator

Alligators are harvested effectively by fishing with a 9/0 to 14/0 stainless steel hook and at least 300 pound test nylon cord. This technique is both highly efficient and size selective. After an alligator has been caught, the alligator hunter slowly pulls the animal to the edge of his boat or onto the bank. The alligator is then killed by shooting or clubbing in the head with an axe or hatchet. After the animal has been killed, the hook is removed, and may be used again. The alligator is then tagged with a plastic numbered tag issued by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. The tag is used in identifying legallytaken alligators and the color of these tags changes each year. This tag is placed in the last 10 inches of the tail. Remember that the alligator’s tail muscles will continue to contract and twitch, sometimes violently, so be careful. Use a fixed or locked blade knife. The tag must be left on the skin until the hide is a finished product.
Once the alligator has been properly tagged, it is then placed over the end of a boat or table with the head held down and allowed to bleed thoroughly. This will improve the quality of the skin and meat. Before skinning begins, several wellsharpened skinning knives should be available. Other skinning equipment includes sharpening stone, oil, steel tape or wire and a clean cloth for wiping your hands while skinning. Plenty of fresh water at the skinning site is also desirable. A location in the shade is recommended, as the job may take a novice up to two hours to complete.
Bellyskin – use this procedure if you are going to sell the hide to a licensed alligator buyer, or have the hide processed for boots, belts, shoes, etc.
Skinning begins by making an incision along the topside of the animal above the first row of scutes along the back. A complete outline of the body is cut where skinning will be initiated. In outlining the alligator, the cut along the side is made between the first and second row of buttons. This allows for the first row of buttons to be left on the skin. Buyers and tanners encourage hunters to follow these procedures. As the hunter proceeds to outline the animal, a straight cut is made from the back along top of each leg. Cut completely around each foot at the wrist or ankle area. The outline cut is then extended onto the lower end of the tail below the top row of upper tail fins. When the outline cuts reaches the single row of tail fins midway along the tail, a cut is then made through this row of tail fins at their base, all the way to the tip of the tail. The fins remain on the carcass, attached to the back skin, which is also not included in the final skin. It is important to cut all the way to the tip of tail (do not cut it off) because the skin’s value is determined mainly by length. Care should be used so as not to cut too deep where you may lose the tag attached to the end of the tail. As mentioned earlier, this tag must remain on the skin from the time the animal is killed.
After the top tail scales have been removed, the tip end of the tail is then skinned completely, making sure to remove all bone and meat. This can be achieved by carefully cutting the skin away from the tail meat. The end of the tail is skinned completely along the sides before proceeding on the outline—so as to butterfly cut the end of the tail. After tail skinning is completed, the outline of the alligator is completed to the base of the head and skinning of the body begins. Skinning of the body section begins with the front legs. As the front legs are skinned, the skin surrounding the legs and side of the alligator are also removed. Removing this skin can only be done by using a sharp knife and slowly cutting the skin away from the body of the alligator. The front legs and side skin are removed completely before moving on to the hind legs. Hind legs are skinned in the same fashion as the front legs. The skin is removed from the hind legs completely, down the sides of the animal, before continuing on the tail. Some pulling can be done on the upper leg portion of the skin. Once the skin has been removed from the leg, the remaining skin must be detached by cutting. The skin is then removed from the remaining unskinned tail section. This skin can only be detached by cutting. Care should be taken to cut the skin from the carcass without cutting the skin or leaving excessive meat. Care should be taken in cutting the skin from the sides of the alligator to avoid cuts in the skin. Particular care must be taken where the legs join the body. The sides should be skinned completely. Only the belly portion of the animal should be left unskinned after this step. The alligator should be completely skinned along the sides, past the tail section, before proceeding on the head.
After the sides and legs are skinned, the alligator is then turned on its side and an outline cut is made along the lower jawbone. This cut is made along the outer edge of the lower jaw skin, which is the only part of the head skin which remains on the head. The skin is removed from the lower jaw by grasping the jaw muscle with thumb and forefinger and carefully cutting the skin from the meat. To enable easier holding, a small hole can be cut through the jaw muscle for grasping. The flesh under the lower jaw is very loose and soft. Care must be taken in removing the skin from this region. By pulling on the jaw muscle, the flesh can be tightened, thus allowing for easier skinning.
After all the skin has been cut from the lower jaw and neck, the alligator is then ready to be skinned down the belly. Skinning the under side of the alligator is best accomplished by both pulling and cutting. On small alligators, the skin can be removed from the belly by pulling only. After the belly has been skinned down to the base of the tail, care should be taken to cut around the anal opening (vent). If the skin is not cut completely away from this area, it may tear during the pulling process. All meat and fat should be removed from the skin around the anus. The skin is then pulled and cut from the remaining tail section of the alligator.
After the alligator has been skinned, some meat and fat will remain on the skin. All of this tissue must be removed before salting. Many different types of scraping tools can be used in scraping the meat and fat from the skin. One object that works well without cutting or tearing the hide is an 18″ piece of chrome tubing. Large spoons or paint scrapers are also useful in removing flesh. By scraping the fleshy side of the hide with the end of the tubing, one can remove most of the excess meat and fat without damaging the skin. Particular attention should be given to the tail section and around the anal opening since these areas generally are more difficult to skin. Very little tissue should remain on the hide after it has been thoroughly scraped.
Once scraping is complete, the hide should be relatively free of flesh and white in appearance. After the skin has been scraped thoroughly, it should be washed in clean, fresh water. By washing the skin in fresh water, most of the remaining blood and body fluids will be removed from the skin. Care should be taken during the washing process to thoroughly squeeze and rub the skin with the hands to remove any dried blood and loose flesh. The skin should be thoroughly clean and very white in appearance after washing. After washing the skin, it is then hung on a rack with the fleshy side to the inside and allowed to air dry. The skin should not be placed in the sunlight since overdrying of the outside portion of the skin could damage the hide. After the hide has dried, it is then spread out on a flat surface with the flesh side exposed for salting. Salt (use fine grain salt) is applied to all areas of the hide until the skin is completely coated. Salting is an important process. It is very important to apply salt liberally to the skin. The salt should be rubbed thoroughly into the skin. Make sure to cover the head portion well. Additional care should be taken to rub salt into the tail section, making certain the salt is placed in the very end of the tail section. The hide is now ready for rolling into a compact bundle. Place hide flat with flesh facing up. The rolling procedure begins by folding the legs over the belly of the skin. Both the front and back legs are folded with one side overlapping the other.
After the legs are folded, completely covered by the side portion of the skin after it has been folded. The neck is folded in the same fashion as the sides. After the neck and sides are folded, the rolling process begins. Rolling begins by folding the lower jaw section of skin over the top of the neck section. The skin is then rolled from the head to the tail in a compact ball. As the skin is rolled, the tail section is folded in, so as to completely cover the salted side of the head. Rolling usually requires two people to keep the hide in a neat, compact roll. After the skin has been completely rolled, it is tied with cotton string. It is advisable to run the cotton string through the fastened tag to ensure that the tag remains with rolled hide. Several wraps are used in tying the skin in a compact bundle.
Once the skin has been rolled and tied, it is then ready for storing in a cool, dry place until sold or further processed. The rolled skin will continue to drain so the storage area should have adequate drainage. Hides stored more than a few days should be unrolled and resalted. After resalting and rolling, the hides may keep several months if stored in a cool place, but check with a hide buyer or tanner for preferred handling.

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