Are you ready to transform a deer hide into buckskin with your own hands?

The online hide tanning course is a video-based program that guides aspiring hide tanners through every step of tanning a deer hide using the wet-scrape brain tan method.  Your guide on this journey, deer hide alchemist Natalie Bogwalker, has led hundreds of students through the otherwise confounding process of tanning hides.

Check out the video above to learn more about the class, what it covers, who we are, and how tanning hides will enrich your life. 


What Is Brain Tanning?

Brain tanning is the ancient art of transforming a rawhide (sometimes stinky, and definitely prone to rot if you don’t intervene) into a soft, supple, useable buckskin. You actually use the deer’s brains as a key ingredient in the tanning process (don’t worry, if you don’t have brains on hand, you can use egg yolks).  A lot of skillful technique and physical effort are required, and at the end, smoke is used to preserve the softened hide that results from the brains and your brawn.

Indigenous people on every inhabited continent practiced some form of brain tanning; many of them still do.  It’s also totally natural and completely non-toxic, unlike many modern tanning techniques.

stretching a deer hide for brain tanning

Why Learn to Brain Tan?

When you know how to brain tan, a discarded deer hide becomes a valuable, useful resource. The buckskin (leather) made through this process is uniquely strong, supple, durable, breathable and  deliciously smoky smelling. It’s quite unlike anything that’s available commercially.

deer hide with hair on

Not only is the product of brain tanning wonderfully cool, the process itself is also rewarding and magical.  It’s an enriching thing to do on your own – or with friends and family – including children.   We’ve had families work on hides together, and our youngest official student was 12 years old at the time.

Brain tanning is a family affair

 

Tanning a hide deeply connects you to the natural world.  Many of our students have felt personally transformed by hide tanning, and we bet you will too!  

 

proud tanner with brain tanned buckskin

 


How the Online Hide Tanning Course Works

In a series of detailed videos, broken up into 15 very doable sections, we walk you through the process of brain tanning a hide, step by step.  The comprehensive course manual works in tandem with the videos as a written reference that includes photos and diagrams. We suggest that you use your phone, tablet or laptop to watch the classes while you are actually tanning your hide.

scraping deer hides

We’ve talked with lots of folks who have attempted brain tanning with just a book as their guide.  It generally takes them weeks’ worth of work before they get to anything resembling a finished buckskin.  Brain tanning a deer hide with the guidance of this online course can be done in 3-4 days, but you don’t have to complete it start-to-finish all at once.  

In both our course manual and video collection, we highlight points in the process when you can put your hide on pause, which means hide tanning can fit in with the rest of your life.  It’s a wonderfully unique benefit of the online course.

stretching a hide for brain tanning


What Makes This Online Hide Tanning Course Exceptional?

deer track  Amazing Quality

The videography and attention to detail are stunning.  This makes the content easy to understand and follow. Free videos on the subject tend to be poor quality and often skip over many important steps of brain tanning. Our course was finely crafted from hundreds of hours of footage.  It’s been distilled down to a much more manageable 12 hours of pertinent instruction.

deer track  Comprehensive, Quality Content

With both the in-depth videos and comprehensive manual, this course covers the bases.  It’s got all the guidance you need to be successful, starting with your first hide. Brain tanning is a tactile skill and the videos really bring each part of the process to life in a way that books and other written instruction cannot.  Because the course material is yours for life, it becomes a searchable reference for your whole hide tanning career.

deer track  Extraordinary Support

We give students more than two months of responsive, personalized support after they sign up for the course.  This will get you well through annual fall hunting season. Our support includes bi-weekly live videos in which your questions are answered by an extremely experienced tanner.  We also have highly responsive technical support.

deer track  Many, Many Years of Experience

We’ve been tanning hides for a long time.  Not only that, but we’ve been teaching hide tanning for quite a while, too.  This experience has given us much insight as to what tends to trip people up, what kinds of questions arise and how different people approach tanning.   We’ve used our knowledge, plus that of our teachers, to tailor your hide tanning experience to be crystal clear and free of mysteries.

deer track  Community of Fellow Tanners

Our students tend to be extraordinary humans.  We are honored to host online discussions amongst those who are taking the course, including photo-swapping and tip-sharing.  We welcome you to get to know each other, we know you’ll learn so much from one another’s experience.

deer track  We sell hides and gear (if you need them)

Not everyone has access to a deer hide and brains.  Don’t worry. We have a limited number of fleshed and dried hides, ready to tan, that we offer exclusively to students of our online course (for $65, including shipping to the continental US).  We’ll also sell, or can point you in the direction of, all the specialized tools that you’ll need for tanning. It’s likely you’ll be able to scrounge up these items locally for free or cheap if you have a little time to hunt around.

 

brain tanned buckskin in the garden


 

What our Hide Tanning Students Have to Say

 

Brain tanning class student

“As a hunter, the hide tanning class offered by Wild Abundance gave me the skills needed to fully utilize the animals I harvest.  I’m no longer troubled by the fact that I’m wasting a valuable part of the deer. I tan my own hides now, and, thanks to Wild Abundance, I have the confidence, ability and knowledge to do so in my own backyard.”

(Austin Hall, firefighter and hunter, Canton, NC)

Brain tanning class student

“Natalie gives very clear instructions and lots of support along the way, and by the end I was SO proud of my finished hide!”

(Rachel Watersong, psychologist and homesteader, Cedar Grove, NC)

Brain tanning class student

“This class – with all its subtle tips and tricks – made the process of brain tanning extremely clear and concise. Natalie’s expertise is incredible, as her insights surely saved me many hours of work and much frustration. The class was an absolute pleasure, as there is nothing quite like learning to turn a rotting deer skin into a soft, supple, extremely tough piece of buckskin!”

(Owen Doll, student from Hillsborough, NC)

Brain Tanning

Overview: How to Tan a Deer Hide

In this three-day workshop near Asheville, NC, you will learn the ancient art of leather making and how to tan a deer hide. Each student will learn and practice the wet-scrape braintan process to transform deer rawhide into soft, supple, natural, beautiful wearable leather.

Please note that this is a physically intensive class.

We also offer an Online Hide Tanning Course, which provides comprehensive, video-based instruction, plus a very thorough course manual and an online community of support.

deer drawing


scraping hair off a deer hide for brain tanning
women scraping beams brain tanning

What to Expect: Tanning Hides Start to Finish

Friday: Discussion About How to Skin a Deer and Begin Scraping Your Hide

We will start on Friday at 9:30 am with a discussion of the hide-tanning essentials: how to skin a deer, a fleshing demonstration, discussion of hide preservation and an overview of tanning techniques. Each student will be given their own hide, and the day will be spent learning and practicing the art of removing hair and grain. Everyone will remove the hair, grain and membrane during this first day. Some students will begin “braining” their hides.


stretching a deer hide for brain tanning

Saturday: Brain Tanning

Students will spend the day learning the techniques of brain tanning: soaking the hides in a brain soup! Braining, wringing, braining, wringing… You may see a pattern here…. and softening. This process involves many specialized tools that you will learn to make or set up at your own place. This day is fairly strenuous, but you will learn everything you ever wanted to know about how to braintan a hide.


smoking a deer hide for brain tanning

Sunday: Smoking Hides

Some folks will be finishing up with softening; others will be sewing their hides into tubes and preparing them for the smoking process, which preserves the super-soft character that the hides have taken on, gives them a that lovely honey color and prevents them from turning back into hard rawhide. The class may go on until fairly late. This often involves much merriment as we wait for our hides to smoke, feeding our coals frequently with “punky” wood. Those that need to get going earlier may be able to leave by 8:30pm, while some students will be smoking their hides well into the evening.

Walk away with a finished brain-tanned buckskin, knowledge of how to tan again and a booklet written by Natalie for easy reference when you tan in the future.

Firefly Gathering

Near Asheville, NC

A one-of-a-kind, highly dynamic and intimate community-based skill sharing festival, the Firefly Gathering welcomes children and adults interested in Earth-based knowledge and primitive skills to transform for your life. Co-founded by Kaleb Wallace and our own Natalie Bogwalker in 2007, Firefly gathers a bevy of inspiring community members and skilled teachers, highlighting the talented individuals that are drawn to a culture of rewilding and embodied ecological awareness. Firefly and Wild Abundance are sister organizations, and support each others’ goals and missions.

A gathering to share the skills and wisdom for rewilding…


What to Expect: A Primitive Skills Gathering for Sustainability, Self-Sufficiency and Rewilding to Transform your Life

This primitive skills gathering is a unique confluence of community-based skill sharing. It boasts more than 250 workshops, spanning topics on eco-homesteading, permaculture, primitive survival skills, herbal medicine, communication skills, art, natural parenting, and the human-to-nature connection that drives our deep commitment to this path.

In no other time in human history have these skills been more relevant, as we search to find a balance between our actions and the effects they have on the Earth. The Firefly Gathering allows people to cultivate hands-on earthskills and real-world solutions to the myriad problems that we face in our society.

As our culture continues to shift to self-sufficient living, these skills will become more and more valuable. This is a gathering of tremendous significance, empowerment and connection: a place to ignite your desire to live on the planet with greater awareness and love.


Sharing Practical Skills for Living Closer To The Earth

People come to Firefly to explore the cultural renaissance of returning, remembering, rewilding, and reskilling that characterizes so much of the heartbeat of the Appalachian region. Here, we learn with every cell in our body. A deep engagement of the senses is fostered as people awaken to a profound participatory relationship with the land. When the sun sinks over the horizon and the moon rises in the night sky, we sing and dance by the fire, celebrating the knowledge and traditions that we carry within us.


Location of the Firefly Gathering:

Firefly will be held near Asheville, NC, at a beautiful family farm in Leicester, NC

We hope to see you there!


Wildcrafting and Medicine Making Intensive

Do you want to take the power of healing into your own hands?  Are you skeptical of conventional Western medicine and pharmaceutical drugs?  Do you want to learn to recognize and work with plant allies?  Are you drawn to wildcrafting, but feel intimidated?  This is the wildcrafting herbalist class for you!  It will empower you to identify and utilize plants — both wild and cultivated — for healing and vitality.

Join our inspired and experienced team of herbalists, artisans, and ethnobotanists for this 4-day intensive.  You’ll leave with a basket full of homemade medicines (made by you!). Plus, you’ll get the the knowledge of how to make more — from plants growing all around you.

harvesting elder flowers for herbal medicine making


preparing herbal medicine in an herbal medicine training

What to expect in this wildcrafting class:

We’ll cover all aspects of wildcrafting herbal medicines. Starting with a wild plants walk, we’ll also learn traditional uses of medicinal herbs, and how to make decoctions, infusions, herbal honeys, cordials, oxymels, salves, and more. We’ll cover basic botany, plant identification, and the ethics and safety of harvesting, along with medicinal herb cultivation and wild foods cookery.  At the beautiful, lush Wild Abundance campus, we’ll explore both wild and cultivated medicinal herbs and wild edibles.  Experienced and talented herbalist instructors will guide you in learning to make multiple medicines to fill your apothecary. When these knowledgeable teachers walk you through how to make herbal preparations, you’ll feel confident making your own after the class.  Throughout the long weekend, we’ll make and enjoy tasty herbal treats.


The fields and forest become your pharmacy when you learn wildcrafting and herbal medicine-making.


wild reishi medicinal mushrooms

This class covers:

Plant Identification

How to get to know wild plants, even if you’ve never met them before, plus how to ID common medicinals and how NOT to confuse them with poisonous plants

Ethical Wildcrafting Practices

How to harvest responsibly, maintaining healthy wild plant populations

Growing and Propagating Medicinal Herbs at Home

How to start and maintain your own herb garden


making medicine in herbal workshopYou will make and actually get to take home:

Herbal Salves

Topical medicine for skin healing

Herbal Liqueurs and Cordials

Fun and tasty healing drinks

Oxymels

Tasty herbal tonics made with vinegar and honey

Flower Essences

Energetic medicine made from flowers in bloom


wildcrafted salad

Integrating Herbalism and Wildcrafting into our Lives

Our students will leave feeling not only empowered to wildcraft medicinal herbs themselves, but also inspired and motivated to incorporate these plant allies into their lives.  It’s one thing to know how to identify wild plants or to understand how to turn leaves into an herbal preparation.  We want to take a step beyond this.  Our team of instructors — plant lovers who have been wildcrafting for years — actually use these herbs on a regular basis.  Throughout this herbalist class they will share with you how they make time to get out into the woods to wildcraft, guidance for growing herbs even if you don’t have a garden, recipes for herbal delights that can be consumed daily and aren’t just for acute conditions, and much more.  We are excited about plants (can you tell?), and we can’t wait to share our excitement with you.

herbal medicine class projectDuring the class we will make several of these “everyday” herbal goodies and enjoy them together, such as:

Infusions

Easy, tasty teas made from leaves and flowers steeped in hot water

Decoctions

Rich, flavorful teas made from leaves, barks, roots and berries, slow-simmered to perfection (think spiced chai, yum!)

Pestos

Delicious and power-packed dips and spreads that carry healing properties and are usually crowd-pleasers at dinner parties, even for kids!  Explore the world of herbs beyond basil, and you will be pleasantly surprised

Wildcrafted “Weed” Salad

A colorful and flavorful alternative to plain old lettuce that is higher in nutrients and healing properties.


Delight in the delicious, healing gifts given by the plants, and gathered by wildcrafting

Women’s Rewilding Weekend: Remembering our Ancestral Skills

A Weekend of Rewilding for Women

Most of us are far removed from our ancestral roles and rhythms, but it is possible to come back to them.  This is a process some call “rewilding.”  Now more than ever, it is vital for us to come together to reconnect, to remember what it means to be human and female, and to explore the path toward rewilding for women.

Women have a deep physiological and spiritual connection with creation.  All of us have female ancestors who have lived in connection with the Earth’s patterns and cycles.  Their daily lives, and those of their families, were deeply reliant on that connection.  In these modern times, we organize our lives on our phones, communicate via the Internet, and live in a culture so very estranged from the Earth.

In this long weekend of rewilding for women, focus is placed on creating a safe, comfortable, relaxed and fun learning environment in which students with beginning to intermediate skill levels can thrive.  We focus on helping each student learn rather than the progression of projects.

 woman with bow and arrow rewilding


woman harvesting wild rainwater in a gourdOverview:

During this special weekend, we will learn and practice some of the essential, beautiful skills and rituals that have woven us together for millennia.  We will gather around a fire; we will harvest, prepare and eat foods from the Earth; we will sing together; and we will remember our ancestors through the crafts that were integral to their lives.  Using our hands and hearts, we will connect with each other and with the nature of womanhood, throughout the ages and across all walks of life.

 

Rewilding is about integration, not about going back in time.  It’s about making space for the ancient, undomesticated part of ourselves to come forward, even in the modern world.

 

woman with handmade hat wild pelt rewildingOur weekend of rewilding for women is limited to 20 participants.  It is important to us to create an intimate space in which to share.

Emphasis is placed on creating a safe, comfortable, relaxed and supportive environment.  We focus on everyone’s learning and growth above perfecting each skill.  This class is about liberating our minds and hearts to express themselves creatively, not about measurable accomplishments.

No matter where you’re coming from, whether you are a woman homesteader or you have never slept outdoors, we welcome you to share in this weekend of rewilding for women.


weaving a cattail fiber hat elder woman

woman blowing on tinder friction fire rewilding

Each of the four days, we will gather for morning, afternoon and evening sessions.  As we approach skills and projects, we will begin by weaving in the cultural significance of each one.  As we learn and practice together, there will be plenty of space for discussion and sharing.  Lunches will be provided each day.  Evening sessions will take place around a fire.

Skills we will explore in a relaxed atmosphere that honors both ambition and repose:

  • Fire Craft
  • Moon Ritual
  • Wildcrafting
  • Wild Foods Cookery
  • Firewood Splitting
  • Buckskin bikini top or moccasin making
  • Broom making
  • Cordage
  • Singing and Songsharing
  • And More!