STERN TANNING COMPANY: A great option for Tanning

Posted on August 20th, 2020

Every year I’m blessed to harvest a deer, I ask myself what do I do with the hide? It seems really difficult to find a tannery, and there’s always that uneasy feeling that you get sending your animal to an unknown business. Will you ever get it back?

Our normal hunting location is about 2 ½ hours away from Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and people come from around the state for Deer Camp. A topic at Deer Camp a few years ago was the fact that a large tannery had gone bankrupt in our area, and there didn’t seem to be any good, trustworthy options that I knew of. I had contemplated tanning a hide myself, but really don’t have the time or the space to do it. Fortunately, a friend told me about a great local tannery, Stern Tanning Company, who we’re happy to have as a Premium Partner at Field to Freezer®.

I had the pleasure of meeting the owner, Jeff Stern, last year, who shared a bit about his business, as well as some helpful hints for getting a hide ready for the tanning process. He also shared some considerations for how to place an order depending on what you’re going to do with the finished hide.

One of the things that really impressed me about Stern Tanning Company was the artisan nature of his processing. Stern processes all different types of hides, and prepares them for apparel, furnishings and decorations, and he also has a special aptitude for making drumheads for drums in orchestras. Based on the types of hides I saw when Jeff showed me around, it is clear that a lot of people trust in Stern for their trophy products.

My needs are generally pretty straightforward. I have had hides tanned for quite a while, and, have had them tanned with “hair on” and hair-off, with an ultimate goal of getting a coat made with my hair-off skins.

A couple of general considerations:

  • If you’re planning on having tanning services done with the ultimate goal of having a coat or larger garment made, consider the fact that you will need large hides that aren’t riddled with bullet holes or damage from skinning or other abrasions to finish the garment. This may take some time to accumulate enough hides for a larger garment.
  • Dye color is important, and, if it is going to take you a number of years to gather your hides, consider having your hides left “natural” color. It is always easier to dye a batch of hides the same color when you’ve gathered enough for your garment, than having to try and match colors later on.
  • I have always liked “hair on” hides, as they’re really beautiful when finished. “Hair on” tanning is difficult though, and there’s no guarantee that you’ll get your hide back with hair on it due to the tanning process. (I’ve had great success with Stern Tanning Company when I have requested “hair on” though.)

For preparing a hide, I have generally “salted” mine prior to getting them to a tannery. If you haven’t salted a hide before, salting helps draw the extra moisture out of the hide and helps keep it from rotting. I’ve generally bought several boxes of kosher salt, and applied it to the hide for a couple of days until you stop seeing blood/liquid soaking through the salt.
I then tie the hide in a trash bag, at which point it can be dropped off (or shipped.)

Here are a few pictures of our 2019 hide being salted:

For people interested in shipping their hides to Stern, there are preparation and shipping instructions on their website. Here is a link to instructions for Deer, Elk, and Moose preparation and shipping.

The tanning process generally takes quite a while, and you can expect it may take nine months or longer to get your hide back. It is definitely worth the wait though!

Here are some pictures of the hide I picked up last year (from my 2018 deer.) It turned out beautifully, and I can see the tag attached to it as well, so, I’m sure it was my hide that I’m getting back.

If you’re looking to have some tanning done, I encourage you to give Stern Tanning Company a call at (414) 578-8615, or email them at .

~Matt McCoy

(Note: the above information is representative of my personal experience and opinion, and no warranty is made or implied as to its accuracy or usefulness.)