One of my slow goals in life is to make myself a new set of regalia. This is an exercise in new self-sufficiency, since I’ve never learned to sew. But for something that is so central to my identity – ceremony, and potlatching – it makes sense to find power in new capability.
A couple of weeks ago, when a friend returned from a successful deer hunt, he offered me the hooves as a gift. I’d told him months before that I wanted to make noisemakers for a new apron, and this was the first hunt to happen in the periphery of my life since setting that goal. I traveled home with thawing hooves in my purse, and yesterday, I took initial steps to process them.
To offer a disclaimer, I’ve never done this before. I proceeded with advice from my father and grandfather, learned by feel, and will probably do successively better jobs as I get more practice!
1. I partially thawed and separated the hooves, which my friend had cut just above the dewclaw.
2. I simmered the hooves in clean water for three and a half hours, changing the water completely every hour or so.
3. Once they softened, I gently prised the hoof from the bone, flesh and connective tissue inside. The first hoof I tested (at three hours of simmering) was still hard to work with, but after an extra half hour in the water they popped out easily.
4. Once all the hooves were loose, I set to the initial finishing work. I kept the hooves in fresh, hot water until I was ready to work with each one, then set to trimming and scraping.
5. I trimmed the edges of the hooves to be flat and even, and scraped the soft, inner surface of the hoof clean. I mostly used a small knife with a thin, sharp blade, but I’d like to experiment with better tools.
There are still some rough edges I’d like to smooth, and I need to drill holes so I can fasten the noisemakers to my apron someday. I suspect this is easier to do while the hoof is still pliable, but I lacked the tools at the time so I’ll struggle through it later!
This process was a lesson in patience, and I still have plenty of work to do to refine my technique! If you have any feedback or ideas, please feel free to share them. I’d be really happy to learn from you, or learn together. Someday when I finally hear my apron rattling, I know I’ll be proud of all the hard work and grateful for the nimble deer that lend me their grace during ceremony!