What about the hide?
By: Charlotte Sykes, Artemis Sportswoman
Like so many others, I find I need an escape sometimes. An escape from the thousand little things that I have to do – go to work, drop the kids at school, walk the dogs, water the greenhouse, clean the house…. My husband always laughs at me and my apparent endless list of things to do, and a lot of my Buckskyn journey is thanks so him. So here goes….
Ten years ago, I married into a family that have fished from the moment they could walk, stalked and hunted from not much older and are generally involved in field sports as much of the year as possible. They introduced me to a world that I now could not survive without. It provides hours and hours of enjoyment, our food, comradery and a lifestyle that I love.
Over the past few years, partly caused by running a busy business and partly as a result of life just being really full on (not a bad thing!), I have felt even more need for mental space. One autumn we decided we needed to make some changes at home. The aim was to live a more wholesome, simpler life that gave us more time to do the things we loved. We have always grown all our vegetables from seed and baked bread etc, but we wanted more hunting, fishing and shooting in our lives.
Waste became a big thing for me, and it got me thinking – we have always used every bit of meat, the antlers etc but why was I willing to throw away the hides?
We got hooked on the hunting series Meateater, sharing our evening meal with Steve Rinella and the other amazing folks that make up the modern hunting media’s pantheon. We lost ourselves in other people’s hunting and fishing antics on Instagram whilst busily planning our next hunting and fishing trips. Our household loves food and Ant decided to commit the year after his 40th birthday to only eating wild game. Previously, we had procured meat from our farming friends and our local butcher but eating only wild meat meant having to make time to harvest our food. We hunted together, fished together, butchered together. We ate all the UK species of venison as well as wild boar, pheasant, partridge, duck, squirrel, rabbit, snails and every kind of wild fish we could find. We ate like kings and the kids loved it. It was a great talking point with friends, and we were able to encourage others to care more about where their food came from and only to harvest what they were willing to eat. Waste became a big thing for me, and it got me thinking – we have always used every bit of meat, the antlers etc but why was I willing to throw away the hides?
Having grown up on the east coast in Virginia and with half of my family being Americans, I have always felt a strong connection to the US and its history. At university, I did a course on early American conservation and studied Aldo Leopold and many others in the early movement. I read a lot around traditional American craftmanship and found that I was in awe at the skill and endless beauty of the products made from the produce harvested. Craftmanship and the ability to create things with our hands has always been a big thing for us. Ant is a joiner and cabinetmaker, I love art, upholstery and sewing. I decided that I had to do something with the hides. The journey began. After hours of YouTube, conversations with tanneries and leatherworking specialists all over the UK and further afield and reading traditional tanning guides, I began to understand the skills and techniques needed to turn a raw hide in to something beautiful.
Whilst everyone else was enjoying a glass of wine (or two, or three…), I was in the garage with a head torch. Fumbling around in the dark with safety goggles and gloves that I could barely move in, I began working with wet hides that were so heavy I could only just lift them.
Whilst everyone else was enjoying a glass of wine (or two, or three…), I was in the garage with a head torch. Fumbling around in the dark with safety goggles and gloves that I could barely move in, I began working with wet hides that were so heavy I could only just lift them. Days of fleshing were followed with pickling, softening and oiling. Wow….what had I let myself in for? The self-doubt set in big style. Why oh why had I thought this was a good idea?… I was already managing my business full time, picking up after 2 kids and running my household badly. As usual my list was long!
It wasn’t until I started making my calico templates that I started to see the light. The beauty of the finished hides was incredible. The cutting stitching and creating began to feel therapeutic. My pride swelled. The hours I spent on the hill; lying in the rain in a Scottish peat hag waiting for that perfect shot; the bitter sweet emotions of the kill; the energy expired to get the carcass back to the larder; this year it had not only yielded a full freezer but also a timeless keepsake. I felt proud to tell the story. I did this. I hunted it, I processed it, I tanned the leather, dyed the suede, did the leather and brass work and sewed it by hand, stitch by stitch. Each Buckskyn bag is different because for me, each hunt, each animal and each hunting experience is different. They all have their own personality and own story to tell, one of conservation, preservation, history and traditional craftmanship.
I felt proud to tell the story. I did this. I hunted it, I processed it, I tanned the leather, dyed the suede, did the leather and brass work and sewed it by hand, stitch by stitch.
I have found that sharing the story from the hill to the finished product appealed to both my hunting and non-hunting friends. It proved to me that regardless of whether we enjoy going in to the backcountry to hunt, to bike ride, to hike, to fish, whatever it is, we all share the same passions; for our wilderness; to limit waste, to pass skills and knowledge down the generations, to live a wholesome life, to care where our food comes from, to be fit and healthy, to love life.
Charlotte was born in the UK but moved to the states with her family from the age of 3 until 12 when she moved back to go to boarding school. After school and before university she returned to the Americas travelling and staying with family all over the US before helping out in several conservation projects in south America. At University she studied languages and went on to a career in recruitment working for several firms in London. Charlotte now lives in rural Northamptonshire with her husband Antony. She runs her own careers coaching and recruitment business there whilst bringing up two children, working two springer spaniels and sewing handbags when there is a spare moment. Charlotte is a keen hunter and angler and loves nothing more than spending time with her family in the great outdoors.