Buying Deer Hair
Published Apr 17th 2013
What to look for when buying deer hair for fly tying. Get the right material whether you are using it for dry fly wings or for spinning bass bugs.
The hair you want for these two applications is very different, but there's still some common things that you are looking for. Let's cover these first:
You want a flat piece of skin with consistent hair length, useful for the size of fly you are tying. Look for straight or only slightly curved hair.
You want no or as little underwool as possible. The deer grow a dense, fine and curly underwool in the winter, and when they are shot in the cold season, you will find this under the guard hairs on the skin. You will need to remove this fine wool before being able to really use the hair, stack it, spin it, flare it or whatever you want to do. The underwool will keep the guard hairs together and makes all this difficult.
You will of course -- as always -- be looking for clean skin and hair. Sometimes the skin has been cured and is soft, but since the hair is usually cut off the skin, even dried skin will do fine.
Look at the tips too. They need to be fine, nicely tapered and even. Look at the taper. Some hairs are equally thick with a short taper and some are tapered almost full length. If you are utilizing the taper for collars or wings, make sure that the taper is actually a length that makes sense for your use. And notice that the tapered part is usually hard and doesn't flare as well as the soft base of the hair, so using the tips of coarse hair for fine wings on small flies might not always work. Small flies typically require short hair.
Broken tips are not unusual, especially on some types of deer hair like antelope or caribou (reindeer). Again this won't matter much if you don't need the tips, but if you do, you will be very bothered by the blunt ends of the broken hairs.
If you are looking for dyed hair to use for spinning colorful bass bugs and muddlers, some of the demands above will be hard to meet. Most dyed skin (but not all) will be crimped and curled, and the hair will follow troop and often be very messy.
This should not necessarily worry you if you just want to use the hair for spinning and trimming. A bit of steam will most likely straighten the hair, and its messiness won't be a problem once it's cut off the skin and tied in.
If you want to stack it to get even tips for collars etc., it's something completely different. In that case you want even, straight hair on nice, flat skin if at all possible. This can be found, especially in the dull color specter. If you want very bright colors or neon colors, the hair will most likely have seen some rough treatment like bleach and high temperatures, which will probably have mauled the skin beyond recognition.
If you are looking for hair for wings for dry flies like the CDC&Elk, Comparadun or Elk Hair Caddis plus a large number of other flies, you are looking for short, even hair, which can be cut off in orderly bunches and stacked. You will mostly find this in skin from younger animals, often called yearlings. The length also depends on where on the animal the skin was cut. Hair from the head or legs is short while back, sides and belly has longer and coarser hair.
Opposite the spinning hair, you won't mind harder hair that won't flare as much when tying wings. Sometimes it's even a problem that the hair flares too much when you want a low profile wing.
Articles in this series about selecting and buying material
- What to look for when byuing... in Tie Better. Published April 12th 2013
- Buying Bucktail in Tie Better. Published April 13th 2013
- Buying Dry Fly Hackle in Tie Better. Published April 22nd 2013
- Buying Soft Hackle in Tie Better. Published May 7th 2013
- Buying Marabou in Tie Better. Published July 1st 2013
- Buying Fur and Skin in Tie Better not scheduled for publishing yet.
- Buying Saddle Hackle in Tie Better not scheduled for publishing yet.
Articles about material selection and cleaning
- Cleaning hair in Tie Better. Published December 28th 1995
- Cleaning fly tying material in Tie Better. Published October 25th 1996
- Selecting deer hair in Tie Better. Published February 10th 1997
- Washing your materials in Tie Better. Published September 3rd 2012
- Steaming your materials in Tie Better. Published September 25th 2012