Skinning and Butchering a Possum

If it is one thing I've learned, there is often more than one way to do a job.  Here is what I have been doing.  It would be interesting to read what others do.

SKINNING

The method I have described below is what I would do if I wanted to keep the possum skin.   If the skin isn't important (or maybe you've already plucked off the fur to sell, then it doesn't really matter how the skin comes off).  I sleeve skin possums from the back to the head like this:

1.  Cut off the ears and the testicles (if any).

2.  Cut down the front of the front legs with the cuts meeting at the neck.  I don't bother to cut right around the front legs by the paws because mostly the skin just pulls right off the front legs anyway.

3.  Cut down the back of the back legs.  This can be done from one side to the other in one sweeping cut.  I like to make the cut pass closer to the pouch or testicles rather than up against the bum hole.  The skin near the pouch or testicles seems to be easier to pull away and it gives you a good place to start.  It can be a good idea to make a cut right around each back leg just by the paw.  Sometimes the skin will rip off nicely here without a cut, but sometimes it won't.


4.  This is where I hang the possum up, but  other folks may not bother.  Hanging it helps to keep the meat clean, and it enables me to work at a comfortable height.  I take a loop around one back leg.  This can be tied, but I have a hook on the end of my rope that simply hooks back on the main rope to form a noose.



5.  Grab the skin at the cut just above the pouch/testicle area.  Pull it down.  Work your fingers down between the skin and the carcase to part as much of the skin from the body as you easily can.


6.  Work the skin off the back legs with thumbs/fingers.  When there is a decent flap of detatched skin, I can grab the flap and pull it carefully to ease more skin off the legs.  I have to make sure that not too much pull is exerted down through the cut edge of the skin as it gets close to the tail....it is fairly easy to rip the skin if it is pulled too hard.  It is best to pull with a folded up bit of the skin that is well away from the edge (Hmmm...we really need a photo to explain this better).  I sometimes bend each leg to make the knee stick out as I pull the skin off the legs.


7.  With most of the skin pulled off the back legs, I work my thumbs in under the skin at the top of the legs across the back until I have a clear 'tunnel' right across the back that I can hook a couple of fingers under.  This can be the hardest part of the operation.   Sometimes when my thumbs have had enough of this hard work, I've forced the rounded end of my thin plastic pocketknife handle under the skin...but my thumbs (with thumbnails) seem to work better.


8.  Standing behind the possum with its tail facing me, I grasp the loose skin on both sides of the tail and pull it gently back toward me.  I often will pull in a rocking motion, pulling harder with one hand then the other.  When the skin has come off a bit this way, I then slide two fingers of one hand under the tunnel I made in the previous step and pull up toward the tail.  I may alternate pulling the skin above the tail, then the skin below the tail a couple of times until the skin comes away from the base of the tail completely.  I continue this until the skin pops off the end of the poo tube.


9.  Next a rope is hitched around the tail.  Pulling the hitch tight, I pull the rope down with one hand, and the other hand lightly grips the hitch around the tail and also pulls down.  The tail skin generally comes off fairly easily this way.  Sometimes when the skin seems to be particularly stuck, the tail wants to pull right off the animal.... so I take my hanging rope and hitch it around the base of the tail instead of the leg.  I make my hitch in the tail stripping rope by doubling the rope.  I pass the 'eye' end of the doubled rope around the tail, then pass the two 'tail ends' of the rope through the eye to form what I think is called a cow hitch.



10.  The skin can now be pulled right off the body of some animals.  Other times it is necessary to stop when you get to the front legs.  Sometimes, if insufficient skin has been 'thumbed' away from the belly for a start, the whole belly skin can rip and the guts spill out.


11.  The skin can be worked off the front legs one at a time



12.  Head skins seem to rip easily at times.  I find it is often best to grab the headskin at each side and pull gradually with both hands.


SAVING THE MEAT

Generally I take only the back legs and the backbone down to the beginning of the rib cage.  I will sometimes also take the front legs from a particularly nice-looking plump possum.  I never eat possum liver if I believe poison may have been laid in the area in the last year or so....I understand that if they have eaten a sub-lethal dose of certain poisons, the liver is likely to contain the highest concentrations of the stuff.  (The same applies to wild pig livers in an area that may have been poisoned).

1. While the possum is hanging by a back leg, I cut from the tail around the anus and back to the tail using a very sharp knife with a narrow blade.  I am careful to keep my blade to the sides of the pelvic opening so as not to penetrate the colon ("poo tube"). I cut well down into the pelvis with the object of severing all the tissue holding the colon and bladder in place.


2.  Bending the tail downwards I cut across the tail at the base through the various tubes etc down to the tail bone.  I move my knife along until I find a suitable joint, then force the blade through it.  I twist the tail to break it away, and cut through the remaining tissue to completely remove the tail.  At the base of the tail, buried in the tissue and maybe some fat, are a pair of glands which hold a thick, white, stinking fluid.  Mostly I don't even see these glands, but if they are cut or squashed and the smelly goo gets on the meat, it may not taste too good.  So if you are new to this, it might be best to actually find these glands to ensure that they are removed.


3.  The possum is generally hanging by one leg at this stage.  I cut through the knee joint of the 'free' leg and discard the lower part.


4.  I then cut off the belly flap down each side of the back  to the rib cage.  Mostly this just rips away, but the knife is necessary to start the job.  As I do this, I grab the poo tube and the tube above the bladder up by the pelvis and carefully pull  them downwards out of the pelvic cavity.  This generally leaves a nice clean hole right through the pelvis.   The bladder and colon can then hang below the good meat and it doesn't matter if they 'leak'.  I generally don't bother to remove the guts completely from the carcase because I mostly just keep the back half of the animal.   But if you think the front half is worth saving, then you'll want to pull the guts right out.   Practice makes perfect.


5.  I cut through the backbone at the beginning of the ribs and discard the front part of the animal along with the attached guts.  If the front legs looked good to take home, I would cut them off the body first.


6.  Often a lot of fur will have stuck to the meat.  I scrape as much of this off as I can before I cut through the remaining back knee joint.  I try to remove any remaining fur when I get home by rubbing at the surface of the meat while running it under a stream of tap water.   I carry clean plastic bags for the meat intended for the table.


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Replies to This Discussion

Hi

My hubby bought me a gun like you suggested and so far we have shot 2 possums caught in our trap.  I have plucked their fur and chopped the hind legs off for the dogs and front legs for the cats. Then buried the carrasses under fruit trees for blood and bone fertilizer. All is a huge learning curb. It was easy to pull out the fur, but I left the tail and tummy and legs. It was harder to cut off the legs as I had to work out the joint. I took my time and figured it. It feels really great to be using the possums for good. both have been small possums. Perhaps if I trap a big one, I might try skinning it. At the end of the day it was so much easier and not half as dreadful as I imagined. I havent been the one to pull the trigger yet though. I will overcome that when my hubby gets tired of killing for me. but I noticed he left me to the plucking and cutting up. Smile.

Good stuff Kate!  You may as well make the most of the possum resource.   I wonder if your dogs will dig up the carcasses.

Maybe you'll eventually try a bit of crumbed and fried possum hind leg one day when you catch a plump, healthy one with a bit of fat on it.   You just have to be careful not to get any of the nasty white fluid from the tail glands on the meat.   It might even be enough to put some dogs off.

I don't know what is being paid for a kilo of plucked fur nowadays.... but a while back it was around $100 per kilo.... which might be all the decent long fur from maybe 12 big possums (or maybe 20 smaller ones).   That is a nice bonus to make from your back yard.

Not a chance of them digging up the possum carcasses as the trees are inside an electric netting fence which the dogs are scared of. The naughty dogs frightened todays trapped possum so much with their barking before I had time to get to it and the possum flipped the cage and escaped. It was a bigger possum today too. Dogs missed out on breakfast.... and strangely I was disappointed in not getting to practise my craving up the meat skills, surprised me to discover I like butchery -  it is a positive not having to pay for pet food, and knowing I will get money for the fur. Plus it feels good to add fertilizer in the form of possum carcass to the soil which is nasty hard clay.

Seems like you might have quite a few possums in the neighbourhood. Maybe you could stop the cage from being flipped by driving a peg in on each side of the trap and tying a cord across the top of it.

Thanks for the class.

But... how do you know if they were poisoned. I want to put traps around Mangere Mountain and Ambury Park, I will have a meeting with the rangers to have a discretionary permit, as they will have pest control services FREE OF CHARGE.

But they are concerns about rat poison that apparently is going to rabbits.

Hi Ricardo.... As far as I know, there is no way of knowing whether game animals have residual poison in their systems or not.

I take two precautions. For a start I would not eat possum or pork taken from an area close to where poison may have been laid in the last few months. And if I felt there was any risk of poison contamination at all I would not eat the liver or kidneys. I am not an expert, but I understand that poison residues are likely to be concentrated in the liver (I'm not sure about the kidneys).

I would also not eat an animal that did not look healthy.

I talked to a scientist about this issue with possums. He eats them too, and he did not seem at all concerned about residues of anti-coagulant type poisons. He said that this type of substance is often prescribed for humans.

However I would carefully investigate the area where I planned to trap and ask around to see if people know about poison being laid. If in doubt, don't eat the meat.

I don't like poisons. We can't be sure of what their side effects might be. And poisoning isn't a nice way of killing something (although cyanide seems to act very quickly). In some traditions, people may be defined as caretakers of the earth. I feel this way too. My belief is that a loving caretaker should feel extremely reluctant to use poison.

Hi Stephen,

Thanks for that, that's very helpful. We've been visiting a friend's farm on and off for a number of years to shoot rabbits and happened about a couple of possums as well when we were spotlighting at night last time we were there. I was very keen on their skins, so started to skin them right away as I would for a rabbit. I found however that the fur was quite loose and tufts kept pulling off. The farmer told me, that you pluck them warm, but skin them cold, so I left them till morning and indeed the fur was much more firmly attached at that point. I found it a bit of a mission to get the cold skin off (I'm a bit slow with skinning even at the best of times), but I've managed to get two beautiful skins tanned, so it was worth it.

We are going again in a couple of weeks and even though the main mission is rabbit population reduction, I'm kind of hoping for some more beautiful possum furs. The two possums we got last time were fat and healthy and looked pretty edible (although I thought they did have a strange somewhat peppery smell), so I would like to at least try the meat, if we get any again. So to cut a long story short, if I want the whole skin, but also the meat, when would you skin/butcher? I suppose I could gut the possum before letting it cool, but that might be messy and make work even harder?

Thanks, Hanna

Greetings. Brief reply from phone.... in my opinion it is probably best to gut animals asap. But I have eaten possums that had been dead for hours before I gutted them. Sometimes I think the guts tainted the meat a bit, especially the meat nearest the guts. Maybe you'd like the 'gamier' flavour. You could just keep the back legs in such a case as these may be affected the least (but watch out for those stink glands which are really stinky). The tainting problem is probably a lot worse in warmer conditions.

If keeping the skin is important, then I'd be happy to let the animal cool for maybe a few hours to set the fur without bothering to gut it.

No matter what you do, you are likely to get fur all over the meat. You could try wiping it off with a strong, damp paper towel.

I have cut meat for eating off animals that have been dead and ungutted for maybe 15 hours or more. I observe common sense hygiene principles and cook the meat well.

Hi Stephen,

Thanks for the quick reply. I'll let you know how we get on, if we get any possums :-)

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