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.


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 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.


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 and thanks for this,
we trap with a timms trap or we don't get any fruit, ( in fact we trapped AND didn't get any fruit this year...) my son plucks them and makes good pocket money from it. My husband likes to just save the legs, your backbone idea is good , however I don't like the smell and avoid cooking it for eating, what are your recipes? I sometimes cook the carcass and feed to chickens. Do you cure the skins? we used to nail them to a board and plaster with baking soda and kerosene mixed together , the leather was preserved but the moths eventually got into the fur. we made a good little drumskin with the leather of one possum.
Hi Kali

I have mostly used home-made snares for the possums..... but a Timm's trap certainly is effective.

That's good that your son is plucking the fur. Last time I checked I think they were paying $105 per kilo for it. 'Down the Coast' in winter I'm guessing that you might get a kilo from maybe a dozen to 15 possums. I suppose he finds that plucking the fur from a Timm's -killed possum is difficult because it is likely that the possum will be cold when he gets to it. It is hard work plucking a cold possum. If he set snares on ground runs he would have a lot more live (warm) possums when he got to them. Of course live-catch traps have to be checked every morning. (And snares may catch other animals too, so you have to know what is around and be careful.... although you can do certain things to make it fairly unlikely that any other animal is going to get caught).

Hmmm...... I guess that some possum meat might have a smell that some folks won't like. I think I heard once something that indicated women can detect certain odours that men cant smell, so possum meat could be one of these things. I suppose you are removing those glands under the tail without puncturing them. They contain some really concentrated 'possum odour'.

Another thing that might taint the meat is having the guts in the dead possum for too long. So if your coons are being killed just after dark and you aren't collecting them and gutting them until 8 or 12 hours later you might have a gamey smell/taste in the meat. I'd say, generally, that the gut taint mainly affects the belly flaps and backbone meat, but I guess it could travel to the back legs, especially in warmer temperatures. I might be miles of the mark with these ideas, but they could be worth thinking about.

I'm not positive about this, but I get the idea that sometimes possums might rub themselves against something they've peed on or squirted that danged gland juice on to in some way. I suspect this because sometimes the brisket area of a carcase can smell like the contents of the tail glands. And I think I've tasted it when I've eaten a roast possum sometimes.

I think the possum I have most enjoyed was crumbed and fried.

I don't have any special possum recipes. I think anything is worth a try. I've roasted quite a few, and I've cooked some in a stewy mix that has simmered for ages in my crock pot. Possum meatballs are OK. I guess I would class possum in with rabbit, chicken and pork. Dunno why really.... maybe just because it is a sweeter sort of meat. They can sometimes carry a bit of fat too, and I consider that to be a bonus. So I'd try any recipe designed for pork or chicken. I can't remember if I've ever done sweet and sour possum, but I'm fairly certain it would be a winner.

I have had a go at curing a couple of possum skins. I think I had the best success using a recipe that involved soaking the hide in a battery acid solution.

I have sent quite a few hides off to be tanned by professionals. I used Merchant Tanners in the North Island. It cost me around $8 per hide (plus freight) and the results were very good. My wife has recently expressed a desire to have a possum rug on the bed, so I need to get out and catch a few. I really enjoy chasing possums.

hello Stephen, thanks very much for taking the time to write this up!
When you've recovered, would you share your rabbit skinning technique with us? It still takes me about 15 minutes per rabbit, I skin them all first and gut them afterwards.
Removing the skins definitely takes the most time and effort, I try to keep them in one piece for a friend who cures them and have managed to pull too hard and lose the guts - just once, I've not repeated that mistake again.
The belly flap skin in a rabbit is so thin that I only need to make a small nick at the top of the rib cage and run my thumb away from the innards and let everything drop into a bucket.
Kali, I leave my rabbits and hares in a light brine overnight which blanches the meat and might also help to remove some of the gamey flavour - have you tried doing that?
Not that I've cooked or eaten possum (yet).
G'day Megan. I've never really become serious about using rabbit skins, so I am not the expert you are seeking. When I skin a rabbit it is to get the meat out rather than the skin off if you know what I mean.

I generally just make one nick through the skin with a knife, then hook my finger under the skin and pull it off.... generally in two or more pieces. I guess with a nice tender, head shot rabbit I could have it skinned and gutted in less than three minutes. But the skin is useless. I've skinned heaps of rabbits like this.

I think you are doing the right thing in skinning before gutting.

Although this guy doesn't actually show the process of skinning, he does talk about it on this You Tube video. It appears that he pulls it off like a tube from the front to the back if I heard him correctly. Here's the link:
Preparing a Rabbit Skin

Hmmm... the link doesn't seem to work.... at my end anyway. So you could just copy and paste the line below into the address bar on your browser:

Rabbit skins seem to be comparatively weak in that they tear easily. If your friend doesn't need the head skin and/or the tail attached to the skin it should make things a bit easier.

I could be quite wrong, but if I needed a rabbit skin I'd consider doing it almost exactly like I do a possum. Hanging the rabbit by one or two back legs could make the whole thing much more manageable (if you aren't doing something like this already). If the rabbit is hanging at about the height of your chest, you can grab the skin and use your body weight to pull down. Pulling the skin off like a tube from the wide end (the rear end) down to the narrower end makes sense to me. Cutting off the front legs at the lower joint seems like it could be a good idea so that the skin pulls off these legs more easily. You could use secateurs or an axe for this.

Next time I get a rabbit I must try getting the skin off neatly. I've just moved to a new home and I've seen rabbits out of my office window..... but I understand that my neighbours actually encourage the rabbits and regard them as pets, so in the interests of maintaining a good relationship I will have to look elsewhere.

I've heard about soaking gamey meat in salty water, but I've never tried it.

Are there still plenty of rabbits around 'down south'? We appear to have a few pockets of them here, but the calicivirus really seemed to knock them back.

I have shot a lot of rabbits, but more recently I've enjoyed learning how to snare them.

I thought you weren't meant to eat possums because they can carry tuberculosis? There was some commercial possum meat place in Nelson at one point I think, but they couldn't guarantee the safety of the meat so they just started focussing on the skins. However, if I'm wrong I'd be delighted to hear it, because I'm all for protecting our forests from the little blighters and it seems a shame to waste the meat if it could be used.
Thanks for your post Kelly. Welcome to the group.

It seems that possums are often associated with tuberculosis. But they aren't the only animals that are affected. I am no expert, but I understand that deer, pigs and cattle can also carry it. And we eat plenty of them.

I would never eat any possum, or any other animal, that seemed to be unhealthy. And I practice common sense hygiene. I've eaten a lot of possums and have come to no harm. I might not even skin a possum that was in bad condition or which had any noticeable lumps on its body. Having said that though, I've never found a possum with any such defects.

Here's my opinion..... Guaranteeing the safety of any game meat for commercial sale can be (or once may have been) a challenge. Not just because of diseases that animals may have, but possibly more so because it is not killed in inspected premises.... and untrained, or careless, or unscrupulous operators may not follow the food safety guidelines before getting the meat to the processing company. Hundreds of possums are killed with poison, and perhaps there is a small possibility that a poisoned possum could find its way into the meat processing line. However my understanding is that nowadays the standards of game meat processing are fairly high and everything should generally be fine. I recall hearing about a possum pie that was available down the West Coast somewhere.... but I cant think of any place that possum meat might have been sold around Nelson. There may have been a place in Golden Bay that sold it.

I enjoy eating possum. And theoretically it should be good.... free range organic perhaps.... and in many cases feeding on the very best foods in pristine conditions.

Best wishes.... Coote


I could catch a possum a night from our property in my live capture cage, but I dont know how to kill them once I catch them. I dont have a gun, and dont fancy putting my hand into the cage to pull it out and knock it on the head just in case it decides to climb me like a tree with those sharp claws. I want to live capture for the fur to sell and the meat for the dogs. Also, I saw a post saying someone cooks the possums for the chooks. I thought I would give remains to chooks -  but why cook it? Is it a health reason or personal? It looks like free protein to me. I have also heard of people putting remains in a bucket with holes in the bottom so the flies can blow it and the maggots fall out the holes in the bucket and the chooks eat them. Maybe it will attract flies out of house towards the stinky possum carcass but stinky is not cool to live with:(

I am really motivated to use the resource on my back doorstep, possum,  but NEED an easy kill method. Please help. As we have cats and small dogs, I dont want to use leg traps.

Hi Kate.

I'm not too sure of the latest rules, but I think it is possible to own a reasonably powerful air rifle without having to go to the trouble of obtaining a firearms licence.   The Police or your local gun shop should be able to point you in the right direction.    Shooting an air rifle pellet directly downwards into the top of the possum's head should do the trick, although you might have to be prepared to shoot more than once.  You might be able to get a good second-hand air rifle at a reasonable price.

If you aren't squeamish, you could improvise a slender spear to thrust into the possum through the bars of the cage, although I imagine that any 'save the animals' people reading this will be horrified.   However in nature animals kill other animals with nothing more than sharp teeth and claws... and a decent spear thrust into the possum between the shoulder blades will end things reasonably quickly.   The blade of the spear should be very sharp and  at least two centimetres wide to ensure that the animal will bleed freely.   To be effective, the spear should penetrate the heart/lung area.

A rifle is a more civilized method.   Perhaps your neighbor has one and might feel inclined to help you (provided that it is safe to do so.... and provided that you live in an area where it is appropriate to use a firearm).

You can boldly pull a possum from a cage trap by the tail and clunk it on the head, but this operation may not go well.... especially if you are lacking confidence or practice.  If you do want to try this, I suggest using a heavy stick about 60 cm long rather than trying to be accurate with a hammer or axe.   The club has to hit the top or the back of the skull to be quickly effective.  Be prepared to swing your club more than once, especially if the first shot doesn't go where it should.

I've never tried it, but you could try getting a big sack and holding it over the cage while you open the door.  The possum can then be tipped into the sack.   The mouth of the sack is then bunched together to stop its escape .... and you can then judge where the head is to clobber it with your club.

Some professional trappers have a wire cable noose fixed firmly to a pole which they use to catch animals around the neck so that they can be removed from cages etc.   The noose might be fixed directly to the end of the pole.... or the noose cable may pass down through a hollow pole so that it can be pulled and tightened from the operators end of the pole.   I've never used one.   You'd need to think about how you'd use such a pole with your particular cage.   You'd have to snare the possum with the noose, then open the cage door and push or pull the possum outside where it could be clubbed.  Your pole would have to be narrow enough to fit between the cage bars.

You could immerse the whole cage in a drum of water and drown the animal, but frankly I detest this method.   I don't think it is a nice option.

If I were you, I'd be inclined to buy myself a Timms trap.   These are traps that the possum sticks his head into to get at the bait.... and they are designed to kill the possum.

I would boil up the possums I fed to the chooks.   That way they could pick meat off the bones in swallowable chunks a lot easier.  You could try just skinning the possum and giving it to the chooks, but I think that it would be likely to dry up in the sun and become very hard to eat.... especially for toothless chooks.    The possum might eventually rot and get soft, but there'll be a helluva stink and you might find that the rotten meat causes the eggs to become tainted.   Yuk.

Because you have cats and dogs, you might have to be careful where you set the Timms trap.  There are other kill traps available as well as the Timms.   Your local farm supply store or local body might have info on these.   Some can be set up in trees.  DOC may be able to advise you on the safe use of Timms and other traps.

It is good you want to harvest possums.  I think they are a great resource.

I'm sure that if you proceed with the harvest, it will be interesting to read about.   Please keep us informed!!   Best wishes from Nelson.....   Coote.

Thanks so much for your reply. You gave lots of good advice and I will try the air rifle idea first. I can easily put it right up close to the possums head. My only worry is if I miss and the bullet hits the metal cage and ricochets back to me!!!  The sack idea sounds really good too as it is something I can do and it is obvious where the head will be and as the possum will be contained, I can take my time to make it a good shot with a heavy club so that it dies immediately. I agree that in nature, animals kill each other much more slowly and cruelly.

Like you, I would not drown it, that is a slow scary death for a mammal.

I wish there was a stun gun out there, then I could stun it, then pull it out and knock it on the head with a death blow....

I do want to collect the fur, so want to do a live kill instead of the tims trap. It feels a better use of the possum resource. After a couple of weeks of free meat, and collecting fur I am sure I would be close to buying a gun.

Thanks again and I will keep you posted

Yes.... if you want to save the fur, then you are right about not using a kill trap.  I've plucked cold, dead possums... but it is very hard work.   Some were nearly impossible to pluck.

Also, a cage trap is the safest option if you have pets.

I don't think you are likely to get many ricochets if you put the gun barrel through the top of the cage and close to the possum.   However I have experienced the occasional air rifle ricochet.... I once hit an old tyre with a pellet and it came back and hit me on the ear in line with my eye.  Perhaps you could wear a pair of safety glasses.

I look forward to reading more.

OMG - lucky it wasnt your eye!! Did you damage your ear - these days kids purposefully make big holes in there earlopes LOL - not going there.....

It was a good lesson for me.   I don't recall any blood or lasting damage.... but it was maybe forty years or more ago.

A while back I made a couple of 'traditional' box traps to see if I could catch rabbits in a neighbour's garden.   I didnt get any bunnies, but I did catch a possum.   With the shape of the trap and the way the possum was facing the light through the bars at the end of the cage, it was relatively easy to pull it out by the tail and klunk it.   Here are some pictures of the rabbit traps, or rabbit 'gums' as they've been called:


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