When I wrote Skin Trade, I consulted a professional trapper for much of the material. (Any liberties I took with the process are my own fault.) That trapper is one of my good friends, Drew Mellon. Though we talked about the basics of trapping zombies, we hardly touched the act of skinning them. I didn't want to go into too much skinning detail in the book, so I was able to use the brief material we covered to fill in the gaps. Since then lots of folks have asked about the process specifically, and I myself have wondered as well.
How do you skin a zombie?
I asked Drew if he could enlighten us, and he did us one better. He wrote us a whole explanation in the form of the Skin Trade process.
So, without further ado, I give you To Skin a Zombie:
To Skin a Zombie
By Drew Mellon
The secrets to skinning zombies are closely guarded. Only family members or close family friends ever learned the tricks of the trade. So why am I telling you now? Well, I've been in this trade many years now, and my hands aren't what they used to be, nor is the trade. The skin trade industry has become corrupt, and green horn skinners are turning themselves because of ignorant mistakes in the skinning process.
First thing, you need the tools of the trade: a good knife--not one of those stainless steel shiny things, but a good carbon steel blade. They just skin these things better. You need a skinner. You can use pliers, but they become greasy from the fat and oily skin, causing slipping of the skin. Just get you a skinner tool made for frogs; they work the best. You also need a gambrel. One used for deer will be good.
The second thing, and this is an important one, make sure the damn thing is dead. There ain't nothing like having one hanging up, you make your first cut, and the damn thing looks up at ya.
Like most skin/fur bearing animals, the back is the most valuable. If you have some zombie beat all to hell, just cut out the back piece. After they've been dispatched, roll 'em over, pecker/cunt down. Most older zombies are likely to have cysts on their backs. That's fine. It will be handled during the fleshing process. Those do tend to bring less at the buyer. A good tattooed back is money in the bank (them Germans love their ink poster art).
I like to start up around the left shoulder blade. You don't just start cutting. You can screw up and puncture through that bastard, and you'll have a hell of a mess. Take your hand, place your finger tips on the back of the shoulder area, applying pressure. Now pull that area of skin down taunt and begin your cut; you want to do this all around the back until you have a complete separation of skin. You may have to go around old wounds and the like. By doing this there should be an inch gash boarder around the center piece. Get your pliers/skinner tool and grab a hold of the top corner of the skin and slowly but steadily begin to pull, at an angle. Some skins will come off with no trouble, but others will put up a resistance, and you'll have to release that corner and grab the opposite corner, pulling in the same manner until you hit resistance, repeating until it's off. (They say all men are created equal, but not their damn skin. Yellow, black, brown, white, thick, thin--it's all different and requires different tanning processes.)
Now that you have the back piece, always roll it flesh side in until you get ready to scrape it. If you have a male zombie, roll 'em over. The next thing you want to get is his cod sack. (Those English love cod sack chain purses.) Unfortunately, most zombie cod sacks are covered in dried, caked-on shit from where they shit on themselves after dying. Normally, in just the back hide taking process, I don't even bother with the cod sack. But if it's an unusually large cod sack, I will go to the trouble. Pick ya up a stick and beat the hell out of it. A lot of the shit will crumble off of the cod sack, depending on the freshness of the zombie. Putting shaving cream on the area will pull that shit right off of them and helps with the odor. You want to wrap your thumb and index finger around the sack and pull them out toward the feet as far as possible. Make a circular, oval cut around the base of the sack. This gives enough skin to be folded over in to create a nice seam to be stitched. After removal, you will want to squeeze the sack, which will make the balls rise to the top. They are held in by a membrane. Just make a slice in the membrane, and they will pop out.
With female zombies you want to cut off their breasts. Pull them up and back toward the head, cutting half moon cuts under them and doing the reverse action on the top half. The breasts make tobacco pouches that never allow the tobacco to go dry.
Full body skinning:
Fresh zombies can be skinned whole since their skin is almost perfect. For this you will need to hang 'em up. You need to hang them upside down. You can't just tie a rope around their feet and hang 'em. One, they can slip out. Two, unlike that shit you see on TV, most zombies have broken ankles and their bodies can't be supported. Make a vertical cut (not deep) down the Achilles tendon, slide your finger in and pull it out enough to get the hook of the gambrel to go under and out the other side. Repeat with the other ankle. Now raise the zombie up with the gambrel. The hands should be almost to the ground or on the ground, depending on how tall the zombie is. Now, go ahead and make a complete cut around both wrists, the neck (or if the head is missing, there's no need to), and you will also want to make a complete cut around both ankles below the insertion of the hooks. Be careful when doing this. The weight on the Achilles tendon will make it taunt and raise it next to the skin. You do not want to cut through the tendon. It will break with the leg falling off the hook, making it a pain in the ass to finish skinning.
Now start on the inside of the ankle (either one), make a slice all the way down, right behind the genitalia area--do both sides the same--and with the skinning tool/pliers, begin to pull the skin off and down the leg. This is done the same way as we did the back until you reach the base of the ass. Take your knife and cut around the anus, slicing moon shaped cuts along the inside of the butt cheeks. Stop at the base of the tail bone; take your knife and slide it under the cod sack area, separating the cods and the dick muscles. With females, you want to cut in and around the genitals to be able to pull out the lips. These areas will be the meatiest parts of the skin.
The most common accident a green horn does to condemn himself is to nick himself with his knife. This is an automatic death sentence to the untrained. Nature is a weird thing. It repeats itself on different levels. Like a catfish, when you get stuck by the barbs of a catfish, it burns and becomes inflamed. However, if you squeeze the catfish and rub the secretions onto the spot, it stops the burn and the swelling. Guess what! Zombie ass juice prevents you from turning from minor cuts and scratches. We call it "milking the ass." You do this by pushing up and in on the zombie's ass. The ass secretes a white substance that can be rubbed on the cut or scratch. It will stop the infection and you will not turn.
By now the skin should be hanging around the upper hip area. To skin on down from this point, you will need to pull with your hands the stomach and the love handles, which are the toughest part. It's just pull and cut. Don't worry about the fat sticking to the skin; it will easily scrape off. A little trick I like to use is to put a golf ball in behind the skin hanging down from the zombie's back and one behind the skin hanging down the zombie's front. Push them through the skin so that you can tie a rope around the skin covered balls. You should have one end of the rope in the front tied around the skin covered golf ball and the other end around the ball in the back. Attach this rope to a 4-wheeler, horse, whatever, and slowly pull. The skin will peel right off the body to the shoulders.
Once you get to the shoulder area, you want to make a diamond cut around the armpit glands. (I call them glands. I don't give a shit what you call it.) You do not want to cut into them. The pheromones and scent from a ruptured gland brings zombies in droves. (You can insert syringes into these glands pulling out the liquid and putting it into vials for scent bait in the future.) After your diamond cut around the arm pits, make one last cut from the top of the diamond cut up the inside of the arms. Just peel the hide on down, as if it's a sweater. That's all there is to skinning a zombie.
Now, time to flesh and tan. That's another story.******
Thanks again Drew!