By Josh Boyd
Good days on the trapline lead to evenings filled with hard work. As curious as this statement might sound, it is often the truth. With successful trapping comes fur-handling duties. Skinning, fleshing, and stretching furs become a way of life during prosperous seasons on the line.
A trapper’s fur shed often becomes his home away from home during the winter months. As one animal after the next is skinned and pelts are prepared for the fur buyer, through repetition a trapper becomes well-versed in their trade.
When putting up a large amount of fur during a single season, efficiency becomes a necessity, and nothing spells efficiency in any trade like a quality set of tools.
A trapper’s tools of the trade, help them complete the fur-handling task at hand with relative ease, and are every bit as valuable as the traps they utilize on the line, each one having their specific place.
When skinning your catch, it is best to position the animal in a manner that makes the chore as straightforward as possible. For most trappers, this means hanging their catch at, or near, shoulder level.
This is easily accomplished with the use of a commercial skinning gambrel. By hanging larger animals such as coyotes by their hind legs with the use of a gambrel, an individual can position himself or herself as needed, to easily access any area efficiently.
When skinning smaller animals such as raccoons, a makeshift gambrel can be used that will be better suited in size to the species that is being worked with. This is accomplished by looping a piece of rope through an eyebolt that is secured to an overhead beam.
In this case, the free end of the rope is tied off to one hind leg of the animal that is to be skinned, thereby reducing the level of difficulty associated with skinning around the hindquarters as the hide is worked downward.
A Well-Suited Skinning Knife
A quality skinning knife is worth its weight in gold to a trapper. A knife of this nature not only reduces skinning times but also allows any cuts to be made as clean and efficiently as possible.
The characteristics of a quality skinning knife has less to do with the size of the knife that is chosen, and more to do with the confidence of the individual toward that particular knife. For this reason, it is important to select a knife that you are comfortable with and well versed in using.
Cuts like the ones made around the eyes, ear butts, and nose require a great deal of precision, and having a knife at your disposal that fits correctly in your hand and is not overly bulky allows an individual to complete the task at hand with little difficulty.
It is also worth mentioning whatever knife that is chosen must be adequately sharpened to minimize the amount of force that is required to separate the hide from the carcass of your catch. The use of a dull knife can quickly lead to miscuts or punctures in the pelt.
Tools For Stripping Tail
When skinning animals with a lengthy tail such as coyotes, raccoons, or foxes, among others, the skin of the tail must be removed from the bone. This requires a certain level of force and finesse.
Once the base of the tailbone is exposed, a pulling action is utilized to slide the tail past the remainder of the tailbone. To facilitate this process, pliers or a tail stripper are commonly used to grasp the area between the exposed bone and hide, while pulling in a downward fashion.
Pliers are the tool of choice for many trappers when freeing the tail of their catch. However, commercial tail strippers can be purchased on the Internet or from most local trapping supply dealers.
A fleshing beam is used to position a hide in an inside-out fashion while all fat and excess tissue are scraped free from the interior surface of the skin.
Although fleshing beams can be purchased, a significant number of individuals choose to fashion their own. Construction ranges from traditional varieties made from wood to those built from PVC materials.
When constructing your fleshing beam, the angle of your beam is highly dependant upon personal preference. Some individuals prefer the beam to be situated horizontally, while others find that a 45-degree angle is ideal.
Once the hide of your catch has been skinned and fleshed, it is ready to be stretched and dried. This will be conducted with the use of a stretcher of the appropriate size for your catch.
A couple of options exist when stretching your hides for the duration of the drying cycle. Traditionally, wooden stretcher boards have been used for many years to secure a hide in place. Alternatively, wire stretchers are offered to accomplish this same task.
When choosing between wooden and wire stretchers, a couple of considerations come to mind. Many trappers prefer the use of wooden stretchers because, although more expensive initially, they seem to render higher sale prices when furs are sold to a buyer.
Wire stretchers tend to be relatively inexpensive. However, many fur buyers express a preference for fur that is dried on a wooded stretching board, as opposed to the wire alternative.
Tools Of The Trade
By utilizing the proper tools for the task at hand, a trapper is better able to complete their skinning chores efficiently, thereby turning out a higher quality finished product. By putting adequate thought into your fur handling tool selection this winter, you will please your local fur buyer and maximize the size of the fur check in your pocket.