Holiday Trappers School

We went to southern Southeast Alaska to Sara’s sister’s for Christmas. Wicked winds kept us inside. We attended a dinner each night at a friend or family’s home. Lots of fun.

I was supposed to leave on Monday, but the high winds kept the planes grounded and the ferry, which did go, was 2 hours late on a normally 3 hour run, and the ferry barely was able to dock in Ketchikan, from stories I heard. Had they not been able to dock, they may have had to return in the nightmare they just came through. I can’t imagine. Doesn’t sound safe that they went in the first place, paricularly with 99 mph gusts in Clarence Strait.

So on Monday, I spent the afternoon at fur handling school. My brother in law and his brother and I skinned 10 or so marten from their winter catch of some 90 or so for the season. I studied first how they did it, then dove in. They cut around the paws and did not keep the claws. A cut to the anus from either side, the strip the tail, and down the body. They used a clothes pin to strip the tail. I showed how I liked to use pliers, which gives a lot better grip with the long handles.

Then, they put the hide in corn meal, which helped to dry out the inside side of the pelt, and also made pulling off any remaining skin or fat much easier. We dredged the skin in the cornmeal, then worked off any excess skin/fat by hand. Then the hide was tacked fur side in on the stretching boards. They let them dry for just a few hours before turning to fur side out and tacking again – another lesson, as I let my dry for days, and then turned the fur out and did not retack.

Once the pelt was fully dry, they would fluff the fur with a vacuum, and “snap” the hide to make it its most fluffy. A friend of my brother in law who was watching said he used to wash raw marten fur (before putting on the stretcher) in Dawn soapy water to remove any pitch and make the fur shine. He also said a roe-stripping “gut hook” knife worked well for splitting the tail.

Lots of good ideas and practice for my own fur handling. I think making the fur as close to perfect as you can is respectful of the animals harvested and makes the most of the resource. I pulled my trapline before we went to Craig since I would not be able to check it for too many days. I can’t wait to get it back in.

As I sit here typing this back in Juneau, my brother in law called from his boat to say he, his daughter and her boyfriend were out for the day. They caught crab in the crab pots, shrimp in the shrimp pots, harvested on deer, towed a pile of logs home, and caught a king salmon on the tow home. Not a bad day.

Mark Stopha
Alaska Wild Salmon Company
4455 N. Douglas Hwy
Juneau, AK 99801

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