Tagish, Yukon (1.5 hours from Whitehorse)
I’m retired. My husband and I trap around here and I take the fur and skin it and tan it and sew it into hats and mitts and I even make teddy bears. I’ve been trapping since 1974 and I’ve been sewing fur since 1991.
I love trapping beaver but I trap before freeze up because my elbows don’t like the ice. When I get back from my trap line, I flesh the hides. I send the beaver hides to a commercial tanner. The smaller hides, mink, otter, muskrat and lynx, I can tan myself.
The secret in tanning is the fleshing. You have to get the hides very, very clean. After I flesh the hides, I soak them in salt crystals for about three days and then I take them out and flesh the hides again. I have a liquid tan that I paint on and roll it up that night. Then I paint on a liqui-soft with the old paintbrush and let the hide dry. It should be completely dry for three days, then I can put it back out in the freezer or I can wash it and stretch it. I use ammonia. This is a trick my mom taught me, ammonia is a very good cleaner – and Sunlight™ soap – and then I give it a good rinse and let the hair dry.
Next, I take the hide and spread it out on a piece of plywood and stretch it out and staple it down and let it dry. Then the hide is ready to place the pattern on and cut. I can make hats or headbands or whatever you can think. I use my small scraps for earmuffs. I can take a mink and make two pairs of earmuffs out of it and this can make that animal worth $80 to $100.
I’m able to do something that I really enjoy and being out in the woods – all that fresh air. Sometimes it’s a little nippy on the fingers. Still it’s a good way of life, it makes a little income – buys the gas at least. I don’t know if I get paid for my work but we get a good price for our fur.