This department of the trapper’s art is one of the most important and necessary, as affecting pecuniary profits. The value of a skin in the fur market depends entirely upon the care with which it is taken from the animal and afterward prepared, and without a knowledge on this subject the young trapper will in vain seek for high prices for his furs. Large quantities of valuable skins are sent to our markets annually by inexperienced amateur trappers, and in many cases rare and beautiful furs have been almost spoiled by want of care in skinning and curing. The rules are simple and easily followed, a little care being all that is necessary to insure most perfect success. In every case the skin should be removed shortly after death, or at least before it has become tainted with decay. Great pains should be taken in skinning. Avoid the adherence of flesh or fat to the skin, and guard against cutting through the hide, as a pierced skin is much injured in value. The parts about the eyes, legs and ears should be carefully removed. The various methods of skinning are described in our section on trapping, and in all cases the furs should be allowed to dry in a cool, airy place, free from the rays of the sun or the heat of a fire, and protected from rain.
Astringent preparations of various kinds are used by many trappers, but they are by no means necessary. The most common dressing consists of equal parts of rock salt and alum dissolved in water. Into this a sufficient amount of coarse flour or wheat bran is stirred to give [Page 273] the mixture the consistency of batter, after which it is spread thickly over the skin and allowed to dry.
It is afterwards scraped off, and in some cases a second application is made. This preparation is much used in dressing beaver, otter, mink and muskrat skins, but as many of our most successful and experienced trappers do without it, we fail to see the advantage of using it, as it is only an extra trouble. The simplest and surest way is to stretch the skin and to submit it to a gradual process of natural drying without any artificial heat or application of astringents to hasten the result.
A very common mode of stretching skins consists in tacking them to a board, with the fur inwards, and allowing them to dry as already described.
This method does very well for small skins, but for general purposes the “stretchers” are the only means by which a pelt may be properly cured and prepared.
The board stretcher is the simplest form and is in most common use among trappers for the smaller animals. These stretchers are of two kinds, the plain and the wedged. The plain stretcher consists of a piece of board a quarter of an inch in thickness, about eighteen inches long and six inches in width. One end of this board is rounded off, as seen in our illustration, and the sides should also be whittled and smoothed to a blunt edge.