An Old Dog Can Learn

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Published on: Jan. 2, 1997

Last revision: Oct. 26, 2010

in all my furs in one trip. The beavers were stretched and dried, but the raccoons and opossums had been frozen and were still a little wet.

Block produced a heavy comb and combed the beaver carefully with the final strokes going against the lay of the fur, making the fur stand up, as he rambled instruction. "Put these large pelts in one pile and those mediums in another. Save the small ones for last."

"Sell the coons next. They're still a little wet but keep wiping them dry, they'll be alright. Lay them on the table, grab them by the nose and give them a little flip. See how the fur fluffs up. Put these six large ones together. The hair on this one looks a little thin, put it with the small ones." The hair was a little thin. I had removed at least a hundred cockleburs.

I spent the next hour combing and grooming, drying, shaking and fluffing, as if preparing show dogs. Other trappers were doing the same. We were getting ready for the big show, and I was proud to be part of it.

The bidding itself was a blur. I stood at the end of the table next to the auctioneer with buyers standing on both sides of my furs. I couldn't have been more self conscious I had been standing on top of the table totally naked.

The auctioneer started his chant and after an eternity somebody bid, followed by other bids. Things seemed to being going pretty well. A buyer picked up a raccoon pelt and announced, "These furs are wet!" "They'll dry," said the auctioneer, and the bidding continued.

All my furs sold, but I did not have the slightest idea if I had made enough for gas money home. An experienced fur seller would remember the highest bid and the name of the buyer. I hadn't a clue. After a gentle nudge from the next seller, I turned and walked away. Block had told me to go to the other end of the building to pick up my sale receipts.

I stood patiently in line, warm with the feeling that I had done everything I started out to do. I had trapped the fur, processed the pelts with great care and respect and sold them to the highest bidder. All the lost sleep, miserable weather and tedious hours skinning and scraping had been worth it. It was the first time I did not mind waiting in line.

I left town that night with $155.50 for the sale of 14 raccoons, 5 beavers and 4 opossums. My trapping season had been a financial disaster, but I was far richer in other ways. I was not yet a trapper, but the old dog had learned about trapping.

Trapping requires a knowledge of animal behavior and the ability to read sign, knowing when to make a set and where to make it. Trappers also need to know how to skin an animal and scrape and place a pelt on stretchers or a drying board.

Trappers respect the animals they sacrifice and take pride in their ability to process the fur for future use by consumers. Of all my outdoor pursuits - and my wife will tell you they are excessive - nothing is as demanding in energy, skill and endurance as trapping.

Will the old dog be back next fall? You bet! Legends have to start somewhere.

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