Dillingham youth learn trapping skills

Feb 5, 2016

Outdoor skills? Star-lit walks on the tundra? Dead animals? Bad jokes? The 4-H Trapping Club has it all.

There’s a long tradition of trapping fur-bearing animals in Bristol Bay, and one group of Dillingham youngsters has been learning the ropes this winter. KDLG’s Molly Dischner met them at the trapline and brought back this story.  

On a clear January evening, four pre-teen boys and two adult leaders made their way across mostly-frozen tundra off Kanakanak Road to check a set of eight traps along a creek. Most were covered in ice, and it took some chopping to get the metal device back out of its hiding place.

Andy Aderman, one of the adult leaders, explained how to check them. He’s been trapping since he was five.

“Just go by feel here,” Aderman said, reaching into the trap carefully. “We’re just checking, ok, nothing in there – we’ll just cover the hole back up if we have snow.”

Aderman and fellow leader Joe Stalmaster run Dillingham’s 4-H Trapping Club. The club is part practical outdoor skills, part comedy club, part king of the mountain, part anatomy class.

On prior outings, they’d found mink, beaver and otter in their traps.

Sixth grader Reece Bennis said checking the traps was his favorite part, and finding the otter caught one day was the most exciting.

But this time around, all the traps were empty.

That wasn’t much of a setback for the boys once they realized that it meant they could take turns setting off the traps.

Aderman and Stalmaster had helped set the traps several weeks earlier, all along a creek.

Some were near beaver lodges, while others were strategically placed at certain parts of the creek.

“If it’s on an inside corner and it’s deep enough, you have a good chance,” Aderman said. “Animals are like people, they can be kind of lazy – take the easiest path.”

When they’re not chipping away at an icy creek (or playing king of the beaver lodge, as the case may be), the boys have been learning what to do with the animals they’ve caught in a garage off Lake Road.

Aderman and Stahlmaster have taken them through the process of skinning an animal, using a knife to separate the fur from the carcass, and then another night showed them how to scrape the fat off the skin and get it stretched out to dry.

“What we’re trying to do is get rid of this little piece of fat,” Aderman told the group, demonstrating how to use a hogscraper to gently remove the fat. “They’re especially fatty on the belly.”

After removing the fat, the skins were pinned to stretching boards to dry.

While fleshing a mink, sixth grader Noah Sage said working on the mink was pretty similar to the otter the group had skinned earlier, but it had a thinner skin, which meant it took less work with the knife to get it cleaned up. Sage said he was enjoying learning each step of the process.

Later, they’ll learn about tanning.

Sixth grader Reece Bennis said skinning the minks earlier in the month was the grossest part, because of one area that releases a smell if it’s cut.  

“It stinks. Most of the times you’ll accidentally cut it,” he said.

“It was nasty when we cut it, Reece,” chimed in James Kasayulie.

“Yeah,” Bennis said.

Bennis said he started trapping for fox two years ago, and then joined the 4-H trapping club to learn more about other animals, and at the suggestion of his auntie.

While working through the meticulous steps of taking care of the animal skins, the boys practice another skill that’s crucial for a Bristol Bay fur trapper: keeping a thick skin themselves. Jokes of all sorts – and banter about one another’s skill – were flying while the skinned minks on a recent evening.