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Pelt-handling techniques

Authors:
  • Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry
Chapter

Pelt-handling techniques

This chapter is intended to be used by experienced trappers, not
by beginners. People who have never trapped should first read an
introductory manual that explains the basic procedures involved
in pelt preparation. There are many basic “how-to” books
available from trapping supply outlets in Canada and the United
States or from trapper-oriented publications (e.g., Trapper and
Predator Caller,Fur–Fish–Game,Canadian Trapper), and some juris-
dictions offer introductory courses that have manuals suitable for
beginners (de Almeida and Cook 1987). Because this chapter is
directed at trappers with some previous experience, we assume a
basic knowledge of the tools used in skinning and scraping; these
will not be discussed in detail here. Nevertheless, much basic
information on pelt preparation is reviewed in the text as a
“refresher” and as a way of emphasizing the correct procedures
that should be followed by all trappers. There are many regional
variations in methods traditionally used to prepare pelts. How-
ever, in this chapter we present generally accepted techniques
that will produce a pelt that is currently acceptable to the majority
of fur buyers, brokers, and garment manufacturers. In addition,
we present subtle variations in basic techniques that will help
trappers to maximize their incomes by producing pelts that
are more desirable to fur buyers. These suggestions to improve
basic methods come from many sources, including the senior
author’s experience as a trapper and fur grader.
The pelt preparation process begins at the trap site. From the
time the furbearer is removed from the trap or snare, the trapper
should handle the pelt carefully to ensure that it reaches the fur
dealer, the fur grader, and, finally, the buyer, in the best possible
condition. In this way the trapper’s income is maximized,
because well-handled pelts bring better prices than poorly
handled pelts. Some damage is due to natural causes (i.e.,
fighting, rubbing of fur) and nothing can be done about this, but
trappers can avoid additional damage through proper trapping
and pelt handling practices.
The trapper can lose 25–50% of the value of an otherwise top-
quality pelt if it is graded as slightly damaged or placed in a lower
grade because of improper trapping techniques or careless
handling. Pelts that are poorly handled and therefore placed in the
badly damaged grade may lose 50–90% of the value of undamaged
pelts of identical fur quality (primeness) (Obbard 1987). For
example, at the February 1985 fur auctions of the Hudson’s Bay
Company in Toronto and the Ontario Trappers Association in
North Bay, top-quality Eastern coyote (Canis latrans) skins (XL–L
size, A color) sold for an average of about $75 (CDN), whereas
slightly damaged skins of the same pelt quality, size, and color
averaged about $40 and damaged pelts of the same size and color
averaged $15.
Pelt preparation consists of cleaning and grooming, pelting
(skinning), fleshing, stretching (boarding), and drying. Careless
handling at any of these stages may result in damage that will
significantly reduce the pelt’s value. Damage may also occur as a
result of inappropriate trapping practices or rough handling when
the animal is in or being removed from the trap or being
transported to the place of pelting.
TRAPPING METHODS
Humane Trapping
Wherever possible, quick-kill humane trapping systems should be
used. Trapper education and the increased use of humane
trapping methods have done more than reduce unnecessary
suffering by furbearers—they have resulted in better quality pelts.
This is because the leather or fur is less readily damaged if an
animal is caught in a body-gripping trap such as a Conibear (using
an appropriately powerful model for the target species) or in a
leghold trap used with a slide wire and slide lock in a drowning
set for aquatic furbearers. If furbearers are caught by quick-kill
methods, damage to the pelt is minimized. In the case of land
furbearers, appropriate trap locations and the use of humane
trapping systems (i.e., foot snares, padded jaw traps, box traps)
will minimize damage to pelts.
Use of Snares
Improperly set snares can cause considerable damage to pelts. If
instead of being caught by the neck a land furbearer is held
by the shoulders or hips, these areas can become badly rubbed.
Animals struggling in an improperly set snare will break or rub
guard hairs and underfur. This can happen when a snare is set
with too large a loop or is set an improper distance from the
ground for the target species. Placing snares of the correct size at
the proper height for the target species will reduce the chance of
capturing nontarget animals. Also, the wire used in the snare
should be thick enough not to cut the animal’s skin. Steel wire
used in trolling for fish, although strong, is too fine for use in
snares and will cut deeply into a furbearer’s skin. Proper snare
locks should be used and snares should be attached to a solid
support such as a living tree (> 7.5 cm [3 inches] in diameter) so
that the snare will tighten quickly, resulting in a quick death. This
PELT PREPARATION
55
G. EDWARD HALL, Hudson’s Bay Company, Fur Sales Canada Ltd., 65 Skyway Ave., Rexdale, Ontario M9W 6C7
MARTYN E. OBBARD, Wildlife Branch, Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources, Queen’s Park,
Toronto, Ontario M7A lW3
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842
COPYRIGHT ©1999, QUEEN’S PRINTER FOR ONTARIO.
WILD FURBEARER MANAGEMENT AND CONSERVATION IN NORTH AMERICA SECTION V: THE PELT AND THE FUR INDUSTRY
Chapter 55 • Pelt Preparation • G.E. Hall & M.E. Obbard 843
COPYRIGHT ©1999, QUEEN’S PRINTER FOR ONTARIO.
reduces damage to the fur and cuts in the skin, and is more
humane.
Snares set for beavers (Castor canadensis) seldom cause problems
unless the animal has an opportunity to reach air. This can be
avoided by setting snares deeply enough and anchoring them
with heavy poles or rocks.
Waxing and Dyeing Traps
A trapper can considerably reduce damage to pelts by waxing all
traps prior to use; as a result of being waxed, traps are less likely
to freeze to the fur. Although some trappers do not wax Conibear
traps because of the difficulty in setting them, this problem can be
alleviated if the wax is scraped away or melted from the trigger
set-up assembly. When the striking bars of a rusty, undyed
Conibear close on a pelt, the fur is often stained to such an extent
that the discoloration cannot be removed during pelt dressing.
Dyeing or painting Conibear traps will reduce this problem; this
procedure is strongly recommended.
Checking Traps/Removing Animals
All traps should be checked frequently in accordance with
provincial and state regulations. Live animals in leghold traps can
damage their fur while in the trap. Animals taken in killing sets
soon begin to deteriorate whether in air or water, and commonly
become tainted. This is a serious problem, as patches of fur may
be lost from tainted areas of the pelt during pelt preparation or
pelt dressing. The rate of decay will vary according to air or water
temperatures; thus, trappers should check traps more frequently
during warmer spells in fall or spring when the ground or water
may be warm. Small mammals (possibly mice or squirrels) can
damage the pelts of such furbearers as martens (Martes americana)
and fishers (M. pennanti) by chewing the fur of animals left too
long in a trap fur graders call such damage “mouse clips”).
Furbearers taken in underwater sets after freeze-up should be
removed from the trap or snare immediately, as wet traps freeze
quickly to wet fur. Leghold traps usually do little damage to pelts,
but snares and unwaxed Conibears tend to pull out guard hairs
and underfur if they freeze to the fur.
When removing furbearers from traps and snares, the trapper
should take care to ensure that guard hairs and underfur are
not broken. A trapper who pulls a heavy animal such as a beaver
from the water onto the ice or snow by a Conibear’s jaws likely will
damage the guard hairs because the animal may slip, even though
the trap grips the animal tightly. To avoid this, a careful trapper
will pull the animal onto the ice by a leg. A much more common
problem occurs at low air temperatures when a trapper lets a
Conibear freeze to the fur, resulting in damage to the guard hairs,
and possibly to the underfur, when the trap is removed. To avoid
this, trappers should remove Conibear traps as soon as the animal
is removed from the water.
GENERAL PELT HANDLING TECHNIQUES
Preparing for Skinning
Once the animal has been taken from the trap, the pelt should be
removed as soon as possible to avoid problems caused by deterio-
ration of the carcass. If delay proceeds too far before the pelt is
removed, hairslip (i.e., loss of individual hairs) may result during
pelt preparation and especially during dressing. This is a
particular problem for canids, martens, and fishers, which tend to
deteriorate quickly in the abdominal region. Hanging the animal by
its hindlegs so that the intestines fall away from the abdominal wall
towards the chest cavity may temporarily delay this process.
However, it must be emphasized that this alleviates the problem
only briefly; animals should be skinned as soon as possible.
Sand, silt, clay, and blood give a pelt a dirty, flat, unfinished
look and should be washed off. If badly soiled, the fur of aquatic
furbearers such as beavers, muskrats (Ondatra zibethicus), river
otters (Lutra canadensis), and mink (Mustela vison) can be washed
in a nearby stream or lake at the trap site and dried in snow if
possible. An additional washing may be necessary before the pelt
is fleshed or stretched. Pelts of land furbearers are normally
washed after they are removed from the carcass (if it is necessary
to wash them). In all cases the fur should be as clean and dry as
possible, but pelts should only be washed if necessary because of
the time required for the fur to dry. Any burrs in the fur may be
removed at this time and the fur carefully combed or brushed.
Prior to skinning, furbearers, especially freshly killed raccoons
(Procyon lotor), should be stored so that they do not touch;
this will enable them to cool as quickly as possible. Piling animals
on top of each other retains body heat and promotes hairslip.
Removing the Pelt
Three methods are used to prepare pelts. Trappers should prepare
their pelts according to the methods established for each species
by market practices (outlined below).
Open Pelt.—In this method the pelt is cut lengthwise down the
middle of the belly in order to remove it from the carcass, then the
pelt is stretched flat to dry. There are slight differences in the way
pelts are removed, but beaver and badger (Taxidea taxus) pelts
used for garments, and bear (Ursus spp.) and mountain lion (Felis
concolor) pelts used for taxidermy are generally prepared in this
manner. Gray wolf (Canis lupus) pelts used for taxidermy can be
prepared as open pelts, but because they tear easily it is
recommended that all wolf pelts be prepared cased (see below).
Cased Pelt (Leather-Out).—Muskrat, nutria (Myocastor coypus),
red squirrel (Tamiasciurus hudsonicus), wild mink, weasel (Mustela
spp.), river otter, Virginia opossum (Didelphis virginiana), raccoon,
skunk (Mephitis spp. and Spilogale spp.), and some fisher pelts are
prepared in this manner. In general the pelt is cut from one heel
to the other then pulled off the animal from the tail to the head,
turning it inside-out. The pelt is fleshed, placed on a wire
stretcher or wooden board, dried, and marketed without turning
or splitting the pelt open. To remove the pelt of raccoons, skunks,
river otters, mink, weasels, red squirrels, and opossums, make the
initial cuts directly from one heel to the other passing below the
anus. The initial cuts to remove fisher pelts should run from one
heel to the anus and to the other heel. For muskrats and nutrias
the initial cut should be made from the heel to the base of the tail
and to the other heel. Buyers want these pelts prepared leather-
out either because they are susceptible to singeing or because their
fur needs to be protected from grease, but these furs are also
handled this way because of tradition. Leather-out pelts are also
much easier to handle at the sorting and grading stages and are
easier to store.
Cased pelt (Fur-Out).—Coyote, gray wolf, red fox (Vulpes vulpes),
kit fox (V. macrotis), swift fox (V. velox), arctic fox (Alopex lagopus),
gray fox (Urocyon cinereoargenteus), lynx (Felis lynx), bobcat (F. rufus),
wolverine (Gulo gulo), marten, most fisher, and some badger pelts
are prepared in this manner. Pelts are removed in the same
general way as leather-out cased pelts. Initial cuts should be made
from one heel to the anus and from the anus to the other heel.
During the initial stage of drying, the pelt is placed on a drying
board leather-out. However, the pelt is only left to dry for a short
time before it is removed from the board, turned fur-out, and put
back on the board to finish drying. Pelts of these long-haired
species are marketed fur-out by tradition because they are not as
susceptible to singeing and because buyers wish to examine the
fur’s general flow, color, and clarity, and look for any defects.
Clean-skinning and rough-skinning are two methods that are
currently used by trappers. The method used depends on the
trapper’s preference and experience with the species being
pelted, and on the location and time of the skinning procedure.
In both methods, pelts should be folded leather-to-leather to keep
the fur as clean as possible and to prevent the leather from drying
before the pelt is boarded. It is recommended that animals
(particularly river otters) be placed in a burlap bag or a pack during
transport to protect them from freezing to metal objects such as
ax heads, ice chisels, or metal sleds. This prevents guard hairs
from becoming singed or broken.
Unless pelts are to be prepared as a rug or mounted by a
taxidermist, all claws must be removed (i.e., left attached to the
carcass). Pelts can be torn during drumming if claws are left on
the pelt.
Preparing the Pelt for Fleshing
Any burrs, dried blood, caked dirt, or mats left in the fur must be
removed carefully at this time to avoid pulling out guard hairs or
underfur. This prevents further matting of the hairs during
drumming and dressing, especially in long-haired furs, and
avoids accidental cuts that may occur as the fleshing tool passes
over the areas that are matted or where burrs are attached. Burrs
can be removed when they are dry or wet, but either way, burrs
should never be extracted by pulling upward with a comb, as this
will pull out or break guard hairs and can cause a pelt to be down-
graded. Rather, each burr should be picked apart carefully so that
neither guard hairs nor underfur are damaged. Then the fur
should be carefully combed to untangle any remaining matted
areas.
Mats in the fur of martens and fishers caused by spruce (Picea
spp.) and pine (Pinus spp.) gums are a serious problem if both the
underfur and guard hairs are involved. Resin mats should never
be cut out or picked apart. Small mats that only involve the guard
hairs should always be left to be removed at the dressing stage, as
there is a high probability that the trapper will damage the guard
hairs, causing the pelt to be placed in the slightly damaged grade.
Large resin mats that involve the underfur may be removed using
a solvent; however, it is strongly recommended that even large
resin mats be left for the dresser to remove because of the danger
of causing further damage to the fur.
Fleshing
Excess muscle and fat should be carefully scraped or cut off the
skin so that the leather can dry quickly and hairslip is avoided.
Improperly fleshed pelts are usually placed in low grades. Care
should be taken not to overscrape the thin-leathered pelts of such
furbearers as the opossum, nutria, muskrat, red squirrel, weasel,
mink, and red fox because this will produce a papery skin that
may lose guard hairs during dressing as a result of the hair roots
being exposed.
Pelts with all the fat and muscle removed keep longer and in
better condition. Fat prevents the leather from drying properly,
increasing the chance of taint, and may cause greaseburn in the
leather. Tainted pelts may lose large areas of hair in the dressing
process. Leather that is greaseburnt will not dress properly and
becomes hard and brittle, which means it must be cut from the
pelt. Localized greaseburn and hairslip may occur if fat is left on
small areas, even though the rest of the skin may be intact. Some
trappers sprinkle resinless sawdust or corncob grit on the skin to
absorb fat prior to and during scraping. Proper scraping is
important, as a greasy pelt may sit in a hot, humid warehouse for
several months, during which time it may deteriorate or else taint
adjacent pelts. To avoid this, greasy pelts are grouped separately
to be sold to a buyer willing to take a chance that they will dress
properly.
A proper fleshing beam and fleshing tools are important for a
professional fleshing job. Details on basic techniques and tools
may be found in introductory trapper education manuals.
Salt should never be used to dry the pelts of furbearers. Salt is
a hydroscopic substance that acts to attract moisture out of the air.
Thus pelts treated with salt will tend to stay moist and may rot,
especially in regions with high relative humidity, such as the
southern United States. If a preservative is necessary on the large
animals such as bears or on the legs, feet, claws, lips, and the bases
of the ears of any furbearer, borax (sodium borate) is
recommended.
After scraping is finished, the pelt may be washed again to
remove any grease, although this is usually not necessary. Hot
water and strong detergents should never be used to wash pelts, as
these will damage the leather by removing natural oils and
hairslip may result. Rather, pelts should be washed gently in luke-
warm water with mild soap. Because washing can remove natural
oils and dull a pelt’s luster, some trappers rinse them with
commercial hair cream rinse, although this is not common. Pelts
should be rinsed well after this treatment. After washing, the pelt
should be turned fur-out, shaken vigorously to separate the guard
hairs, and hung by the nose to dry.
Repairing Damage
It is extremely important for a trapper to sew any cuts or holes in
a pelt to prevent further tearing. When placing a presale value on
a pelt, the buyer will take into account the additional labor costs
that must be borne by the garment manufacturer to repair damages
before the cutting process. Even neat repairs will be redone by
the garment maker; however, a sewing job that gives a better
overall appearance and stops any further tearing in the leather
will ensure that the trapper receives the best price possible for a
pelt despite the cuts. On the other hand, a poor sewing job may
downgrade a pelt’s value. If pins or nails are used to close holes,
care must be taken to make the repair job neat.
When assessing damage, graders consider the number, size,
and location of holes. Damage to the back and flank is
considered more serious than damage to the belly, as bellies are
less often used in making garments (except for coyotes, bobcats, and
lynx). Depreciation in value is about the same for minor damage
caused by bite marks, bullet holes, and small tears. Large tears
caused by careless scraping are more serious because the sur-
rounding leather may be weakened, and this may lead to greater
damage during processing. Damage caused by snares may be so
severe that the weakened leather falls apart during dressing; less
severe damage caused by snares may still require careful repair
by the dresser or cutter to avoid a break in the flow of the fur.
Severe snare damage at the hips is a major problem because it
disrupts the flow of the fur and forces a manufacturer to use only
part of the pelt. Snare damage at the neck is less significant
because the cutter makes the initial cut there. However, it may
present a problem for the flesher to remove the necessary
amount of flesh and leather to make the pelt soft and pliable
without enlarging the damaged area.
Stretching and Drying
There are many regional differences in accepted stretching and
drying practices. Recommended methods will be discussed in the
individual species accounts.
If pelts were left to dry without being stretched, they would
become wrinkled and misshapen and, finally, would be
unacceptable to the buyer or broker. Such pelts if purchased will
have extremely low value. To counter this, pelts are placed on a
wooden drying board (either solid or split) or wire drying frame
of appropriate shape and size. If solid boards are used, “belly
wedges” are placed between the board and the pelt when pelts
are boarded cased (except for mink, weasels, and red squirrels).
This ensures that the pelt can be removed from the board after
shrinking during drying. Pelts should not be stretched by placing
them on a stretcher of improper size or shape or by pulling down
too much on a correct-size board in an attempt to reach a larger
size category, as this results in a less desirable pelt with lower fur
density. Overstretching is easily detected by the grader, and it will
lower the value of the pelt because the fur density has been
lessened. Trappers can avoid overstretching by using the correct
size of stretcher (neither too long nor too wide) and by pulling
down on a pelt only enough to make it snug.
“Frost drying”—drying a pelt in the open at subfreezing
temperatures—is a commonly used technique in many areas of
northern Canada and Alaska. Done properly, frost drying results
in a pelt with soft and pliable leather of an appealing white color.
However, pelts that are not sufficiently dried will thaw in transit
and arrive at the fur buyer’s or the auction house in a soggy mess.
Goods received in this condition are usually returned to the trapper.
In addition, many graders and buyers are wary of frost-dried
pelts because the technique can be used in combination with soap
and water in an attempt to pass off an unprime skin as fully
prime. The process may also hide blemishes, scars, and taints on
the leather, creating a pelt that is undeserving of its apparent
WILD FURBEARER MANAGEMENT AND CONSERVATION IN NORTH AMERICA SECTION V: THE PELT AND THE FUR INDUSTRY
Chapter 55 • Pelt Preparation • G.E. Hall & M.E. Obbard
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COPYRIGHT ©1999, QUEEN’S PRINTER FOR ONTARIO.
grade. Buyers are often unwilling to take a chance on a skin that
may be slightly damaged or may become damaged during
processing; thus, frost drying is not recommended for the average
trapper in North America.
The preferred method of drying pelts for the average trapper
is air drying for a period of 3–4 days. In this method, pelts are
placed on drying boards or wire frames, then hung in a sheltered,
dry, cool (18–20 C [64–68 F]) place out of direct sunlight and away
from direct sources of heat. Sometimes pelts are inadvertently
dried too quickly because they were placed too close to a direct
source of heat. Occasionally, this is done intentionally (e.g., so
that a trapper or fur dealer can meet a shipping deadline for an
upcoming sale). Either way, such “burnt” pelts will usually have
dried, cracked leather that is stiff and unpliable and which will
not dress properly.
Some trappers use fans to blow air over stretched pelts as they
are hanging. This will speed the drying process without burning
the leather. In the southern United States, where high relative
humidity causes problems when drying pelts, many trappers use
heaters to raise the air temperature in the fur shed and many also
use fans to blow the warmed air on the stretched pelts (Hill 1974).
A recent development on fur farms is the use of forced air and
stretching boards that are grooved down the edges and flat
surfaces (Olsen 1985). After fleshing, mink and fox pelts are
placed fur-out on these boards, the boards are hung from hooks,
a 4–6 mm (0.16–0.24 inches) diameter plastic hose connected to
an air compressor is inserted into the mouth opening of the pelt,
and the forced air flows along the grooves, drying the leather side
of the pelt. By using this technique fur ranchers avoid having to
turn pelts fur-out after an initial period of drying leather-out.
Recommended conditions in drying rooms are a temperature of
18–20 C and relative humidity of 60–65% (Olsen l985).
HANDLING OPEN PELTS:
SPECIFIC COMMENTS
Beaver
Handling the Pelt in the Field.—Beavers should be removed from
traps carefully so that the pelt is not damaged. When trapping in
ice-covered bodies of water, particularly in shallow areas, the
trapper should check that the fur is not frozen to the ice. Holes
chopped in the ice for removing animals should be large enough
that the fur does not rub on the ice and that the cutting implement
does not cut the beaver. To reduce the chance of damaging
the fur, animals caught in body-gripping traps should be pulled
from the water by a forelimb rather than by the trap. In cold
weather the beaver should be immediately removed from the
Conibear trap to avoid having its fur freeze to the trap, but if this
occurs the fur must be left to thaw before being removed.
Otherwise the guard hairs will probably be damaged.
If the fur is dirty, the beaver should be washed in water to
prepare the animal for skinning. During winter it should be slid
back and forth in clean snow to remove excess moisture. Beavers
should never be dragged behind a snowmobile or all-terrain
vehicle, as this may wear the guard hairs and underfur and lower
the pelt’s value. Wet animals should never be placed directly on a
metal sled, but should be placed in a burlap bag or other
container. This prevents the guard hairs from freezing to the
metal and breaking or being pulled out.
Skinning.—If necessary the fur should be washed and dried
before starting to skin. If beaver pelts are rough-skinned on the
trapline, individual pelts should be folded leather-to-leather for
transport and kept from contact with metal when air
temperatures are below 0 C (32 F).
Beavers are skinned open, starting with a central cut on the
belly that runs from the chin to the tail. The animal should be
placed belly-up on a clean surface (Fig. 1). Some trappers use a
simple wooden trough to keep the beaver from rolling. The fore-
and hindfeet are removed first and some trappers also remove the
tail, although most prefer to leave on the tail for ease in handling.
Next, make the first cut in the skin along the chin-to-tail
line, taking care not to enter the abdominal cavity nor to damage
either the castor glands, which lie on either side of this line in
front of the cloacal opening (vent), or the oil glands behind the
vent (Fig. 1). Keep the skin stretched taut when removing it from
the carcass. Supporting the pelt from underneath with one or two
fingers will help to prevent accidental cuts when freeing the skin
from the carcass. When the pelt has been freed partway down the
sides, the animal should be turned onto its belly and the rest of
the pelt removed; avoid getting grease on the fur. When clean-
skinning take care not to nick the leather, as this may loosen
guard hairs and cause the pelt to be downgraded. Many trappers
uncomfortable with clean-skinning prefer to rough-skin and flesh
the pelt clean later. The skin in the leg area is easily cut, so
this part of the process must be done with care. The head must
also be skinned carefully around the eyes, nose, and ears. The ears
are cut off close to the skull, and some trappers cut off the nose-
pad at this time.
The castor sacs and anal (oil) glands are large structures in the
vicinity of the cloaca (Svendsen 1978); they may be removed from
the body after skinning is completed. Make a horizontal cut just
ahead of the castors (Fig. 2a). Then, using your thumb and
forefinger, pull and separate the castors and oil glands from the
surrounding tissue (Monk 1985). Once removed from the body the
two are easily separated (Fig. 2b). Remove any excess fat and other
tissue from the castors, twist them to help seal the duct, then hang
them on a string or cord to dry; check periodically that they are
drying properly. Placing the castors in a windy area or in front of
a fan will hasten the formation of a dried outer layer, which
minimizes further loss of liquid from the glands. This will result
in a heavier castor for marketing. After a few days, separate the
castors and rotate them so that the previous area of contact has a
chance to dry.
Fleshing.—In preparation for fleshing, the pelt should be
hung or laid leather-up in a dry place until the grease stiffens.
Some trappers scrape beaver pelts on a fleshing beam, whereas
others attach the pelts to a hoop frame or tack them onto a board;
trappers should use the method that they prefer. The important
point is to remove all fat and grease without nicking the leather.
When the pelt has been scraped free of all flesh and grease, the
fur and leather may be washed with warm water and mild soap
to remove any remaining soil and blood. Hot water and strong
detergents should never be used.
If there is insufficient time to scrape and stretch pelts soon
after skinning, they may be stored for a few weeks in a freezer.
However, it is important to protect the leather from the possibility
WILD FURBEARER MANAGEMENT AND CONSERVATION IN NORTH AMERICA SECTION V: THE PELT AND THE FUR INDUSTRY
Chapter 55 • Pelt Preparation • G.E. Hall & M.E. Obbard 845
COPYRIGHT ©1999, QUEEN’S PRINTER FOR ONTARIO.
Fig. 1. Beaver, showing location of the initial cuts to be made in the pelt.
of “freezer burn.” To do this, fold the pelt leather-to-leather so
that the tail area touches the head, fold the flanks to the center
(now fur-to-fur), fold the head and tail area with exposed leather
back to the midline, fold the remaining pelt on top, then roll the
pelt from the sides. Rolled pelts should be stored individually in
plastic bags and immediately placed in the freezer. If scraped
pelts are to be kept for some months before stretching and drying,
they should be immersed in water and frozen into a block of ice
to avoid freezer burn.
Stretching and Drying.—Beaver pelts are stretched for drying
on either drying boards or hoop frames of the appropriate size.
In either case the pelt should be stretched in an oval shape to
retain the natural contours (Fig. 3). Round or rectangular shapes
are not recommended because the pelt may lose a size category,
or it may be overstretched in the middle of the back, producing
an area of low fur density. To determine which outline on the drying
board or size of hoop frame to use, grasp the pelt by the nose,
shake it gently, and let it hang naturally. Never overstretch a pelt.
Once the pelt is stretched any remaining flesh or grease should be
removed and any cuts sewn up.
Drying Board.—The drying board should be appropriately
marked using oval patterns available from trapping supply outlets.
Choose the outline suitable to the length of the pelt and nail
the pelt to the board leather up. To begin, nails should be placed
at the nose and tail and at the midpoint of each side. Then four
additional nails should be placed midway between the nails
on either side. Another eight nails should be placed midway
between the nails on all sides. The pelt is now held in place by 16
equally spaced nails. Continue to nail the pelt to the board, spacing
the nails approximately 2–2.5 cm (
3
/
4
–l inch) apart so that the
entire pelt has an even shape that follows the pattern on the
board.
The skin of the legs should be cut off flush with the rest of the
pelt to avoid taint. The leg holes may be closed to give the pelt a
neater, complete appearance, although whether the leg holes are
closed has no effect on the grade. The leg holes can be sewn with
heavy thread or cord, or the edges can be folded under and nailed
together. Nailing is much faster than sewing, but there is the
danger that the skin will become tainted. This can be avoided by
spreading a little borax on the areas to be nailed. After the pelt is
stretched the leather may be washed thoroughly with warm water
and mild soap. Then the pelt must be raised off the board by
sliding it up on the nails so that air can circulate underneath for
efficient drying.
Hoop Frame.—Choose a hoop frame of an appropriate size so
that the pelt will not be overstretched. Most trappers sew pelts to
the frame, but others use hog rings to attach the pelt and some
even staple the pelt directly onto a wooden hoop. In northern
Canada, hoops are often made of two saplings, but plywood
hoops are common in the south and adjustable metal hoops are
common in the United States. Metal hoops tend to be round; to
counteract this some trappers attach a wire across the diameter of
the hoop, then twist the wire to draw the hoop into an oval. Start
to attach the pelt at the nose, tail, and sides; finish attaching the
pelt in a symmetrical fashion as described for attaching pelts to
drying boards. Next, the leg holes should be trimmed and can be
closed if preferred. The leather may be washed if necessary.
Drying.—As for other types of fur, beaver pelts should be
dried slowly in a cool place (18–20 C). It is important that beaver
pelts not be dried near direct heat nor in direct sunlight, as this
probably will result in areas of burnt leather. Pelts should be
hung head-up to enable water to drip out of the fur. As the pelt
dries, the leather should be wiped from time to time with a clean
dry cloth or paper towel to remove any grease. When several pelts
are prepared at once, they should be stored to dry so that the fur
of one does not touch the leather of another. Pelts should be
removed from the board or frame only after they are completely
WILD FURBEARER MANAGEMENT AND CONSERVATION IN NORTH AMERICA SECTION V: THE PELT AND THE FUR INDUSTRY
Chapter 55 • Pelt Preparation • G.E. Hall & M.E. Obbard
846
COPYRIGHT ©1999, QUEEN’S PRINTER FOR ONTARIO.
Fig. 2. (a) Carcass of a beaver, showing the location of the cut to be made to
remove castor sacs and anal glands. (b) Castor sacs and anal glands exposed,
showing where the cut should be made to separate the sets of glands.
Fig. 3. Stretched beaver pelts, showing the preferred (oval) and not recommended shapes.
(a) (b)
dry. Pelts should be stored fur-to-fur and leather-to-leather and
should be shipped flat and not rolled. Beaver pelts should not be
folded for shipping.
Badger
Most badgers are prepared as open pelts, although some trappers
prepare badgers as fur-out cased pelts. If unsure which method is
preferred, trappers should check with the auction house or fur
buyer before trapping. Graders and buyers do not want badgers
prepared as cased leather-out pelts because defects in the fur of
such pelts are difficult to detect.
Skinning.—To begin preparing an open pelt, make a cut along
the midline of the belly from the lower lip to the tip of the tail.
The forelegs should be split open by cutting along the inside of
the leg from the center-cut to its extremity. The hindlegs are
opened by cutting along the color line from the heel of each
footpad to the vent. The feet can be cut off or a cut can simply be
made around the wrist or ankle to free the pelt. The tail should be
skinned out by cutting it open on the underside.
To begin preparing a cased skin, cut off the forefeet or ring
around the wrists and split the hindlegs as if preparing an open
skin. Cut around the anus and extend a cut on the underside of
the tail. Then make a cut around the hindleg just above the foot-
pad and claws, and skin the legs up to the body and pull out the
tail. Next, hang the carcass by the hindfeet and peel the pelt down
over the body, pulling the forelegs through the pelt. Skinning
should then be extended to the ears, which should be cut off close
to the body. The pelt should be carefully cut away from around
the eyes and mouth, and the nose should be cut off.
Fleshing.—Open skins should be fleshed flat as for the beaver.
Cased skins should be fleshed on a beam as for other cased skins.
Stretching and Drying.—Open skins should be nailed flat onto
a drying board. The legs should be stretched out from the body,
and the legs and tail should be nailed open and flat. Open pelts
must be raised off the board to enable air to circulate underneath.
Cased skins should be placed leather-out on an appropriate-size
stretching board. When partially dry, the pelt should be turned
fur-out to complete drying.
HANDLING CASED PELTS (LEATHER-OUT):
SPECIFIC COMMENTS
Muskrat
Handling the Pelt in the Field.—Damaged guard hairs reduce the
value of a muskrat pelt, so the jaws of Conibear traps should be
opened wide when removing the animal to prevent the fur from
catching and breaking. If the fur is dirty, it should be rinsed in
clean water at the trap site. Excess water can then be removed by
squeezing the animal gently from head to tail.
During winter, extra care must be taken to ensure that the
animal is not frozen to the ice before attempting to remove it from
the trap. Frozen animals or traps must be carefully chopped free,
then should be soaked in cool water or left at room temperature
until the ice melts and the animal can be safely removed. Never
thaw ice from a trap by placing it close to direct heat and never
break or pull ice from the fur. Animals can be partly dried by
rolling them in the snow at the trap site.
Skinning.—Prior to skinning, muskrats should be hung for a
few hours until dry, especially when using wire stretchers.
Muskrats should not be hung for too long before skinning, however,
as these pelts have a tendency to develop abdominal taint.
If skinning is done on the trapline, pelts should be turned fur-
out and rolled for transportation. At home or camp, pelts should
be hung until dry and cool. To skin a muskrat, lay the animal on
its back with its tail towards you (you should notice a line where
the longer fur of the back meets the shorter fur of the belly).
Then, holding the animal’s hindfoot, make a straight cut from the
base of the heel to the tail and continue the cut alongside the tail
for about 2.5 cm (1 inch). Turn the animal around and make a
similar cut on the animal’s other side (Fig. 4). Next, cut and pull
the skin around the legs above the heel and near the tail, leaving
about 2.5 cm of the tail attached to the pelt; this tail portion will
help to prevent the pelt from tearing when it is placed on a
stretcher. Start to separate the skin from the carcass at the base of
the tail. Pull down the skin by hand and work it free from the
hindlegs. When the pelt has been loosened around the rump and
hindlegs, pull the skin off the rest of the way to the neck. The fore-
feet may be cut off before skinning; if not, they should be pulled
carefully through the pelt, as the claws can cut the pelt at the leg
holes. Pull out each foreleg separately by holding the pelt in one
hand and pulling steadily on the leg with the other hand. The pelt
will break free at the wrist. The pelt should then be worked free
over the head. The ears should be cut close to the skull and the
pelt carefully cut free around the eyes and mouth.
A second method can be used to skin muskrats. By this
method, the back of the pelt is freed from the tail after the initial
cut. The pelt is separated by hand from the back by reaching in
between the carcass and the pelt, grabbing the carcass at the
shoulders and back, and partially pulling the carcass out of the
skin. The pelt is loosened around the hindlegs and belly. Then the
forefeet are carefully pulled through the pelt and the pelt is
worked free over the head; then it is carefully cut free at the ears,
eyes, and mouth.
Fleshing, Stretching, and Drying.—Once the pelt is free of the
carcass it should be turned fur-out and left to dry. Then, in
preparation for fleshing, it should be cooled until the fat stiffens.
Pelts to be stored for some time before fleshing should be frozen fur-
out in plastic bags (leather-out pelts will suffer freezer burn and
become too dry for scraping). Pelts can be stretched on either a
galvanized wire frame or a drying board. Wire frames are recom-
mended because they are less likely to cause the fur to become
matted, but they must be made of galvanized metal. On both
types of stretcher the pelt should be mounted leather-out and
pulled down snugly but not overstretched. To gain maximum
length and a neater appearance when using a wire frame, insert a
7.5-cm nail through the nose, run the nail up over the frame, then
hook it in place by inserting the tip into an eye hole; then gently
work the pelt down the sides of the stretcher and fix the tail in
place. When using wire frames, make a small slit in the tail and
hook it over the frame’s metal prongs (Fig. 5). If wooden boards
are used, the tail piece should be nailed in place to give the pelt a
Vshape at the butt end. Each hindleg-area at the side of the board
should be pinned, and a small belly wedge may be inserted for
drying (Fig. 6).
Fleshing can be done readily once the pelt is stretched. Pelts
fleshed on a board or wire frame will loosen and must be pulled
down snugly again after fleshing. Only excess fat and muscle
should be removed, and the saddle (the layer of subcutaneous
muscle between the shoulder blades and the hips) need not be
completely removed. A dull knife or spoon should be used to pick
off pieces of fat and muscle. Grease should be wiped off with
a clean cloth or paper towel, taking care to keep grease off the fur.
In areas of the southern United States where large numbers of
muskrats are handled, some trappers use the wringer from an old
WILD FURBEARER MANAGEMENT AND CONSERVATION IN NORTH AMERICA SECTION V: THE PELT AND THE FUR INDUSTRY
Chapter 55 • Pelt Preparation • G.E. Hall & M.E. Obbard 847
COPYRIGHT ©1999, QUEEN’S PRINTER FOR ONTARIO.
Fig. 4. Muskrat, showing location of the initial cuts to be made in the pelt.
washing machine to flesh muskrat pelts (Fig. 7). Leather-out pelts
are fed headfirst into the wringer and, as the pelt is drawn
through, the pressure of the rollers removes any attached fat.
A properly stretched pelt will have the belly flat on one side of
the frame or board and the back flat on the other. Centering of the
pelt is important; the edges of the frame or board should be
touching the flanks of the pelt, never the midback or midbelly
(Figs. 5,6). Stretched pelts should be hung in a cool, sheltered, dry
place, out of bright sunlight and away from direct heat. As the
pelts dry, any grease should be wiped off with a clean cloth or
paper towel.
Wild Mink
Handling the Pelt in the Field.—As for other furbearers, mink
should be removed carefully from the trap to avoid damaging the
fur or leather. The fur should be rinsed in clean water at the trap
site to remove any dirt. Mink pelts must be handled with care; this
is very important, as the guard hairs of mink are susceptible to
becoming singed. Singe is the curling of the tips of the guard
hairs—similar in appearance to the curling of the hairs on your
forearm if your arm gets too close to a flame. This is especially
important for dark mink pelts because singed hairs reflect light
differently than straight hairs; as a result singed dark pelts have an
easily detected undesirable appearance.
Animals may be placed in a protective bag for transport. To
remove excess water the animal should be hung to dry (overnight
if necessary) away from a direct source of heat; however, skinning
should be done as soon as possible to avoid tainting.
Skinning.—Once the fur has dried sufficiently the pelt may be
removed. To ensure that the recommended cuts are accurately
placed, the mink should be firmly held in some sort of restraining
device. In one method a hindleg is secured by a small leghold trap
attached to a solid support such as a table. In this manner the
animal is held firmly but can be moved as necessary. Other
methods to secure the animal include nailing the footpad to a table
or bench, or using automobile booster-cable clamps instead of a
leghold trap.
The initial cuts are extremely important in getting the
maximum length of the mink pelt and in forming an inspection
area or “window” where the fur can be examined. An inspection area
makes it possible for graders and buyers to examine the fur of a
leather-out pelt. Also, a properly placed cut takes advantage of
the long guard hairs behind the hindlegs by including this part of
the fur in the inspection area. The initial cuts should be made as
shown in Fig. 8. Care should be taken to avoid the scent glands
located at the base of the tail. The first cut extends from the pad
of the free hindfoot along the back of the leg and passes about
2–2.5 cm below the vent out along the restrained leg to its footpad
(Fig. 8). Next, the mink should be turned so that the back is
towards you by switching the hindleg held in the restraining
device. Hold the tail towards you and make two cuts around the
vent (Fig. 8) to avoid nicking the anal glands. Sawdust or corncob
grit placed around the cuts as an absorbent will help to prevent
blood or grease from getting on the fur; it is extremely important
to keep the fur free of grease, as greasy fur has a flat appearance.
The hindlegs and tail can be freed from the pelt by inserting your
thumb and forefingers between the carcass and pelt near the
WILD FURBEARER MANAGEMENT AND CONSERVATION IN NORTH AMERICA SECTION V: THE PELT AND THE FUR INDUSTRY
Chapter 55 • Pelt Preparation • G.E. Hall & M.E. Obbard
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COPYRIGHT ©1999, QUEEN’S PRINTER FOR ONTARIO.
Fig. 5. A muskrat pelt on a galvanized wire frame, showing the pelt attached to
metal hooks near the base.
Fig. 7. A hand-operated wringer being used to flesh muskrat pelts in Louisiana.
(Photo: G. Linscombe.)
Fig. 6. A muskrat pelt stretched on a wooden board.
base of the tail and working the pelt off the upper hindlegs, pelvic
area, and base of the tail. The tailbone must be completely
removed from the pelt either by pulling it out or by using a tail
stripper. The pelt should be pulled over the hindlegs to the feet,
and the claws should be left on the carcass. Place both hindlegs of
the carcass in the restraining device and pull the pelt gently but
firmly down the body. Pull the forelegs through and leave the
claws attached to the carcass. Skin carefully around the head to
avoid cutting the pelt, then cut the ears off close to the skull,
leaving them on the pelt. The pelt should now be completely free
of the carcass. Once again, it is important that no grease gets on
the fur.
Fleshing, Stretching, and Drying.—Leave the pelt to cool for
about 10 min, then place it leather-out on a fleshing beam or
drying board. Split the tail open along the underside and carefully
scrape off any fat. Then scrape the first 5–10 cm (2–4 inches) of
the pelt, working from the rump towards the head to keep grease
off the fur. Care must be taken around the tail and rump to ensure
that no grease gets on the fur, as this ultimately will be the
inspection area examined by graders and buyers. Again, it is
recommended that fine hardwood sawdust (i.e., sawdust that
does not contain resin) or corncob grit be applied liberally to the
leather as an absorbent (Olsen 1985). The rest of the pelt may
then be scraped either from rump to head or head to rump.
Using sawdust or corncob grit will produce a pelt that is largely
free of grease.
Many trappers in northern and western Canada prefer to
completely flesh their mink by entirely removing the saddle,
whereas southern trappers prefer to leave the saddle on. It is
recommended that the saddle be left on all southern mink that do
not have much fat under the saddle, as this is what most buyers
currently prefer. However, the trapper should carefully remove
all fat lying between the saddle and the leather by squeezing the
fat out using a blunt object such as a spoon, rounded stick, or dull
knife. If the fat is not removed properly the pelt will probably
become tainted; if the fat cannot be removed completely the
saddle must be removed. Western and northern trappers generally
find that their mink are too fatty and that the saddle must be
removed.
Wild mink must be boarded leather-out to avoid singe. The
pelt is placed leather-out on a drying board of the appropriate
size; different sizes are used for each sex (Figs. 9a,b). Slightly
narrower patterns (especially at the neck) are used for boarding
fur-out ranch mink. Boards of these dimensions may be used for
leather-out wild mink, although the boards would not be
grooved. Center the mouth on the belly side and the eyes, ears,
and tail on the back side of the board, then work the pelt firmly
down on the board without letting it twist. After this, hold the tail
firmly with one hand and with the other stroke the leather from
the head towards the tail to gain additional length to the pelt. To
increase the density of fur in the inspection area pull the tail
snugly towards the head, then pull the tail back down in the
opposite direction and lay it on the board. Pin or nail the pelt to
the board at the center of the base of the tail. Place the hindlegs
leather-out on the same side of the board as the tail and tack the
feet close to the base of the tail (Fig. 10). This procedure
maximizes the size of the inspection window on the belly side (Can.
Mink Breeders Assoc. 1970). Now, starting at the base of the tail,
push the tail gently towards the rump. Continue this to the tip of
the tail, then work back to the base of the tail, pushing towards the
rump at all times. These procedures produce shorter legs and tail,
thus giving these areas denser fur. The best way to secure the tail
is to cover it with a piece of galvanized or fiberglass screening and
tack the screening in place on the board, but pinning or nailing
the tail is acceptable. A thin edge of fur may be cut away from the
border of the inspection area to remove any fur that might be
greasy. This boarding procedure will naturally produce an
adequate inspection area for grading and coloring without any
additional cuts in the pelt (Fig. 11). If the inspection area is too
small, either because the hindlegs were pulled down too far or as a
result of the hindlegs being left on the belly side, the leather may
tear when the fur is graded or the pelt is inspected by buyers
(Fig.12). The forelegs should be cut off about 1.5 cm (0.5 inches)
long or tucked back inside the pelt without cutting them short.
The pelt should hang nose-down in a dry place, away from
direct heat or sunlight. Slow drying at cool temperatures of 18–20 C
is preferred. Any grease on the leather should be wiped off with
a clean cloth or paper towel. If the pelt is hung nose-down,
excess grease will drip to the nose and the fur will remain clean.
After 3–4 days, remove the pelt from the board, hang it by the
nose to let the head and forelegs finish drying, and store the pelt
so as to avoid getting grease on the fur.
Dried pelts should be stored in a cool place with constant
temperature. In Europe, auction houses maintain cool temperatures
(10–12 C [50–53 F]) and high relative humidity (70–80%) in their
storage areas in an attempt to prevent guard hairs from singeing.
WILD FURBEARER MANAGEMENT AND CONSERVATION IN NORTH AMERICA SECTION V: THE PELT AND THE FUR INDUSTRY
Chapter 55 • Pelt Preparation • G.E. Hall & M.E. Obbard 849
COPYRIGHT ©1999, QUEEN’S PRINTER FOR ONTARIO.
Fig . 8. Location of the initial cuts to be made when skinning a mink pelt.
Fig. 9. Patterns for drying boards to be used for (a) male and (b) female wild
mink pelts.
15 cm
(6”)
6.5 cm
(2
1
/
2
”)
108 cm
(42
1
/
2
”)
11.5 cm (4
1
/
2
”)
(a)
8.5 cm (3
1
/
2
”)
(b)
15 cm
(6”)
5.5 cm
(2
1
/
8
”)
91 cm
(36”)
This is especially necessary where ranch mink pelts are stored
because these are currently prepared fur-out (Olsen 1985). In
North American auction houses, pelts are stored in areas
maintained at 5 C (40 F) and 50% relative humidity. If pelts are to
be held for a few weeks or months before being stretched and dried,
the best way to preserve their quality after fleshing is to fully
submerge them in a container of water and store them in a freezer.
The pelt must be totally encased in ice to prevent freezer burn. It
should be thawed slowly and completely before it is stretched and
dried.
River Otter
River otter pelts must be handled with extreme care at all times
because the guard hairs can easily become singed in the raw state
(Fig. 13). Exposure during pelt preparation to excess heat, low
relative humidity, direct sunlight, or a strong artificial light source
will cause a pelt to singe; singe also occurs naturally late in the
season as the guard hairs become worn. Singed guard hairs
reflect light differently than straight hairs, giving the pelt an
undesirable appearance. Some singe can be removed during the
dressing process but most cannot; the guard hairs of a singed pelt
must be sheared before it can be used in a garment. Singe can
occur naturally; many late-caught otters are singed. However,
much singeing of guard hairs results from improper handling.
Because otter pelts are used mostly for coats, any singed pelts
must be plucked and sheared to remove the unsightly guard
hairs. As a result, trappers may lose as much as 50% of the value
of an otherwise top-quality pelt if it is graded as being slightly
singed, and as much as 75% of its value if the pelt is graded as
singed. For example, at the winter 1985 sales of the Ontario Trappers
Association at North Bay and the Hudson’s Bay Company at
Toronto, top-grade otter skins (XL size, Dark color) averaged
about $115 (CDN). Equivalent skins (XL, Dark) described as
partly singed averaged $70, and singed skins averaged $35.
Although the exact causes of singe are unknown, trappers
WILD FURBEARER MANAGEMENT AND CONSERVATION IN NORTH AMERICA SECTION V: THE PELT AND THE FUR INDUSTRY
Chapter 55 • Pelt Preparation • G.E. Hall & M.E. Obbard
850
COPYRIGHT ©1999, QUEEN’S PRINTER FOR ONTARIO.
Fig. 10. A wild mink pelt on a drying board, showing the recommended
positioning of the hindfeet on same side of the board as the tail.
Fig. 12. An improperly boarded wild mink pelt with an inspection window that
is too small (a, b). As a result the leather has torn during grading (c).
Fig. 11. Detail of a correctly boarded wild mink pelt, showing the inspection
window that forms naturally as a consequence of proper boarding.
(a) (b) (c)
should handle river otter pelts as carefully as possible—it has
been suggested that even stroking the fur while admiring a fine
pelt can singe the guard hairs, particularly if the pelt is dry or
there is low relative humidity in the room. Storage conditions
apparently are also important. Skins kept overnight or even for
just a few hours in a hot cabin or shed with low relative humidity,
or skins exposed to a strong artificial light source or even to
bright sunlight through a window, may become singed. It is
recommended that otters be placed in a protective burlap or canvas
bag for transport so that the fur does not come into contact with
cold metal.
The river otter is one of the most difficult furbearers to skin
because the pelt adheres so strongly to the carcass. To make this
task easier many trappers rough-skin their otters, then flesh the
pelts cleanly on a fleshing beam or solid wooden stretcher. Some
trappers place otter pelts on a drying board, then place them
outside at subfreezing temperatures until the pelt is nearly frozen.
Then the fat and flesh can be easily scraped off the pelt. If otters
are clean-skinned initially, there is a high probability that the
leather will be nicked or cut.
Pelts with dirty fur should be rinsed in clean water prior to
skinning. The otter pelt is removed from the carcass by the same
general method used for mink. However, the tail must be cut to its
tip on the underside first and the tailbone skinned out; it cannot
be removed using a tail stripper. Once the tail and hindlegs are
completely skinned out the carcass can be hung by the hips to
complete skinning.
One method that helps to prevent singe is to mount the pelt
on a prewetted fleshing beam. Keeping the beam moist during
fleshing will reduce singe caused by friction as the pelt moves on
the beam; however, water should be added carefully because too
much water will cause the fur to become matted, thereby increasing
the chances of cutting the leather during scraping. Another
method that helps to prevent singe is to wrap the fleshing beam
in newspaper beforehand (G. Karasek, pers. commun.). The
fleshing beam should be kept as free of grease as possible, as
there is the danger that grease will penetrate the underfur, causing
it to appear flat when the pelt is graded.
When the leather is completely fleshed, place the pelt leather-
out on a standard-size drying board (Fig. 14); two sizes of boards
are used for river otters. Either a solid board with belly wedges or
a split board may be used. Care should be taken not to overstretch
otter pelts, as this produces weaker looking pelts with thinner
hair density. Pull the pelt snugly over the board and nail the nose
to the board to prevent the head portion from slipping. Spread
the tail, push it forwards into the inspection area, and nail it in
the open position in a Vshape, placing nails about 2 cm apart. It
is recommended that the hindfeet be nailed on the same side of
the board as the tail, as for wild mink (Fig. 15a). This will produce
a large inspection window and dense fur in the inspection area
(Fig. 15b). Do not pull hard on the hindlegs or tail before nailing
them in place (Fig. 15c), as this will reduce the density of hair in
the inspection area. The forelegs should not be tucked in but
should be cut off at about 1–2 cm (0.5–1 inches) long. The holes
may be sewn closed or left open. Some trappers simply tuck in
the forelegs of otter pelts, but because of the danger of these areas
becoming tainted it is recommended that the legs be cut off close
to the pelt.
Once the pelt has been removed from the drying board it
should be stored in a cool moist place out of direct light to prevent
singeing. Never use a vacuum cleaner to remove dirt or a hair
dryer to dry the pelt, as both may singe the guard hairs.
Raccoon
Raccoon pelts are especially prone to hairslip because of the fat
layer underlying the skin. This problem is more prevalent when
raccoons are captured in killing traps early in the trapping season
when air temperatures are still high. It is extremely important
that killing traps be checked frequently at that time of year so
that captured animals can be skinned as soon as possible. The
pelt of a freshly killed animal is more easily removed than that of
851
COPYRIGHT ©1999, QUEEN’S PRINTER FOR ONTARIO.
Fig. 14. Patterns for drying boards to be used for river otter pelts, (a) XL–L and
(b) L–M.
WILD FURBEARER MANAGEMENT AND CONSERVATION IN NORTH AMERICA SECTION V: THE PELT AND THE FUR INDUSTRY
Chapter 55 • Pelt Preparation • G.E. Hall & M.E. Obbard
Fig. 13. Cross-section of a river otter pelt, showing (a) unsinged and (b) singed
guard hairs.
(a) (b)
(a) (b)
30 cm
(12”)
15 cm
(6”)
183 cm
(72”)
20 cm (8”)
30 cm
(12”)
14 cm
(5
1
/
2
”)
183 cm
(72”)
18 cm (7”)
an animal that has been left to cool for some time, and there is less
danger of the pelt becoming tainted. If a number of animals are
captured on the same day, the carcasses should not be piled on
each other but should be stored so that all can cool quickly; this
will reduce the chance of the pelts becoming tainted.
The fur of raccoons should be carefully combed to remove all
burrs and hair mats before skinning. The pelt of raccoons is
removed in much the same way as for other cased pelts. Because
raccoons are generally fat animals, it is advisable to skin them in
some place that is easy to clean or where grease spots will not matter.
It is probably best to hang the animal by one or both hindlegs
from a rafter or tree branch. The initial cut should be made, as for
mink, from one hindfoot to the other on the underside of the leg
at the break between the long hairs of the back and the shorter
hairs of the ventral side. The cut should pass 4–5 cm (1.5–2
inches) below the anus; in this way the maximum pelt length will
be attained and an inspection window will be left on the belly
side. If a skinning gambrel is used (Fig. 16), the hook should be
placed between the tendon and the leg bone.
Because of the amount of fat, it is easier to first skin raccoons
roughly and flesh the pelt clean later. Skin out the rump and
hindlegs, then cut the pelt loose at the paws. Strip the tail by
pulling downward using a tail stripper. Finish skinning the pelt,
leaving the lower lip on the carcass, cutting the nose cartilage close
to the nosepad and the ears close to the skull. If the pelt is bloody or
muddy, wash it in cool water and leave it to drip dry before
fleshing. Pelts to be stored for some time before fleshing should be
placed in a freezer. Fold the head and tail into the center of the
pelt and roll the pelt fur-out to prevent the leather from becoming
freezer burnt. Then place the rolled pelt in a plastic bag for
storage.
Leave freshly skinned pelts to thoroughly cool before
beginning to scrape the leather; this will make it easier to remove
the fat. Place the pelt on a fleshing beam and thoroughly scrape off
all fat and flesh. This is especially important in the head and
shoulder area. It is easy to overscrape unprime raccoon pelts, so
such pelts must be handled carefully. Extra care must be taken
with raccoons to keep grease off the fur. Fine dry sawdust (with-
out resin) or corncob grit can be used to soak up grease during
fleshing. This absorbent must be completely removed from the
leather before drying the pelt.
Solid boards with belly wedges, split boards, and galvanized
wire stretchers are all used for raccoons. It is important to use a
stretcher of an appropriate size (Fig. 17). Wooden stretchers must
conform to the shape of wire stretchers especially at the head and
neck. A major problem in the handling of raccoon pelts is the use
of wooden stretchers that are too wide, resulting in pelts with low
density or thin fur. Wooden stretchers should be no more than
24 cm (9.5 inches) at their widest point (Fig. 17); wire stretchers
are about 23 cm (9 inches) at the base. The pelt should be pulled
down snugly on the stretcher and the tail pulled firmly, first
towards the head then back down in the opposite direction to get
the maximum length. Then the tail should be spread, pushed
towards the rump to get denser fur in the inspection area, and
nailed in an open position. If wooden stretchers are used, the
rump should be gathered, pleated, and nailed in the direction of
the base of the tail. The rump should not be spread so wide that
the density of fur in the inspection area is reduced. Galvanized
wire stretchers are commonly used for raccoon pelts; these are
highly recommended as they provide a quick, simple, and satis-
factory stretching procedure. Any enlargement of the inspection
WILD FURBEARER MANAGEMENT AND CONSERVATION IN NORTH AMERICA SECTION V: THE PELT AND THE FUR INDUSTRY
Chapter 55 • Pelt Preparation • G.E. Hall & M.E. Obbard
852
COPYRIGHT ©1999, QUEEN’S PRINTER FOR ONTARIO.
Fig. 15. Stretched river otter pelts, showing (a) hindlegs on same side of the
board as the tail; (b) a proper inspection window; and (c) hindlegs pulled down
too far on the board, resulting in an undesirable presentation of the pelt
(improper inspection window).
Fig. 16. A raccoon hung by its hindlegs from a skinning gambrel for ease of
handling .
(a)
(b) (c)
window must be done before the pelt dries. The cuts should be
carefully made and should not extend to the flanks. Hang the pelt
in a cool dry place, occasionally wiping the grease film off the
leather as it dries.
Nutria
In North America most nutrias are trapped in the U.S. Gulf Coast
states. As a result there are special problems associated with
preparing these pelts. This region has warm winter temperatures
and high relative humidity, so it is often difficult to properly dry
pelts and ensure that they do not become tainted. This problem
especially occurs when warm spells alternate with periods of cool
weather (G. Linscombe, pers. commun.).
Nutrias are skinned in the same general way as muskrats.
Once removed from the carcass, pelts are placed on a fleshing
beam for scraping. The leather must be well scraped to remove all
fat before being stretched to dry. Care must be taken not to
overscrape early pelts, as the exposed hair roots may be cut and
hairslip may result. After fleshing, nutria pelts should be turned
fur-out and the fur should be thoroughly washed to remove all
debris. The fur should be squeezed and the pelt flicked sharply to
remove excess water. Then the pelt should be hung fur-out,
perhaps outdoors, until the fur dries. Once the fur is dry the pelt
should be turned leather-out and placed on a wire stretcher. A
typical nutria stretcher has a wooden base and a sliding wooden
bar to which the rump of the pelt is pinned. The pelt should be
pulled down snugly then pinned evenly across the wooden bar
(Fig. 18). Nutria pelts are prepared in this manner (i.e., without an
inspection window) for a number of reasons (G. Linscombe, pers.
commun.). Firstly, European buyers who purchased nutria pelts
in South America many years ago wanted the pelts prepared in
this fashion and this practice was continued when a market
developed in Louisiana during the 1950s. Secondly, the length of
nutria pelts is traditionally measured on the belly side from the
lower point of the mouth to the shortest part of the bottom of the
pelt, so preparing pelts without an inspection window yields
maximum length of the pelt. Lastly, color and clarity of nutria fur
are not important to buyers, so there is no need to create an
inspection window; a buyer can evaluate density, length, and
silkiness of the fur by running fingers through the fur at the
rump.
If the weather is dry, warm, and sunny, southern trappers will
hang stretched pelts outside to dry. If weather conditions are not
favorable, then stretched pelts must be hung in fur sheds. Pelts
must be dried quickly so that they do not become tainted under
conditions of high relative humidity. To accomplish this many
trappers use gas, electric, or oil heaters to raise the temperature in
the drying shed and use fans to blow air across the drying pelts.
Pelts removed from the stretchers must be stored under
conditions of low relative humidity. It is often difficult to do this in
the southern United States, so most trappers sell their pelts to buyers
soon after they are stretched and dried. On the day before the
pelts are inspected by buyers, most trappers use a brush to fluff
up the fur at the rump area where the buyer will check the fur’s
density. This technique is recommended so that the fur does not
appear flat.
Opossum
The opossum is harvested throughout the eastern United States
from the eastern seaboard to Wyoming, Colorado, and Texas. As
for the nutria, trappers in the Gulf Coast states have special problems
handling opossum pelts because of poor drying conditions.
Ensuring proper drying conditions is less of a problem in the
central and northeastern states; however, because opossums tend to
be fat animals, tainting is a major problem with opossum pelts
throughout the range.
Opossums are handled in much the same way as raccoons.
The initial cut should be made along the underside of the leg at
WILD FURBEARER MANAGEMENT AND CONSERVATION IN NORTH AMERICA SECTION V: THE PELT AND THE FUR INDUSTRY
Chapter 55 • Pelt Preparation • G.E. Hall & M.E. Obbard 853
COPYRIGHT ©1999, QUEEN’S PRINTER FOR ONTARIO.
Fig. 17. Pattern for a wooden stretcher used for raccoon pelts.
Fig. 18. A wire stretcher used for nutria pelts.
28 cm
(11”)
16.5 cm
(6
1
/
2
”)
122 cm
(48”)
24 cm (9
1
/
2
”)
25 cm
(10”)
15 cm
(6”)
96.5 cm
(38”)
20 cm (8”)
the break between the guard hairs of the back and those of the
belly. The cut should pass far enough below the anus to gain max-
imum length in the pelt and create an adequate inspection window
on the belly side so that fur quality and color can be assessed.
The pelt should be placed on a fleshing beam and thoroughly
scraped to remove all fat and flesh. Care should be taken to keep
grease off the fur because greasy fur will cause the pelt to be
downgraded. It is recommended that dry sawdust or corncob grit
be applied to the leather to absorb fat during fleshing. Early pelts
must be carefully scraped because many of the guard hair roots
are exposed and can be easily cut. Thorough scraping is
extremely important in preparing opossum pelts because the
leather can readily become tainted.
Wire stretchers used for raccoons and skunks are commonly
used for opossum pelts, but wooden boards with belly wedges
may also be used. If possible, pelts should be hung in a cool, dry
place for drying. As mentioned above, trappers in the southern
states commonly speed the drying process by heating the drying
sheds and using fans to blow air over the pelts.
Skunks
Trappers should always wear rubber gloves when handling
skunks because of the possibility that the animal might be rabid.
Skunks are skinned in a similar manner to raccoons and mink,
but caution is needed when skinning around the scent glands
near the anus. It is advisable to cut a 2.5-cm circle around the
anus, leaving it and the surrounding fur on the carcass. Be careful
not to squeeze the abdominal area of the carcass during skinning,
as this may force musk from the scent glands. The pelt should
be cooled before being scraped. Store pelts that must be kept
for some time before fleshing in a freezer, as described for
raccoons. Care must be taken not to overscrape skunk pelts,
especially those taken early in the season, because the hair roots may
be cut. After fleshing, place the pelt leather-out on a drying board
and nail it around the rump and the opened tail (as for the
raccoon). Both wooden boards and galvanized wire stretchers are
used to dry skunk pelts. As for other species, care should be taken
to use an appropriate-size stretcher (Fig. 19) and to hang the pelts
in a cool place until dry. Stretchers meant for skunks can also be
used for small raccoon pelts.
Weasels (Ermine) and Red Squirrel
In cold weather, weasel and red squirrel pelts rarely become
tainted because animals taken in killing traps or snares freeze
quickly as a result of their small size. Of course, if warm weather
occurs early in the trapping season, traps should be checked
frequently and animals should be skinned as soon as possible to
prevent taint. If animals are frozen to the trap, both the entire trap
and the animal should be taken home and the animal left to thaw
slowly so that the guard hairs will not be damaged. Traps or
snares for squirrels should be located where animals will not get
resin on the fur.
These species are skinned in a manner similar to mink or
raccoons by cutting from one footpad to the other. Make cuts on
either side of the anus of weasels (as for mink), avoiding the anal
glands. The pelt can be removed by hand using gentle pressure.
Once free of the carcass, the pelt should be placed immediately
on the appropriate-size drying board made of 0.6-cm (
1
/
4
inch)
stock (Fig. 20). A piece of cheesecloth or burlap may be all that is
necessary to rub the fat and flesh off the skin. The pelt should be
pulled down snugly, but the hindlegs should be pulled gently so
that the fur around the rump does not thin out. The leather can
be gently washed with clean water to remove bloodstains, and a
belly wedge may be inserted. Secure the pelt by tacking each
hindfoot in place. Squirrel tails should be split along their length,
but weasel tails should not be split because they are used for trim
on ceremonial robes. Tails of both species can be held in place by
tacking a piece of fiberglass screening over the base of the tail (as
described for mink), or tails may simply be tacked in place.
Inspection windows are not necessary in weasel or red squirrel
WILD FURBEARER MANAGEMENT AND CONSERVATION IN NORTH AMERICA SECTION V: THE PELT AND THE FUR INDUSTRY
Chapter 55 • Pelt Preparation • G.E. Hall & M.E. Obbard
854
COPYRIGHT ©1999, QUEEN’S PRINTER FOR ONTARIO.
Fig. 19. Pattern for a wooden stretcher used for skunk pelts
Fig. 20. Patterns for drying boards used for (a) eastern ermine, (b) western
ermine, (c) western longtails, and (d) red squirrels.
(a) (b)
(c) (d)
20 cm
(8”)
14 cm
(5
1
/
2
”)
91 cm
(36”)
19 cm (7
1
/
2
”)
4 cm
(1
1
/
2
”)
7.5 cm
(3”)
51 cm
(20”)
6.5 cm (2
1
/
2
”)
7.5 cm
(3”)
5 cm
(2”)
46 cm
(18”)
6.5 cm (2
1
/
2
”)
7.5 cm
(3”)
3 cm
(1
1
/
4
”)
30 cm
(12”)
4.5 cm (1
3
/
4
”)
7.5 cm
(3”)
3 cm
(1
1
/
4
”)
46 cm
(18”)
4.5 cm (1
3
/
4
”)
pelts because graders use characteristics of the leather to evaluate
pelt quality.
Pelts should be left on the board in a cool dry place away from
direct heat until completely dry. This prevents the unsightly
wrinkles in the thin leather that can occur when the pelt is
removed before it is dry. The forelegs can be cut off short and
tucked into the pelt, or they can be left long and tied together
loosely, provided that care is taken to ensure that the pelt does
not become tainted. Dried pelts should be stored in a cool dry
place and should be either laid flat or hung by strings through the
eyeholes. Weasel and red squirrel pelts should not be folded
when stored, as this causes cracks in the leather that can decrease
the pelt’s value.
HANDLING CASED PELTS (FUR-OUT):
SPECIFIC COMMENTS
Coyote
Handling the Pelt in the Field.—Traps or snares should be set
in areas that are free of burrs, which might become tangled in a
captured animal’s fur. Snares should be checked frequently,
especially at warmer times of the year, to reduce the chance of the
pelt becoming tainted. Animals captured in a leghold trap should be
killed by a gunshot to the brain so that the animal is killed quickly
and humanely. If the animal appears to be infested with fleas,
place it inside a large plastic bag, spray it with a general insecti-
cide or dust it with flea powder, and seal the bag. This practice
should always be done outdoors and the trapper should avoid
inhaling the insecticide. Snared animals frozen to the ground
must be moved carefully to avoid damaging the guard hairs.
Snared animals are often found tangled in bushes and must be
disentangled with care to avoid further damage to the fur. Any
burrs in the fur should be picked apart and carefully combed out.
Skinning.—Coyotes should be skinned as soon as possible;
the pelt is more easily removed when the animal is fresh, and all
canids quickly become tainted in the abdominal region. It is easier
to skin a coyote if the forelegs are skinned first and then the animal
is hung by the hindlegs from a solid support. To skin the forelegs,
make a cut on the back of each leg from the footpad to the elbow,
cut around the wrist to leave the claws on the carcass (unless the
pelt is to be used for taxidermy purposes), and loosen the pelt.
Now make a straight-line cut from footpad to footpad along the
back of the hindlegs passing just below the anus (Fig. 21). Make
a cut along the midline of the underside of the tail for about one-
third of its length, then extend this cut on either side of the anus
to meet the first cut and form a triangular cut around the anus
(Fig. 21). Next, cut the pelt from the hindlegs around the base of
the feet so that the claws remain on the carcass (again, unless the
pelt is to be used for taxidermy purposes) and then begin to pull
or cut the pelt off the hindlegs. Next, hang the carcass by the
hindlegs to finish skinning. One preferred technique is to hang the
carcass from a gambrel attached to a support such as a rafter so
that the carcass is hooked between the tendon and the leg bone
(as for raccoons). The carcass may also simply be tied to a rafter or
other support. Using your fingers, free 5–8 cm (2–3 inches) of the
tailbone from the pelt and then remove the rest of the tailbone
using a tail stripper. Pull down the pelt over the rest of the body.
Some difficulty may be encountered in freeing the pelt from the
chest and throat; you will have to carefully cut the pelt free in
these areas. It may also be difficult to pull the pelt over the neck
and back of the skull, but steady pressure will free the pelt. At this
time the ears should be cut off close to the skull, and the eyes, lips,
and nose skinned. The skin of the lower jaw may be cut off the
carcass if desired.
In areas such as Kansas, where large numbers of coyotes are
harvested annually, a fence stretcher is often used to speed the
job of skinning large numbers of animals. The hindlegs and tail
are skinned as described above, then a small rock or a baseball is
placed on the fur side of the pelt just above the tail. The pelt is
turned so that it is leather-out and a chain or rope is tied around
the pelt, then attached to a fence stretcher; the rock or ball keeps
the chain or rope from slipping off the pelt. The carcass is
attached by the hindlegs to a solid object such as a fence pole or a
vehicle. Then the fence stretcher is cranked and the pelt is pulled
off the carcass. In this way large numbers of coyotes can be
skinned quickly and efficiently, provided that there are no large
cuts in the pelts (Henderson 1975).
Fleshing.—After the pelt is removed from the carcass, it should
be hung leather-out by the nose until it is cool and the fat has
stiffened. Make sure no burrs or mats remain in the fur. Pelts caked
with mud or blood should be rinsed in clean water then hung by
the nose fur-out to drip dry. Place the cooled and cleaned pelt
leather-out on a fleshing beam or a solid drying board. Finish
splitting the tail on the underside and flesh it completely using a
dull knife or a spoon. Next, flesh a strip around the rump so that
any fat in this area does not get onto the fur, then scrape the rest
of the pelt, starting at the head. Fine dry resinless sawdust or
corncob grit can be used to absorb excess fat or blood during
fleshing, or the leather may be rubbed with a clean dry rag. The
cartilage should be removed from the ears at this time. If
necessary the fur can be rinsed with clean lukewarm water after
fleshing to remove any remaining blood or fat and then left to drip
dry. Any cuts or tears in the leather should be sewn up.
Coyote pelts may be stored for a few weeks before fleshing by
folding the head, legs, and tail into the center of the fur-out pelt,
then rolling or folding the entire pelt and placing it in a plastic
bag in a freezer. Coyote pelts should never be placed leather-out
in the freezer because the leather can easily become burnt.
Stretching and Drying.—Pelts that will be offered for sale fur-out
must first be dried for some time by placing them leather-out on a
stretcher. Once the leather has dried for 12–24 hours the pelt may
be turned fur-out. Pelts must never be placed fur-out on a
stretcher initially and left to dry completely in that manner
because the leather will probably become tainted where it
contacts the stretcher and will not dress properly.
Initially, coyote pelts should be mounted leather-out on a solid
stretcher, split stretcher, or galvanized wire frame; wooden
stretchers at least 2 cm thick are preferred (Fig. 22), as they result
in flanks with a fuller appearance. Wire frames produce a pelt
with flat flanks. The pelt should be pulled snugly over the board
and centered. Then, in order to gain length but at the same time
minimize thinning out the fur, grab the base of the tail, pull
gently upward on the pelt until it is tight, pull forward towards the
head, then pull back down the other way and tack down the base
of the tail. Then spread the tail and pin it in place. Turn over the
board and spread and pin the hindlegs after pulling them down
gently. Next, if the forelegs have not been cut off close to the body,
insert foot paddles in the forelegs, tack them in place (Fig. 23),
and pin the lower lip if it is to be left on. It is important that the
forelegs stick out from the rest of the pelt so that all the leather
dries properly. When using a solid board, insert a belly wedge
and hang the stretcher in a cool area away from direct heat. Leave
the pelt to dry for 12–24 hours until the leather has a dry shiny
look, then turn the pelt fur-out and place it back on the stretcher
to finish drying. Begin to turn the pelt fur-out by pushing the
nose through the mouth and pushing the head towards the tail.
Then grasp the nose from inside the pelt and finish turning the
pelt inside-out. The head must not be too dry in order to do this;
WILD FURBEARER MANAGEMENT AND CONSERVATION IN NORTH AMERICA SECTION V: THE PELT AND THE FUR INDUSTRY
Chapter 55 • Pelt Preparation • G.E. Hall & M.E. Obbard 855
COPYRIGHT ©1999, QUEEN’S PRINTER FOR ONTARIO.
Fig. 21. Coyote, showing location of the initial cuts to be made for skinning.
if it is too dry the head may have to be moistened to soften the
leather. Some trappers turn coyote pelts by starting at the rump,
but there is a greater chance of tearing the pelts by this method.
The skinned-out ears of a leather-out pelt will dry much faster
than the rest of the pelt, and if left too long they will become
difficult to turn and prone to tearing. If watched carefully, the ears
may be pushed flat against the board when just dry; when the rest
of the pelt is turned fur-out, a slight push will pop out the ears.
Alternatively, the ears may be pushed inwards when the pelt is
first boarded leather-out. When the pelt is turned fur-out the ears
will still be wet and can be completely pulled out at this time.
Insert a belly board in the fur-out pelt and repin the hindlegs and
rump. The forelegs may be left inside the pelt if they are completely
dry. This is advantageous because the legs cannot be torn during
drumming. Leave the pelt to dry for a few more days, then
remove it from the board, brush or comb the fur carefully, and
hang the pelt by the nose until the head is completely dry. Fully
dried pelts should be stored hung-up if possible, but if stored flat
they should not be folded and should be protected from rodents.
Foxes
Red fox (including cross fox and silver fox), gray fox, swift fox, kit
fox, and arctic fox pelts are all prepared in the same general
manner as coyote pelts. In areas where rabies is common, trappers
should wear strong rubber gloves when handling fox carcasses.
This is especially important when handling the head because the
rabies virus can remain viable in saliva for a few days at room
temperature ( Johnson 1959). Because the leather of foxes is thin,
the trapper must take care when skinning to make sure the leather
is not cut.
Fox pelts may be stored fur-out in the freezer for a few weeks
before fleshing as described for coyotes. Gray foxes tend to be fat
animals, so the leather is less prone to become freezerburnt than
with other pelts. When fleshing, care must be taken to remove
excess flesh and fat from the shoulder and belly areas, and the tail
must be split along the underside, scraped clean, and opened to
dry. Resinless sawdust or corncob grit can be applied to the
leather to absorb fat or blood. This is especially useful when
fleshing gray foxes.
Wooden boards (both solid and split) and galvanized wire
frames are used to stretch fox pelts. Boards used to stretch foxes
should be 1.5–2 cm thick to give a full appearance to the flanks
(Fig. 24). Wooden stretchers are recommended for foxes because
wire stretchers do not give a full appearance to the flanks. The
Canada Fox Breeders Association (CFBA) recommends a
WILD FURBEARER MANAGEMENT AND CONSERVATION IN NORTH AMERICA SECTION V: THE PELT AND THE FUR INDUSTRY
Chapter 55 • Pelt Preparation • G.E. Hall & M.E. Obbard
856
COPYRIGHT ©1999, QUEEN’S PRINTER FOR ONTARIO.
Fig. 23. A stretched coyote pelt, showing foot paddles in forelegs.
Fig. 22. Pattern for a wooden stretcher used for coyote pelts.
36 cm
(14”)
16.5 cm
(6
1
/
2
”)
183 cm
(72”)
24 cm (9
1
/
2
”)
narrower, longer board for stretching ranched fox pelts. The
CFBA fox board is 152 cm (60 inches) long and 14.3 cm
(5
5
/
8
inches) wide at the base; at a length of 15 cm (6 inches) the
board is 10 cm (4 inches) wide, at 76 cm (30 inches) the board is
12 cm (4
3
/
4
inches) wide. This board produces pelts that are well-
proportioned and attractive to buyers. The CFBA board should
be considered by trappers as an alternative to the more common
board for wild foxes shown in Fig. 24.
When placing foxes on a stretcher the head should be pulled
snugly onto the board, but the neck should not be pulled down as
firmly. The shoulder area of foxes tends to be flat, so a pelt that is
pulled too tightly in that area will appear unprime. In order to
get maximum length from a pelt without affecting the density of
the fur, the rump should be lifted off the board, pulled towards
the head, then pulled back towards the tail. If the forelegs have
not been cut off close to the body, the forefeet can be placed on
foot paddles when the pelt is leather-out. A belly wedge is
necessary with solid boards. When the pelt is turned fur-out to
complete drying, the forelegs can be left inside the pelt to reduce
the chance of them tearing during drumming.
Gray (Timber) Wolf
Wolf pelts are prepared in the same manner described above for
coyotes. Wolf pelts used for garments should have the claws
removed. However, if the trapper cannot be sure of the pelt’s
ultimate use, then the pelt should be left complete so that it may
be used for taxidermy purposes. As a rule, it is recommended that
the claws be left on all wolf pelts.
The ear cartilage must be removed and the ears properly
dried. The eyes and nose must be skinned out carefully so that
they do not become cut. The nose cartilage should be removed as
close as possible to the nosepad without damaging it. The lips
and gums must be skinned out completely and stretched and
dried. The feet must be skinned out completely down to the
claws. Then all bones in the feet must be removed, leaving only
the claws attached to the pelt. The pelt should be mounted on an
appropriate-size board (Fig. 25); the forelegs should be attached
to foot paddles and the hindlegs stretched open and tacked or
pinned to the board. When wolf pelts are turned fur-out the
forelegs should be pulled through so that the legs and claws can
be examined by graders and buyers.
Marten
Traps for martens should be set so that (1) captured animals do
not come into contact with resin from coniferous trees and (2) the
chance of small mammals chewing on the fur is reduced (Baker
and Dwyer l987). If animals are frozen to traps, it is recom-
mended that the trap and animal be taken away and left to slowly
thaw to avoid damaging the guard hairs. Martens are susceptible
to taint and should be skinned as soon as possible. Traps should
be checked daily if daytime temperatures are above freezing.
Marten pelts are always prepared fur-out, in the same manner
as coyotes. The fur should be dried and combed before skinning.
However, do not attempt to remove spruce or pine resin from
marten pelts if it does not come off easily during combing. Small
resin mats in the guard hairs are ignored during grading, and
large mats that involve the guard hairs and underfur cannot be
removed by combing without damaging the fur. The dresser can
usually safely remove the resin with techniques that do not damage
the fur. The feet and claws should be removed from the pelt
by cutting the fur at the ankle joints, and the tail should be split
open. Fleshed pelts are placed leather-out on solid boards of
appropriate size for each sex (Fig. 26). Care should be taken to
ensure that boards are not too wide because this lowers the
density of fur, especially that of early-caught animals.
When turning the pelt fur-out to complete drying, the forelegs
may be left inside the pelt (if fully dry) to reduce the chance
of them tearing during drumming. Once fully dry the fur may be
carefully combed or brushed to make it more presentable to the
buyer. The use of blowdryers is not recommended, however, as
too much heat can damage the delicate fur. If the fur has any
areas with mouse clips, these should be left alone by trappers; any
such damaged areas must never be cut out and sewn up again.
Fisher
Most fishers are captured in killing traps that cause little damage
to the fur if they are the correct size, but the fur of fishers
captured incidentally in snares is often badly rubbed. Trappers
should avoid setting snares where they may capture fishers and
should set snares properly for the target species (e.g., foxes). Damage
caused by mice chewing on the fur can be reduced by setting
traps so that the chance of mice encountering captured animals
is less likely (Baker and Dwyer 1987), and by visiting traps
frequently. Animals frozen to traps should be thawed slowly at
home, then carefully removed from the trap to avoid damage to
their guard hairs. Fishers should be skinned as soon as possible so
that they do not become tainted.
Most auction houses request that fisher pelts be prepared fur-
out, but some auction houses or fur dealers may prefer fishers to
be prepared leather-out. Trappers should first check with their
auction house or dealer before preparing fisher pelts for market.
Fishers are skinned in the same manner as coyotes. The fur may
be combed to remove mats or debris, but this must be done
carefully because fisher fur can become singed or guard hairs can
be removed as a result of rough handling. Claws must be cut off the
pelt, the tailbone must be removed, and the tail split open. Resin-
less sawdust or corncob grit should be used to absorb fat during
WILD FURBEARER MANAGEMENT AND CONSERVATION IN NORTH AMERICA SECTION V: THE PELT AND THE FUR INDUSTRY
Chapter 55 • Pelt Preparation • G.E. Hall & M.E. Obbard 857
COPYRIGHT ©1999, QUEEN’S PRINTER FOR ONTARIO.
Fig. 24. Pattern for a wooden stretcher used for fox pelts.
28 cm
(11”)
11.5 cm
(4
1
/
2
”)
140 cm
(55”)
18 cm (7”)
WILD FURBEARER MANAGEMENT AND CONSERVATION IN NORTH AMERICA SECTION V: THE PELT AND THE FUR INDUSTRY
Chapter 55 • Pelt Preparation • G.E. Hall & M.E. Obbard
858
COPYRIGHT ©1999, QUEEN’S PRINTER FOR ONTARIO.
fleshing to ensure that fat does not get on the fur. Because fisher
pelts easily become greaseburnt, it is important that the pelts be
thoroughly scraped. Trappers should carefully remove any
porcupine (Erethizon dorsatum) quills found embedded in the pelt.
Fisher pelts are placed leather-out for initial drying. Three
sizes of boards are recommended, one for small females, one for
large females and small males, and one for large males (Fig. 27).
However, because of the low quotas for fishers in most juris-
dictions, few trappers bother to make three different-size boards.
Instead, many trappers simply use a red fox board or a small river
otter board for fisher pelts. Although this is not the preferred
technique, it is acceptable to the fur industry. Pelts should be
pulled down snugly but not overstretched. In fact, fisher pelts are
seldom overstretched by trappers because smaller sizes are generally
more valuable. In particular the hindlegs should be pulled
down snugly, but not enough to thin the fur around the hip area.
After 12–24 hours the pelt is turned fur-out to complete drying
(unless it is being prepared leather-out); the forelegs may be left
inside the pelt at this time if fully dry. Fisher pelts, especially
males, will become stiff and unpliable if dried too quickly; slow
drying is strongly recommended. Once the fur is completely dry
it may be carefully combed or brushed to make it more
presentable to the buyer. Blowdryers must never be used because
the heat may singe the fur.
Lynx and Bobcat
The current high value of cats, especially lynx, makes it imperative
that trappers check their sets frequently and handle the pelt
with care. When removing frozen animals from body-gripping
traps or snares, care should be taken to avoid damaging the guard
hairs. Trap sets should be checked frequently to minimize taint
and drainage to the fur by rodents.
Lynx and bobcat pelts are prepared in the same general manner
as those of coyotes, except that the initial cut should run to the
anus following the color line where the darker dorsal fur meets
Fig. 26. Patterns for wooden stretchers used for pelts of (a) male and (b) female
martens.
Fig. 25. Pattern for a wooden stretcher used for wolf pelts.
(a) (b)
6.5 cm
(2
1
/
2
”)
5 cm
(2”)
259–274 cm
(66–72”)
38–46cm (15–18”)
13 cm
(5”)
10 cm
(4”)
43 cm
(17”)
19 cm
(7
1
/
2
”)
7.5 cm
(3”)
102 cm
(40”)
10 cm (4”)
20 cm
(8”)
6.5 cm
(2
1
/
2
”)
91 cm
(36”)
7.5 cm (3”)
20 cm
(8”)
the lighter belly fur, which will give the dried pelt an even back
and belly. Lynx and bobcat pelts must never be skinned open
because the bellies are used for garments. The claws must be
removed from the pelt and left attached to the carcass, as lynx and
bobcat claws are very sharp and can cause considerable damage
during drumming. Legs can be cut off either at the ankles and
wrists or at the base of the toes. Any mats or debris should be
gently combed out of the fur prior to fleshing. The chest, shoulders,
and abdomen should be carefully scraped to remove all fat and
muscle.
Wooden boards 1.3 cm (0.5 inches) thick, either solid or split,
are preferred over wire stretchers for drying lynx and bobcat
pelts because they give the dried pelt fuller flanks (Fig. 28). How-
ever, some trappers use galvanized wire stretchers for bobcats.
The pelt should be pulled down sufficiently to make it snug. The
hindlegs should be pulled down snugly without overstretching
the rump and belly areas, which will lower the density of the fur.
During the initial drying period, foot paddles should be placed in
the forelegs to ensure even drying. Then, when turning the
pelt for final drying, the forelegs may be left inside (if dry) to
reduce the possibility of damage during drumming. Hindlegs
can be fastened around the outer edge of the board, with half the
leg on each side of the board, but it is recommended that the
hindlegs be placed on the belly side of the board as for coyotes
(Fig. 23). When a lynx or bobcat pelt is stretched in this manner,
the pattern on the belly runs unbroken to the hindlegs when the
pelt is turned fur-out, resulting in a desirable presentation of the
pelt. Borax may be applied where the legs join the body to ensure
that the area dries properly. When the pelt is completely dry, the
fur may be gently combed or brushed so that its full flow is
apparent to the grader or buyer.
Wolverine
Most wolverines are prepared cased fur-out in the same manner
as coyotes, but open pelts are also acceptable. Nevertheless, many
trappers feel that it is easier to flesh cased wolverine pelts.
Because few wolverine pelts are available each year and there is a
strong demand for top-quality pelts, the claws, lips, and skin of the
lower jaw must be left on wolverine pelts so that they may be used
for taxidermy. The feet should be skinned out completely, and all
bones of the feet removed. The ears, eyes, and nose should be
skinned out carefully and completely. The ear cartilage must be
removed and the nose cartilage cut off at the nosepad. Resin mats
should be removed only if this can be done without damaging the
fur. Forelegs should be dried on foot paddles, and the tail split and
tacked open as for coyotes.
HANDLING PELTS FOR TAXIDERMY
Black bears (Ursus americanus), brown bears (U. arctos), polar bears
(U. maritimus), mountain lions, wolverines, gray wolves, and large
coyotes are often prepared as rugs or mounts by taxidermists.
Occasionally, other species such as raccoons, arctic foxes, red
WILD FURBEARER MANAGEMENT AND CONSERVATION IN NORTH AMERICA SECTION V: THE PELT AND THE FUR INDUSTRY
Chapter 55 • Pelt Preparation • G.E. Hall & M.E. Obbard 859
COPYRIGHT ©1999, QUEEN’S PRINTER FOR ONTARIO.
Fig. 27. Patterns for wooden stretchers used for pelts of (a) large male, (b) large female and small male, and (c) small female fishers.
(a) (b) (c)
28 cm
(11”)
127 cm
(50”)
16.5 cm (6
1
/
2
”)
13 cm
(5”)
28 cm
(11”)
127 cm
(50”)
18 cm (7”)
14 cm
(5
1
/
2
”)
15 cm
(6”)
28 cm
(11”)
20 cm (8”)
127 cm
(50”)
foxes, or wild mink are also mounted. Any pelt prepared for this
purpose must be complete (i.e., must have all claws intact and the
eyelids, nostrils, lips, and gums whole and free of cuts). Otherwise
the value will drop sharply. Gums should be left attached to the
pelt so that the taxidermist has something with which to work
when mounting the head onto the head mold. The greatest problem
with pelts prepared for taxidermy is improper skinning and
cleaning of the ears, feet, and claws (D. Fagg, pers. commun.). To
ensure top quality of a pelt for taxidermy purposes, extra care is
required when skinning out the feet and head. The cartilage
must be removed from the ears and the ears must be dried
completely so that they do not become tainted. Bears and mountain
lions should be handled as open pelts, but all other furbearers
should be prepared as fur-out cased pelts.
To remove the pelt of a bear or mountain lion, place the
animal on its back and make initial cuts as shown in Fig. 29. When
cutting under the lower jaw extend the cut only as far as the lower
lip, not through it. The cut from foot to foot should extend to the
midpoint of the large footpad.
If it is impossible to remove the pelt of bears immediately, the
chest and abdominal cavities should be opened and the bodily
organs removed. Then the ribs should be propped apart and the
carcass hung to cool.
Feet should be skinned by cutting around one side of the large
WILD FURBEARER MANAGEMENT AND CONSERVATION IN NORTH AMERICA SECTION V: THE PELT AND THE FUR INDUSTRY
Chapter 55 • Pelt Preparation • G.E. Hall & M.E. Obbard
860
COPYRIGHT ©1999, QUEEN’S PRINTER FOR ONTARIO.
Fig. 28. Pattern for a wooden stretcher used for drying lynx or bobcat pelts.
Fig. 30. Forefoot of a black bear, showing the location of the cut to be made
around the footpad.
Fig. 29. Black bear, showing location of the initial cuts to be made when
skinning.
25 cm
(10”)
183 cm
(72”)
23 cm (9”)
15 cm
(6”)
footpad (Fig. 30), leaving it attached to the carcass. The small
toepads should be left attached to the pelt. The trapper should
carefully avoid nicking or cutting the toepads, as this damage is
difficult to repair and hide. Feet should be fleshed completely and
all bones removed, leaving only the claws attached to the pelt.
The head must also be skinned with care—the ears should be cut
off close to the skull and the eyelids, lips, and nose should be
skinned completely. Remove the cartilage from the ears and turn
the ears inside-out for drying so that they do not become tainted.
A blunt stick can be used to invert the ears.
Pelts should be scraped free of all fat and muscle. Any cuts in
the leather should be sewn before drying. Bears and mountain
lions may be sewn or laced onto a large hoop frame or nailed fur-
out to a shaded wall to dry. The pelt should be attached first by the
nose, then by the tail and sides in the same manner described
previously for stretching open pelts. For these large species it may be
necessary to punch or cut holes in the pelt for the laces. The feet
should be spread properly to ensure that they dry completely. As
the pelt dries, check daily for flies laying eggs on the pelt and
spray with insecticide if necessary (this should not be a problem
if the leather is properly scraped and washed). Never apply salt to
a pelt, as this will keep the leather moist. Adequate and careful
scraping is usually all that is needed to ensure that a pelt dries
properly without tainting; however, borax may be applied to the
ears and feet.
Pelts of other furbearers should be prepared as described
above for the coyote in the section on cased fur-out pelts. The
important difference is that all claws, the skin of the lower jaw,
and the lips, gums, and eyelids must be left on the pelt for
taxidermy.
The authors thank the many external reviewers from all regions of North
America, whose useful comments helped to improve the quality of the
manuscript. Roger Blowes, Ontario Trappers Association, North Bay, Ont.,
and Ron Lancour and Alcide Giroux, Trappers International Marketing
Service, North Bay, supplied information on sizes of boards currently in use
to stretch pelts. Greg Linscombe, Louisiana Department of Wildlife and
Fisheries, supplied information on the special problems of preparing pelts
in the southern United States. The illustrations for the chapter were
prepared by Lisette Mallet.
LITERATURE CITED
BAKER, J. A., AND P. M. DWYER. 1987. Techniques for commercially
harvesting furbearers.
In
M. Novak, J. A. Baker, M. E. Obbard, and B.
Malloch, eds. Wild furbearer management and conservation in North
America. Ontario Trappers Assoc., North Bay.
CANADA MINK BREEDERS ASSOCIATION. 1970. Pelt preparation.
Can. Mink Breeders Assoc., Educ. Bull. 35:3–5.
DE ALMEIDA, M. H., AND L. COOK. 1987. Trapper education in North
America.
In
M. Novak, J. A. Baker, M. E. Obbard, and B. Malloch, eds.
Wild furbearer management and conservation in North America.
Ontario Trappers Assoc., North Bay.
HENDERSON, F. R. 1975. How to skin a coyote. Kansas State Univ., Coop.
Ext. Serv., Manhattan. 10pp.
HILL, E. P. 1974. Trapping beaver and processing their fur. Auburn Univ.,
Agric. Exp. Stn., Alabama Coop. Wildl. Res. Publ. 1. 10pp.
JOHNSON, H. N. 1959. Rabies. Pages 405–426
in
P. M. Rivers and F. L.
Horsfall, eds. Viral and rickettsial infections in man. J. B. Lippincott,
Philadelphia, Pa.
MONK, C. 1985. Removal and care of castoreum. Can. Trapper 13(2):36.
OBBARD, M. E. 1987. Fur grading and pelt identification.
In
M. Novak, J.
A. Baker, M. E. Obbard, and B. Malloch, eds. Wild furbearer manage-
ment and conservation in North America. Ontario Trappers Assoc.,
North Bay.
OLSEN, H. 1985. Pelting, skin treatment and storage. Pages 341–362
in
G.
Joergensen, ed. Mink production. Scientifur, Hilleroed, Denmark.
SVENDSEN, G. E. 1978. Castor and anal glands of the beaver (
Castor
canadensis
). J. Mammal. 59:618–620.
WILD FURBEARER MANAGEMENT AND CONSERVATION IN NORTH AMERICA SECTION V: THE PELT AND THE FUR INDUSTRY
Chapter 55 • Pelt Preparation • G.E. Hall & M.E. Obbard 861
COPYRIGHT ©1999, QUEEN’S PRINTER FOR ONTARIO.
(Photo: S. Liburski.)
G. EDWARD (PADDY) HALL (left) is a fur grader with the Hudson’s Bay
Company in Toronto. He received a Dip. For. (1972) from Sir Sandford
Fleming College in Lindsay, Ont., and received a B.Sc.F. (1976) from the
University of Toronto. Before joining the Hudson’s Bay Company, Hall
worked in fur manufacturing and retail for Creeds Ltd. in Toronto. He is a
licensed trapper and has served as a trapper instructor in Ontario.
at time of first publication (1987)
MARTYN E. OBBARD received a B.A. in zoology and a Dip. Ed. from the
University of Western Ontario. After several years as a high school biology
teacher he entered graduate school at the University of Guelph, where he
completed an M.Sc. (1977) and Ph.D. (1983) in wildlife ecology. Since
1984, Obbard has been a biologist with the Fur Management Section,
Wildlife Branch, Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources.
– at time of first publication (1987)
ResearchGate has not been able to resolve any citations for this publication.
Techniques for commercially harvesting furbearers
  • J A Baker
  • P M Dwyer
BAKER, J. A., AND P. M. DWYER. 1987. Techniques for commercially harvesting furbearers. In M. Novak, J. A. Baker, M. E. Obbard, and B. Malloch, eds. Wild furbearer management and conservation in North America. Ontario Trappers Assoc., North Bay.
Pelt preparation. Can. Mink Breeders Assoc
  • Canada
  • Breeders Association
CANADA MINK BREEDERS ASSOCIATION. 1970. Pelt preparation. Can. Mink Breeders Assoc., Educ. Bull. 35:3-5.
How to skin a coyote
  • F R Henderson
HENDERSON, F. R. 1975. How to skin a coyote. Kansas State Univ., Coop. Ext. Serv., Manhattan. 10pp.
Trapping beaver and processing their fur
  • E P Hill
HILL, E. P. 1974. Trapping beaver and processing their fur. Auburn Univ., Agric. Exp. Stn., Alabama Coop. Wildl. Res. Publ. 1. 10pp.
Rabies. Pages 405–426 in Viral and rickettsial infections in man
JOHNSON, H. N. 1959. Rabies. Pages 405–426 in P. M. Rivers and F. L. Horsfall, eds. Viral and rickettsial infections in man. J. B. Lippincott, Philadelphia, Pa.
Removal and care of castoreum
  • C Monk
MONK, C. 1985. Removal and care of castoreum. Can. Trapper 13(2):36.
Fur grading and pelt identification
OBBARD, M. E. 1987. Fur grading and pelt identification. In M. Novak, J. A. Baker, M. E. Obbard, and B. Malloch, eds. Wild furbearer management and conservation in North America. Ontario Trappers Assoc., North Bay.