It is mainly bragging rights that were earned when Tanner Kopeck, 17, of Canora sold a mink pelt that was part of the top lot at the March auction sale by North American Fur Auctions.
For a pelt to make it into the top lot, it is a testament to the size, colour and how the skinning was completed, Kopeck said. The particular pelt that made it into the top lot sold for $22 (U.S. currency).
“A world wide attendance of leading fur buyers recognized that this lot contains the most outstanding pelts in the sale,” states the letter from the auction. “On behalf of our company and the buyers, we wish to thank you for your support, and once again, offer our heartiest congratulations.”
Kopeck has been operating a trap line for about two years since his grandfather William Kindrat (known to Kopeck as Giddo Bill) gave him most of his trapping and skinning equipment. Kindrat showed him the basics of trapping and skinning, but Kopeck has been learning much on his own, by talking to other trappers and by getting a few hints from the Internet.
Kindrat said he had been trapping since he was 13 years old and he has gone after essentially the same animals as Kopeck now has in his sights. Trapping season runs from about October to May and Kopeck took about 110 pelts last season, worth about $4,000. The most common fur animals are muskrat and coyotes, but he also had beaver, fox, mink, otter, weasel, racoon and badgers. Just recently, a friend gave him the carcass of a small timber wolf.
With coyotes being one of the main fur bearing animals on his radar, Kopeck says he starts preparing well before the season begins. He collects scrap meat and animal carcasses from farmers and uses it for baiting. He also uses a method of “coyote calling” to encourage coyotes to come to the bait stations where he eventually sets up the snares.
For his best coyote pelt last season, Kopeck earned $160, but he has also received as low as $4 for a poor quality hide. On average, a coyote will bring about $95. When the season is in full swing, he has about 100 traps and snares that he sets out. About a dozen are intended for coyotes and about 30 for muskrats, while the other traps and snares are meant for other types of fur-bearing animals.
There is a lot of work operating a trap line and Kopeck often appreciates when his friends give him a hand. Kody Checkowy is one such friend that he can often depend upon. Starting a trap line before he had a driver’s licence meant that his grandmother, Bev Kopeck, was his driver when he checked the lines during his first season. But then she taught him how to drive and he earned his driver’s licence and bit more independence.
While trapping may have been a common sideline for teenage boys in Giddo Bill’s days, it is far less common now, said Kopeck. Of all the students at Canora Composite School, he can name only a couple who do some trapping.
It is more common for high school students to have part-time jobs, and Kopeck has a couple as well – working for an area farmer and cooking at Northstar Pizza – but he points out that after a day is over, he might make $40 or $50 working or he can make $100 or $200 trapping.
The son of Dwayne and Colleen Kopeck, Tanner says as he completed his Grade 12 year, he is looking into making welding a career. However, he hopes to always be able to have a trapline as a sideline business.
Finding areas to set up his trapline is not difficult, said Kopeck. Most of his traps are set on farmland a few miles north of Canora. Most farmers appreciate having a trapper control the animal populations and there are even a few that will pay a bounty for getting rid of beavers, which are known to do a lot of damage to farmland.
After skinning the animals and preparing the pelts, Kopeck takes them to Yorkton where an auction representative will pick up hundreds at a time. It is some time after the auction happens, that he receives a cheque in the mail. At the big auction in March in which his mink pelt ended up in the top lot, there were about 32,000 pelts sold.
The traps have improved immensely over the years and are now designed to make a much more humane kill, he said. His grandfather started trapping with many of the older style traps which are no longer legal, but over the years he continued to upgrade his equipment. In many ways, the same trapping techniques that worked for his grandfather still work today.
It brings out a lot of pride when his grandfather tells Kopeck that the young trapper is better at trapping and preparing the pelts than he ever was.