Trapping with the Add-on Eskimo
In mid-December the time for trapping artic fox came. Okfagit and his family gathered for special prayer for this season, asking that God would give them success in their trapping.
Okfagit and his sons also did their part to contribute to a successful season, preparing the traps they had gotten from Russian traders and cutting chunks of whale fat to use as bait.
When it was time to go, it was bitter cold outside, 40 degrees below zero, but they were used to such challenges and did not shrink back. They dressed in layers rather than in one heavy garment. This way as they warmed from walking or riding the dog sled, they could take off one or two layers and keep from sweating. To sweat was to be in danger of freezing.
Their seal skin parkas and pants along with their mukluk boots protected them well. They each had fox or wolf fur on their hoods to keep their faces from frostbite. Even with this they would frequently touch their faces as they traveled to make sure no frost bite developed.
All the boys hitched the excited dogs to the sled, piled on the traps and bait and supplies. Then they stood back as the oldest son and Ayit, the youngest, climbed onto the sled. Okfagit took his place at the rear of the sled, standing on the runners. He spoke to the dogs and they leapt forward, pulling the sled with enthusiasm.
Okfagit knew that the foxes would be seeking mice, and the best place to find them would be on the windswept sides of hills where the snow had been blown off, leaving the frozen grass exposed. At each such place they set a trap and baited it.
They traveled from first light to when darkness started closing in, arriving at their trapping hut while they could still see just a bit. The boys unloaded their supplies, most importantly the seal oil and lamps to heat their temporary dwelling. After lighting the lamps, they fed the dogs, had some dried seal meat and then slept.
Long before dawn they were up, preparing for the return trip. As the first light came in the east at about 10:30 a.m., they were on their way, stopping at each trap to see what had happened.
There was nothing in the first trap, but the next three each had a live fox caught by a foot. Okfagit pushed the fox over with this hunting stick, then kneeled on it, crushing its ribs. The animal thus died quickly without any damage being done to the pelt. They reset the trap and moved on to the next. In all they got five foxes that day, a very good start.
When they arrived home, Okfagit and his boys set about skinning them. This was delicate work, for a slip of the knife could tear a hole in the skin, making it much less valuable. They started by cutting around the mouth, then peeling back the skin over the head, then reaching ever deeper under it towards the tail. When they had reached half-way, they pulled the skin back over the fox’s body and eased it off the rest of the way, carefully pulling out the legs and tail.
Then Nisana and the girls scraped the skins to clean them and hung them out to dry. The boys threw the foxes’ bodies up on the food platform to freeze. They would later use them as bait for other foxes.
Okfagit and his sons repeated this two-day trip over and over again for the next two months and collected a good pile of fox pelts, ready for trading in the Spring.
Picture: Okfagit in front of his hunting hut