Going Out Trapping

As told by Leslie Ukatish to Neal Hedrick


My name is Leslie Ukatish, I live in Port Graham. I started trapping two years ago, about the middle of the winter. Not knowing what brought on the urge to start in the middle of the season, I wanted to go trapping, so I did!

I started out when I was eighteen, didnít know nothing about trapping, except that you go out and do it. I used my dadís skiff go and check my traps. I had to go out there and try to learn and I didnít have much experience. So I went out there and started learning and how to trap (by trial and error) and started looking around where I could put my first trap, looking for tracks and evidence if where the animals were at.

Wearing gloves when I set the traps, there wouldnít be a human scent on the traps.

The tracks that I found were land otter and mink. I also found the slides of the land otter. This is where I would set my first traps, on the tracks and trails (or slide) that they used the most. Like if they came off the trail in the water, where the trial ends. They usually wouldnít go around the trap because the trail is their main route that they take every morning and every day. There is an advantage in putting the traps in the water! The water carries the scent away and therefore they wouldnít be able to smell the scent of human.

The first year I started trapping, the first animal I got was an otter, and then through the whole year I got two otters and two minks. That was the first I ever started trapping not knowing how to skin them (everything was a challenge). From what little experience I had before, and asking around in Port Graham, I tried to find out how to skin them, and how to flesh them (clean the excess fat and flesh off the skin), and also how to dry them and other information.


I took the fat off the skin (thatís what you call fleshing). You take all the skin off the carcass (body of the animal), and then the fat comes off the skin. You have to do this without putting holes in the pelt. That was the main goal (not to put holes in the pelt), you are getting a better chance, in getting a better buy! The price of the pelts would depend on how many holes you have in it. The less holes you have the more money you would get.

Then the second year which was last year (1978), it was a pretty good year. Both those two winter have been really easy on everybody. It wasnít to cold. There were times when it was too rough to go out when the weather and the waves were bad. I didnít go out if it got too bad.


I didnít set the traps around the village because of the people, children, and animals, mainly dogs. Because, one morning I started out to go check my traps in the skiff out towards English Bay, the first trap I came to the one at the cannery Dam Creek, and there lays a dog in my trap. I said to myself wow! My what a fine otter. He was limping around in every direction trying to pull the trap loose from his foot. I took the trap off, petted him, looked at his foot at see if that was ok, then let him go, and decided not set another trap there again.


There are many types of traps starting from number zero jump-to number four double spring to number four jump trap.


The different sizes of traps I use here in Port Graham are; 1 Ĺ single spring which is used for mink. Number three double spring can be used for catching otter, coyote, and may other different animals that we donít have here.


Then there is the number four jump trap which is used for wolf, coyote, otter and animals we do not have.


I have caught a mink, which is a fairly small animal in a number 4 trap which is not unusual. Iíve caught them several times in that size trap


Last year a friend and I went to check my traps. When we came on them, one mink was caught in this number four jump trap, still alive. I untied the end of the wire that was hooked to the tree, I told him to get a forked stick, and tried choking him to death. That didnít work, so I said, ďlet us drowned him.Ē So we took him to the water and tried drowning him, but that didnít work, so I decided to let him go. An animal that has a strong will like he did deserves to live! We released him with a front broken leg.


All of these traps come under the brand name of Victor traps.


Also there is this conibear, a square trap that you order in different sizes. Number 110 single spring is used for mink, muskrat; 12 in a package, 330 double spring, large of the conibear; four in a package, used for otter lynx and beaver.


The reason for setting my trap in the water was because the otter likes to go over logs, and go under the logs. There is a little space where the otter can go under the log, he has a choice of going under or over.


This trap here was waxed, that is mainly for coyote, because coyotes have a good nose for smelling, so they would probably smell the rust thatís on the traps. The metal being in the water, I donít think the coyote can smell it very well now!


Most traps weíd set very carefully, hiding it real good. The reason for that is because when the animals step on it, he wonít feel it go down but he will feel the jaws close on his leg!


If an otter comes over here and smells all our tracks, heís gonna wonder what in the worldís going on!?!


Out in the water you should have a flat, firm spot for the trap, so once he steps on it, it wonít sink and give him a chance to get away. It will close up on him before he feels it, itíll just close up on his leg and zappo, ya got him! When you have it on blare the trigger, you have to be very careful when you set the trap, cause it will go off very easy when you put it in the water.

When the weather stops me from trapping, I canít get across the bay to go check my traps because the rough weather and rough water. So I take some traps on this side of the bay, on foot, as far as I could go and check them and see if I have any success.


If I didnít get anything, I move the traps. I try them around in different places, when Iíd find slides and evidence of otter or mink.


My traps are made of steel. They are Juanita Victor Traps and they come in different sizes and they are basically made out of steel.


I got started trapping when I heard about trapping season being open, and I saw other people trapping and bringing stuff in. Iíve always wanted to do this, you know, it was something I kinda thought Iíd enjoy so I tried it. Not that I really like being outdoors to enjoy it, itís not like outdoor enjoyment.



Iíd stay away from the village because I caught some dogs. Across the bay there was one year there I went and checked some traps and there was another guy with me. From a distance you could see these two animals moving, and when we got a little bit closer we found out that there was a couple of dogs in two traps right by each other. Before that I had a coyote come and dug up the trap, but it was already sprung up Ďcause of the tide, the waves sprung the trap. Iíll learn to keep my traps away from dogs.


Across the bay there are a lot of different places to set the traps. There is no limit where you can set them. You can set them any place as long as you have some scent which would draw them towards the traps, and some bait, too. Like you would have a trap down on the trunk of the tree and the bait just above it. They go and try to jump for that bait and land on the trap.


I am not sure how far the trapping ground go, but they would say in regulations, what the limit is around here.


Mike Lockwood told me how to set traps and what kind of bait to use and what kind of scent and where to set them. I went to check these places out, and he was sure right. There was one place on the island where he said heíd caught two minks every year so I went out there to try it. I caught two mink on the island. There are two different places he told me but I havenít tried them. Mike described them over the telephone so I pretty much know where he wanted me to set them.


During trapping season, you can shoot the animal if you have a rifle. It is legal to shoot them and it would be a lot easier than waiting for them to get caught in the trap. I donít think it would really matter to Fish and Game, you would have a trapping license, which I do. I never leave it behind, I always carry it with me.


I donít know how itís going to be this year. I kinda think itís gonna be colder weatherwise and it could cause me not to go out as often then I like to. From the look of it right now, I think it is going to be very good for the fur through, cause when it is colder, the fur is more prime. It is better quality when you sell it, which I think, will make me try harder. It would also more of a learning experience and I would do better this year than last year.


Sea otters are not feasible to shoot. You would get a $500 fine. You can shoot a land otter when it is a land otter and not a sea otter. It is hard to tell them apart Ďcause they kind of look the same in the water. I would probably wait for a while until he got out of the water and on land and then shoot him if he starts towards the wood. If I would get caught, and thought it was a land otter and found out it was a sea otter, I would reason with that guy or something, tell him I did not know what it was.


When I first started out I was out I was looking in the telephone book to find out who was selling the fur and a good market was in Sterling near Soldotna, about 18 miles near Soldotna. Heís giving me a good price and there in Seattle was another good place I found where I got good prices on furs too. He would hold them for about two weeks, send me the money and if id didnít approve of that I would send the money back and he would send the fur back. If you do the job on fleshing it and skinning it, mink usually runs about $10 to $15. An otter runs $70 to $80 if you do a good job fleshing, skinning and there are no holes in it.


After I fleshed it, and take as much fat off as I can, I take and put it on a stretcher. You have a mink stretcher, a coyote stretcher, and an otter stretch. There is a wire stretcher which is made out of wire frame and as you pull the fur over the wire frame that is made at the factory, but you can make your own stretcher and adjust it were you want to.


So Iíd say to me trapping is making money and enjoyable at the same time!



Where the otter goes under

Water too deep for an otter

Setting a trap in the water

Leslie Ukatish

Going to check traps in Port Graham Bay

View opf Whitney Fidalgo Cannery, off the bow of the skiff

















Copyright 1981,Kenai Peninsula Borough School District.All rights reserved

Volume 1