By Ross Markman
Dallas Frantzen studied the lifeless animal, curious and intrigued. It was cold, but soft to the touch. Dead, but still serving a purpose.
In less than a minute, he studied it again but this time from the inside out.
Dallas, 7, and his dad, Joe, drove 14 hours from Green River, Wyo. 800 miles to see this. The Frantzens were among more than 150 people who attended last weekend's Youth Trapper's Camp in Beaver Creek Park.
The third annual camp was sponsored by the Montana Trappers Association, the Montana 4H, and the state Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks.
"He just couldn't wait to get here and check all this out," Joe Frantzen said.
At home, father and son trap and skin bobcats, muskrats and other small critters. They do it for sport, adventure and money, as they sell the pelts after trapping and killing the animals.
"I like the blue part. It's all different colors," Dallas said, watching the muskrat be skinned. "It's kind of like a rainbow."
The man doing the skinning is Ed Heebe III, a man who's been doing this since he was Dallas' age.
"I started trapping these little buggers when I was 8 years old. They're fairly easy to catch and fairly easy to work over," he said. "He's the low end of the food chain."
Kids and parents watched in awe as Heebe slowly, but precisely, removed what he called the muskrat's pajamas.
"One thing about fur, it's a renewable resource," he said. "It goes right back to the earth."
Less than 100 yards away, James Halseth took to skinning a much larger beast a coyote. President of the the Montana Trappers Association, Halseth was surrounded by a dozen kids, each in their second or third year of attending the camp.
"This is a pretty good size coyote here," he said.
After making incisions at the hind legs, Halseth backed away from the coyote, flies buzzing around its nose.
He extended his left arm and put on a long, plastic glove, the kind a rancher wears when impregnating a cow. Halseth then lifted the animal and attached it to the front of his pickup, hooking it to a contraption resembling that thing you draw when you play hangman.
"I can skin this one here in three minutes. I don't do a lot of jerking around," he said. "It goes a lot faster when they're warm."
This coyote, however, was cold. Halseth took his time skinning, because he was, after all, teaching.
"You got to get the tailbone out once you get this opened up," he said. "You're leaving most of the fat and meat on the carcass."
Between the two skinning stations, campers made compasses. Others fashioned coyote calls from PVC pipe and parts of a milk container.
Across a nearby bridge, campers sawed and sanded wood, and built animal stretchers.
"We're just teaching the kids because we want to continue the heritage of trapping in Montana," said Fran Buell, who along with her husband, Jim, runs the camp. "The thing I find interesting is how attentive the kids are."
In its first year, the camp, Fran Buell said, drew about 80 people. This, the third installment of the camp, attracted more than 150. And they turned away another 44, she said, putting them on a waiting list.
People from six states Idaho, Kansas, Montana, Oregon, Pennsylvania and Wyoming attended. The camp, Buell said, is a chance for kids to become one with Mother Nature.
In addition to teaching how to trap and skin, the camp also offered people the chance to buy something to attract animals to trap and skin urine. Bottles of fox and coyote urine $7 each were for sale, as were crates filled with all sorts of animal traps.
Nearby was a virtual wall of fur, as silky-smooth pelts from raccoons, beavers, foxes and skunks hung from hooks attached to a horse trailer.
Later that afternoon, the kids would have a chance to test their newfound knowledge. They would set traps, and if they were lucky, would snare an animal of their own.
"The kids enjoy it. It's something new they can learn," Buell said. "They can really get involved in it and they learn how to enjoy nature."