Fur trading has been happening for thousands of years. Some aspects have molded and a few traditions have been solidified. However, preparing possum fur, expectations, and the overall procedure can be drastically varied. All this is dependent upon the culture, the animals involved, and time period this business has taken place in. For the Australian Brushtail Possum, everything involved in the fur trading field, before it trades hands in the business, is quite an extensive process. This really can become a full focused occupation if passion and necessity for your livelihood are supporting factors of the craft. There are many habits hunters keep, as well as, traditions that they continue to hold secure. So, there are really no wrong answers in the fur trading business, leaving only preference and personal intuition.
Possums are attracted to a very specific combination of spices. A mixture of flour, anise seed, sugar, and cinnamon is used for bait. This is smeared on the tree and put in the bait station as well, where the possum will come to lick it off and step into the trap in the process. Some makeshift bait stations are made with the cut off tops of water bottles. Otherwise, you can search for a common bait station, like the Kk bait station, which can be purchased online and typically cost about $2.
Once you have opened the trap, either by using your hands or a combination of your feet with your hands, position the trap to be about a hand’s width away from the tree.
Next, you need to staple the chain into the tree. There is no need to use the whole chain especially if there are trees or bushes nearby that the possum can get a hold of and pull free from the trap. Be sure the area is clear of any kind of assistance that the possum may find. This entire hunting system is not 100% foolproof. For example, 40 traps can be set with a mere 10 possums caught, babies are not exempt from hunting.
Two ways to remove the fur from the possum are plucking or skinning. When plucking the fur off a possum the fur needs to be at least 2 cm long. Some traders do not appreciate the belly fur, so this is not even bothered with. After the possum has been hit on the head with a hammer and a knife put through its heart, the fur is much more easily released from the body. The possum is left for two or three minutes before the plucking process begins. If the possum is left for 15 minutes or longer, or the possum has only been hit on the head and not stabbed in the heart, the fur becomes very difficult, in some cases impossible, to pluck off of the animal. In this case, it would be more worth your time to set more traps and focus on finding more possums. Once the fur is plucked from the possum the carcass is thrown back into the bush to allow nature to take its natural course.
The skinning process is much more intricate. The possum needs to sit and wait for a good 3-5 hours before the skinning commences. A professional recommendation is 8-9 hours of waiting before beginning the action of skinning. The main cuts are across the chest from arm to arm, crosswise the belly from foot to foot, and then from chin to growing. This whole operation is taking place after rigor mortis has set in. The animal should be relaxed which also means the skin releases its connection to the muscle of the possum. Once the cuts are made, the skin can be pulled off of the body from head to tail.
To start, the skin needs to be showing with the flesh side up, not the fur, including the tail. The tail can be turned inside out with a knitting needle to be prepared for the de-fleshing process. The time of year becomes a huge factor in the quality of fur and the efficiency of the skinning and tanning procedure. Around November, when the possums are molting, is one of the least desirable time periods to harvest possum skins. First, the flesh and fat need to be pulled off and the membrane is to be broken up as you scrape the skin. This is all to be done on top of a board or tabletop for both the protection of your body and the cleanliness of the skin and fur. The skin will then be salted wherever flesh is showing. When this step is complete, the skin is folded in half, rolled, and then stored in a cotton pillowcase overnight. When you pull the one-time salted possum skin out, shake off the old salt and wipe it clean. It is now time to repeat this salting process, but this time the second-salted skin is to be left in the pillowcase for seven days. Now, the skin is ready for the second scraping. By leaving the salt this time, it becomes a helpful assistant when discarding the remaining flesh. The final step, before the actual tanning process, is to wash the skins thoroughly. Once washed, the tanning operation takes place. This is an extended procedure of soaking in salt and alum and then in chromium. The possum fur is then stapled to a board to dry and, at last, cut to be sold.
When the skins are prepared, the list of products they create is endless. Although this is a time-tested business, the debate of its morality remains the same. This is, ultimately, your final decision as to whether or not it is a business you will feed your time, finances, and energy into. Countless crises occur worldwide and each one of us has a choice as to what major differences we will step up to bring for creating a healthier, stronger and more effective and efficient world to live in. I urge you to choose, with wisdom, a path in life that will always bring and encourage more life.