Minnesota woman is a champion beaver skinnerby Dan Gunderson, Minnesota Public Radio
A Detroit Lakes woman is preparing to defend her title in a sport you've likely never heard of. Later this winter Kay Bachman will compete for her fourth consecutive beaver skinning title.
Detroit Lakes, Minn. — A visit to Kay Bachman is a little like going to grandma's house. She greets you with a big smile, there's fresh cookies and coffee on the counter in her neat as a pin kitchen.
Oh, and there's a dead beaver lying on a small table in the dining room.
"I got a little guy because I figured they're faster to do than a big guy," says Bachman.
Speed is of the essence if she wants to retain her title as North America's fastest woman beaver skinner.
Using a well worn, rounded knife that looks something like a big thumb, Bachman deftly starts slicing away the beaver hide. She pulls the skin with one hand and cuts it loose from the body with quick, short strokes of her knife.
It's something she's done thousands of times.
"You take 35 years times about three months and I could do 50 a day for three months, seven days a week. So if somebody wants to get ambitious and do the math," says Bachman with a chuckle.
Add it all up and Kay Bachman has skinned more than 150,000 beavers.
It's a disappearing skill that was once in high demand in Minnesota where the beaver helped build more than one family fortune.
Kay Bachman's skinning career started more than 50 years ago when she married a trapper. He ran the trap line, she did the skinning. Then a local fur buyer asked if she'd skin beaver for $1.50 a hide.
"I thought, 'I can stay home make some money and do this.' I had four young ones at home, so I just started skinning at home and it just developed into one thing after another. It was a normal part of making a nickel at home and not having to hire a baby sitter and go out," Bachman explains.
"So I'd usually get up about 7:00 am and get the kids off to school, sit down and start skinning. It was nice because we had linoleum on our floors and I could bring in 50 beaver and do them right in the living room and still take care of my other jobs in the house. Of course I didn't have a lot of friends over. The women just did not want to come and have tea with me," says Bachman with a hearty laugh.
Kay Bachman hasn't done much skinning since her husband died six years ago. But she says she was raised to be self sufficient, and wielding a knife was an essential skill.
"It's something I've done all my life. I'd go out and shoot my own cow in the pasture, skin her out and bring her home and cut her up and put her in the freezer," says Bachman matter of factly. "It was a normal way of life for me."
There's a rhythm to the skinning as Bachman methodically removes the beaver skin.
"This is so relaxing. To me it's therapy. I can just sit and forget the world exists and skin and skin all day," says Bachman. "Some women sit and knit and crochet and I skin beaver."
It takes 15 minutes from start to finish. That's a bit slower than her competition times, but she says it's a good warmup. Her winning time in competition is about 30 minutes, and that includes mounting the pelt on a board after the skinning is completed.
Kay Bachman spends her retirement traveling to trapping conventions and gun shows where she sells handmade fur hats. She occasionally visits classrooms to talk about the role of beaver trapping in Minnesota's history.
Kay Bachman will travel to East Bay Ontario later this winter to defend her beaver skinning title.
- All Things Considered, 12/26/2007, 5:54 p.m.