Handling Bobcat Pelts - Part II
In Part I, I talked about using Borax to put up bobcat pelts. All indications from end users (garment makers) is that Borax does not affect the tanning (dressing) of the pelt, at least for the most part. That's a plus, obviously. But one practice that we see commonly used in connection with the heavy use of Borax needs to be addressed. More and more people are rubbing Borax into the leather and then putting their cats (and fox for that matter) on stretchers fur side out to start with, rather than leather side out initially, and then turning them after the leather has had a chance to dry. A simple glaze on the leather is usually all that is needed before turning them, but there has been a push to avoid having to go through the process of 'turning' the pelt, by depending on Borax to at least partially dry the leather, and prevent any spoiling.

Turning cats can be an inconvenience at times, no doubt. Anyone who has harvested many cats has had some that were harder to turn fur out than others. The head and neck area of big toms can be especially tough, and I've thought at times that the leather in that area had to be an inch thick when I've left one on the stretcher too long before turning. I was taught that cats require a little bit of extra TLC at times, and some close monitoring. Many times I've had cats on stretchers, leather side out, that were in different stages of drying. I usually try to turn them all in the morning, before I leave for the day, but in some cases another few hours would help a lot. You all know how that usually works. Leave them for the rest of the day, and turn them that evening, accepting the fact that it might be a bit of a job.

So the practice of putting them directly on the stretcher, fur side out, is enticing, I have to admit. I can't really advise you not to do it, since a lot of people seem to get by with it fine. The one thing that I can tell you with certainty is this: The leather has to dry ASAP -- Borax or no Borax. If air and heat can't get to the leather, it will dry slowly, and greatly increase the chance of slippage of the fur. That fact can't be denied.

The use of fans for air circulation, heat, and proper boards will all help the drying process. One thing I see often when buying cats, is the practice of taking the cat off the board before it's completely dry. This can affect the size of the cat, costing you money, because they can shrink. It can also be an indication that there wasn't enough heat/air in the place the cat was dried, which can indicate possible problems. If you are short on stretchers, and need to take a pelt off early, do everything you can to get the drying process finished. I've used small board wedges, mink boards, and even half of an adjustable fox stretcher to help keep a pelt open long enough to dry properly. I shove the board on edge up inside the turned pelt to prop it open, and let air in against the leather side.

The use of a hair dryer to help dry individual furs has been around for a long time, and for good reason. Keep it on low or medium, and there isn't a better way to dry specific spots on a pelt. Many times I've laid a cat on a table and shot warm air up inside it to finish drying it.

The other thing that needs to be addressed is how the front legs are handled. For years, most people split the front leg of the cat from the paw up to the distinctive black 'bar' marking on the inside of the front leg of virtually every cat.
That's what I was taught from the start, and I've pretty much stuck with that method. By splitting the leg this way, it's easy to put a tube of rolled up newspaper in it, which holds the leg open a bit and allows air circulation inside. Sure, the stiff legs make the cat hide hard to turn, but it does assure that the critical area of the armpit/belly has got a chance to dry. It takes some extra care to turn the pelt in that area, but if you just take your time, it is easily done.

After turning I still use the newspaper 'tubes' to hold the legs out from the body, or even slightly up. Usually after 2-3 days they can be taken out, although I sometimes leave them in until I take the cat off the stretcher. The industry is leaning more and more to plastic coat hangers for holding the legs open, and I have to admit, the finished product does look nice, and it's easier to box and ship cats that have the legs folded up against the pelt.

But that's where the potential problems come in. Without air being allowed through the 'tube' or extended front leg of the cat, many times there is a pocket or area in the armpit that is still wet or soft after a very long time. When grading cats, that's one of the first places I feel. If it has the right dry feel, or if I can hear a 'crinkle', that's usually a good indication that the pelt was properly handled and dried, since that particular area is one of the hardest to take care of. If it's soft, I inspect farther, and make the decision if the pelt is OK. I've graded some cats that had a bit of taint smell in that area, and have flat out refused to buy them because of the high risk of losing a large percentage of the belly.

I know some of you are thinking that you've been able to get by with methods or practices that I've addressed here as being a bit questionable. I don't blame you for feeling that way, but what I am passing on to you is information and concerns from some of the people in the know in the cat garment industry. When markets are hot you can see some things slip by, or at least be accepted or absorbed, so to speak. But we all know that as a market starts to decline or make an adjustment, any potential problems are magnified. My motive in writing this article is to inform and educate a bit, not condemn any person's methods.

I well remember what a fur buyer friend of mine told me years ago, when he was closely examining a cat pelt of mine that seemed to have a few too many loose hairs. He said, "You know, you get paid for the fur of the cat, not the fact that you caught one. These big prices aren't a bounty." I thought about it a bit, and fully realized what he was saying. I have to take care of my product from start to finish.

The bottom line is this: Bobcat furs are a valuable resource. Take care of them. Make sure they're dried and handled right, and you'll receive a fair price for them. Like I've already said, most problems that I've encountered with handling cats are ones I could have avoided if I had done more on my part. Be prepared to have to spend more time with cats than with most other pelts, and you'll be fine.