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A master of her trade: Beaver skinner to be featured on TV show

Kay Bachman of rural Detroit Lakes has many awards for beaver skinning and handling. She has been beaver skinning for more than 40 years. {Photo by Brian Basham/DL Newspapers)1 / 5
A beaver's tail is heavily textured, not smooth, as this closeup illustrates. (Photo by Brian Basham/DL Newspapers)2 / 5
Kay Bachman and Kent Hrbek talk beavers while filming a segment on beaver trapping and skinning for "Kent Hrbek Outdoors: Thursday morning. (Photo by Brian Basham/DL Newspapers)3 / 5
Former Minnesota Twins first baseman Ken Hrbek, left, poses with a beaver Kay Bachman and Kent Hrbek Outdoors co-host and producer Eric Gislason before filming a segment for the show on beaver trapping and skinning in rural Detroit Lakes. (Photo by Brian Basham/DL Newspapers4 / 5
Trapper Alan Gadacz, left, talks with Kent Hrbek Outdoors hosts Kent Hrbek and Eric Gislason while filming a beaver trapping and skinning segment for the show in Becker County Thursday morning. (Brian Basham/DL Newspapers)5 / 5

Not many people are left in Kay Bachman's profession. The rural Detroit Lakes woman has been skinning beaver for more than 40 years. And she's very good at what she does.

The walls of her house are filled with accolades and memorabilia of all kinds -- first, second and third place beaver skinning and handling awards, a tall tale award for her story of a beaver skin bass she has mounted (the fish just have fuzz when the temperature is above 30 below, but it grows to fur when it dips below that temperature), and a genuine beaver skin top hat from around the turn of the century.

Bachman has many interesting stories from an interesting lifetime with an interesting job.

It was those stories that attracted former Minnesota Twins first baseman Kent Hrbek to film a segment on Bachman for his show "Kent Hrbek Outdoors" Thursday morning.

Bachman filmed a segment last year for a show called "Cook What You Catch," which is produced by the same company as "Kent Hrbek Outdoors." The "Cook What You Catch" segment was so good, the company decided Hrbek needed to do a segment of his own on beaver trapping and skinning.

"I had people from Wisconsin and down in southern Minnesota who saw ("Cook What You Catch") and they called me up and said, 'flicking through the TV, I couldn't believe, there you were skinning beaver!' It just totally blew them out," Bachman said.

She likes her TV exposure, but admitted she isn't exactly a Kent Hrbek fan.

"I never watched the game and wouldn't know Kent Hrbek from a load of hay," she said. "Our family were never sports people. They'd rather go out hunting and fishing than get involved in watching baseball."

Hrbek grew up and still lives in Minnesota and has hunted and fished all of his life.

"Mom and dad grew up on a farm in northern Minnesota, and I spent a lot of time out in the outdoors up there, and I've always enjoyed fishing and hunting there," he said.

(Hunting and fishing) has just always been a part of my life," he added. "I always tell everybody that baseball got in the way for about 15 years."

September will mark the sixth season of "Kent Hrbek Outdoors" on the air. The former World Series champion and his crew travel around the state and upper Midwest telling people's outdoors stories.

"We enjoy getting out and telling stories like this," he said. "It's a fun story to tell. This lady's nuts about skinning beavers.

"When you're fishing or hunting, you need a couple of days to do something, cause they always tell us, 'the fish are biting like crazy,' until I get there. Then they don't bite anymore," he said.

Bachman started her skinning career for her husband, then another fur buyer, then Schaleben Furs, where she skinned for 30 years. In her prime, she'd skin 40 to 50 beavers a day. For her efforts, she'd receive $1.50 per skin.

"Back in the '60s, that was a lot of money," she said.

The most rewarding part for Bachman was her freedom.

"Well I got to stay home and take care of my kids," she said. "I could skin my beaver and do my work around home. So to me, it was a very lucrative business for the fact that I didn't have to go out and work."

Today, Bachman works with trapper Alan Gadacz from Pierz, Minn. Gadacz traps the beaver and Bachman skins them.

"I pretty much pale in comparison to Kay (Bachman) here when it comes to skinning beaver," he said.

Bachman replied, "I don't know nothing about trapping, so we work well together."

Gadacz uses several methods for trapping beaver, but for the TV segment he used castor, a marking scent used by the beaver, and green aspen branches to lure the beaver into a trap.

"When (green aspen) is available, it's their favorite food," he said. "This time of the year, it's pretty attractive to them."

Today, a full prime beaver skin can bring $20 to $25. Just a few years ago, good skins were bringing in $40 to $60. Gadacz attributed the dip in price to the downturn in the United States and world economies, as most beaver skins are sold to overseas markets.

"I think a lot of people, if they are pursuing beaver, are probably keeping them in their freezer until, hopefully, the price bounces up," he said.

Bachman likes the exposure the TV shows will give the trapping industry. She hopes people will see trapping helps control the animal population and it is a very humane way to take care of the animals.

"There are many beautiful things you can make out of the beaver," she said. "Beaver coats are beautiful."

Beaver fur can be made into rugs, hats, coats, mucklucks, mittens, boots, and even teddy bears, she said.

The new season of "Kent Hrbek Outdoors" starts in September, and Bachman's segment will run during the upcoming season.