Jason Lynch used to come to the cabin as a kid growing up. His mom Penny was best friends with Marilyn, Jeff’s wife, and so they visited a lot. Jason was very interested in learning about the outdoors and Jeff was more than willing to teach him what he knew. Jason wanted to learn to trap and although Jeff didn’t trap much he had trapped in the past and had a couple old traps lying around. The traps Jeff had were leftovers from the old days. He found them in the old shop that was torn down and replaced with a garage. They were probably 75 years old and were foothold traps meant for larger game like coyotes or foxes. Jeff showed Jason how to boil the traps in birch bark to clean them and get all the old scent off. That’s an old school way of cleaning traps. This happened in the wintertime as that’s when trapping is done. That means trapping is done in the snow as Alaska has snow all winter long. So one winter day Jeff took Jason out on the snowmachines into the woods to show him how to set the traps. They baited them with hooligan or dinner scraps like moose meat and then it was up to Jason to check them every day. Jeff told him to come and get him if he ever got anything. Each morning about 6 am Jason would get up and Jeff would hear him start the Tundra SkiDoo snowmachine and head out into the woods to check the traps. Then Jeff would hear him come back an hour or so later and Jeff could always tell it was a disappointing run by the way Jason came back to the cabin, driving slow and dragging his feet as he came back into the cabin quietly with a bummed-out expression. He had expected to get something right away. Jeff told him how important patience was when hunting or trapping. You need to like a challenge and enjoy just being out in the great outdoors. You also need to be able to put in the hard work and the time. If you go out day after day eventually one day the effort will pay off.
One morning Jeff heard the snowmachine start up and Jason leave for his morning run checking the traps. Jeff is thinking “oh boy I can have some peace and quiet now and get another hour of sleep but only about 15 minutes later – so much for the extra sleep - Jeff heard the snowmachine come back at a pretty good pace to a quick stop by the back door of the cabin and then Jason’s footsteps on the wooden floor, clack clack clack, as Jason ran in through the door all excited and said “there’s something in the trap!”. Jeff asked “what did you catch?” and Jason replied “I don’t know but it’s pissed!” So Jeff got dressed and the two of them went out to inspect the trap together. When they got there, expecting a fox or a coyote in the trap which is what the traps were meant for, there was no animal whatsoever on the ground where the trap had been and the trap was missing too! They discovered that Jason had trapped a pine marten and it had climbed up into a tree and pulled the trap up into the tree with him. A pine marten is one of many types of weasels. Martens are in the genus Mustela, along with the many different varieties of weasels, ferrets, mink and ermine. Anyway, when Jeff went to look at it, this pine marten hissed at him. It was pissed! Jason had trapped it by only 3 toes as this trap wasn’t really made to catch such small animals. Little animals like this don’t have the weight to set the trap off like a coyote or fox would. Since it was still alive the normal thing to do is hold the animals down with a forked stick and whack it in the head with a club to kill it but it wasn’t having anything to do with that. Being in the tree Jeff couldn’t get to it and getting tired of trying he pulled out his gun and shot it. Down it came from the tree dead. Jason says “what did you do that for? I could’ve done that! I thought you said not to shoot them because it would mess up the pelt.” Jeff told him the animal wasn’t trapped well enough and it was chewing up the end of the stick as Jeff poked at it and he couldn’t get close enough to it to club it. Besides it was acting like the Tasmanian devil and Jeff said he didn’t want to risk getting bitten so he shot it. He did shoot it in the head to avoid destroying the pelt. So they took the marten home (picture of Jason with the marten attached) and Jeff showed Jason how to skin it. The normal way to skin a weasel is to hang them up and pull the skin off in one piece like pulling your socks off inside out but Jason wanted a flat rug-style skin and so he took the better part of a day to skin that critter into a rug. That was Jason’s first experience with a weasel. Although Penny, Jason’s mom, didn’t like it much it hung in their house for a while at least. Jason was really proud of it!
That wasn’t the only time Jason got a weasel. One time when they went to the cabin and unpacked their food on the back porch. They had brought some vacuum packed frozen steak, salmon and burger for dinners. In the winter time it’s so cold in Alaska that you don’t need a freezer so they took the packages out of the tub and left them sitting out in the great outdoors freezer. Later when Jason went out to get the salmon for dinner it was gone. He asked Jeff if he had already gotten it and Jeff said no and they both began to look for it. Jason said all of our meat is gone - not only the fish. It was dark out and Jeff looked around with his flashlight and noticed one package under the stairs of the porch where obviously an ermine had tried to drag it into the woodpile next to the stairs but it was too big for him to get it any further. Jeff pulled that one out. It had teeth marks in the package where an ermine had carried it off. Jeff knew it was an ermine because they like to hide out under the cabin and hang out in the woodpile. He told Jason to climb under the cabin and look for the other packages of meat and sure enough there they were. Each package had a few teeth marks where the ermine had carried it but otherwise it was still in good shape so they cut off the teeth marks and saved the rest of the meat. Still Jason was mad and said “that ermine stole my meat. I’m gonna get it. Lets’s set a trap.” So they set a trap under the cabin but this time knowing they were trapping a weasel and knowing their traps were too big for a weasel they sewed the bait onto the trap so that the weasel would have to get on the trap and tug at the bait to get it. This would put enough extra weight on the trap to set it off good. Anyway, using this technique with the large traps for a small weasel they successfully trapped the ermine, and the trap caught it by its’ head and killed it instantly. So Jason had his second weasel which he made into another rug for his collection. An ermine is brown in the summertime but in the winter it has a beautiful white fur making a nice pelt that is a favorite of trappers.
Jason wasn’t the only one that disliked weasels. Jeff had a big yellow lab named Goldie who used to stay outside on the back porch of the old cabin. That’s where she slept and where she ate. She had a big dog bowl that Jeff put dog food in every day. Well this ermine started coming around and stealing dog food from the bowl and Goldie didn’t like it. She caught the ermine red handed and went to chase him off but the ermine bit Goldie on the tip of the nose and would not let go and Goldie yelped and Jeff heard it and ran to her and grabbed a hunk of firewood and threw it at the ermine hitting it and making it let go of Goldie’s nose. He would have shot it but he couldn’t risk that with it being on his dog’s nose. Anyway, the ermine let go of Goldie’s nose and escaped. But now that it knew where the dog’s food bowl was it continued to come back and steal bits of dog food from Goldie - but from that point on Goldie and the ermine had an understanding. The ermine would come by and take a few morsels every day from Goldie’s dog bowl and Goldie would just sit and growl and let her do it and the ermine never bit Goldie’s nose again!
Jeff and I had an ermine hanging around the cabin for a few years. The first year I saw it was in the late winter/early Spring of 2016. Here’s a photo of it. Although it was Springtime we still had snow on the ground and the ermine was still decked out in its’ beautiful white coat. They are such cute little animals. This one came out and posed for a picture for me. I should say it’s cute to watch and photograph but not so cute when they get into things and make a mess! This one in particular pushed open the drain in the shower while we were gone and got into the bedroom of the cabin where Abigail our dog sleeps in her kennel. I had a bag of dog treats there and the ermine got into the treats. It looked like the ermine was continuing to come back every day for more treats for a week or so while we were gone. Not only did it eat but it pooped all over in the cabin. It made a mess on the bedroom floor. I didn’t think he was all that cute anymore. We learned to cover the drain with something heavy so it couldn’t get inside any more. An ermine is not a good house pet although I enjoyed having him around for an outdoor pet. Jeff likes to keep them around also as they keep the shrew population down so we both forgave him for the mess and left him alone. He was around a few years and then disappeared, possibly lunch for our resident fox. Weasels only live about 4 or 5 years so maybe he just died of old age.