If you’re having any luck with trapping or predator hunting this winter, you’re probably stretching and air drying your hides. This traditional method of preserving skins is the only way to go if you are hoping to sell them on the fur market. Not only was stretching and air drying hides the best way for remote trappers to preserve their haul back in the day, but this method also yields the most presentable pelts for market. To dry properly, the hide needs to be stretched properly. And for many animals—like wolves, lynx, fox, and coyotes—that means using tail and leg boards in conjunction with a good stretcher.

Leg boards are used to tack out the front legs and the tail so that they won’t fold up. This avoids the risk of slippage. Even if the hide is perfectly fleshed and the tail split, if it’s not tacked out, it will fold right back up and likely slip. So although it’s a small step to follow, it’s critical. Leg boards are relatively easy to improvise, and you can use anything from marten stretcher boards to cardboard. The key to a good leg board is to have one that’s fairly lightweight, easy to push fur tacks into, and is rigid enough to keep a tight stretch.

One of my favorite options is to use thin cedar boards. They’re pretty soft and can last for years. But if you’re like most trappers, you’re looking to utilize items you can get for free—and a large collection of cedar boards isn’t free here in Fairbanks. Sometimes, you can come across old realty signs for free, and they’re fantastic. I cannot condone going around raiding properties, but if you keep your eyes peeled, you’ll find old ones that people will just give you. The signs are similar to cardboard, but made of corrugated plastic. They’re lightweight, easily cut to the right size, take and hold tacks easily without absorbing moisture like cardboard.

One man’s junk is another man’s treasure. So add old realty signs to your list, and may your stretchers be full!