How to Get Rid of Fleas When Skinning Coyotes and Other Furbearers

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Whether you’re a novice trying to skin your first coyote or a seasoned expert, there are always new methods to learn when it comes to fur handling. There are usually several ways to reach the common end goal of a clean, well-groomed skin at maximum potential. But before even considering actual skinning and fleshing methods, there is often one obstacle that needs conquering.

Many furbearers like foxes, coyotes, lynx, and bobcats are sometimes infested with fleas. It’s not the most appealing thing to part the fur and find it crawling with these jumping parasites. And you definitely do not want to get them yourself. I “picked up” a few off of a lynx once. Fortunately, and because I didn’t have any pets, they died off in a few days. Most fleas found on furbearers cannot survive on human blood, but even a couple can still chew you up pretty good, and I had the paranoid itch for quite a while. You want to be careful about how you handle the animals because as soon as they’re dead, the fleas will want to migrate to the closest warm body. And that’s you. So avoid carrying them over your shoulder. Sometimes the animal is so infested that you should consider using a length of rope to drag them instead.

Fleas can turn into a nightmare if you get them, but they’re relatively easy to eliminate before that happens. The best method I’ve found is gassing them. I’ll hang the animal up by a hind leg in the shop and spray it down with Raid flea killer (most insecticide sprays work just fine). Then I pull a large trash bag up over the animal completely, spray some more in the bag, and tie it off with the whole animal inside. After letting it sit for 15 to 20 minutes, most of the fleas will have died. Those that haven’t will be well on their way. Be careful not to inhale the stuff and wash your hands afterwards, but overall it works great and doesn’t harm the fur.

fleas

Before bug killer sprays, trappers had to find other methods to purge their hides. The native trappers here in Alaska would use the warm rabbit hide trick. They would bring a lynx inside and lay a warm rabbit skin on the floor next to it. Most of the fleas then crawled from the lynx to the warm hide. After a spell, the trapper tossed the rabbit hide in the wood stove. Freezing for a long period of time will kill fleas, but it takes a long time. I’ve seen fleas that are frozen solid begin crawling all over a lynx as soon as it was brought inside and begin to warm up.

Skinning is a lot easier when you’re not constantly worried about fleas crawling up your arm, or frantically scratching because you thought you felt one creeping down your neck. You (and your family) won’t fully appreciate this extra step unless you actually get fleas, so trust me: It’s worth it.