GOLDEN HILL — This winter’s freezing weather has hindered trapping, meaning fewer muskrat to practice for this past weekend’s 69th National Outdoor Show competitions, which may have made for an upset or two.
After winning five women’s championships in a row, Helen Foxwell would have earned her second leg trophy — the large trophy with three legs which skinners keep with three wins in a row — if she had just been around seven seconds faster than cousin Dakota Abbott.
Dakota Abbott, who was crowned Miss Outdoors 2008, with muskrat skinning as her talent, earned her first women’s championship here Saturday evening on stage at South Dorchester School, skinning three muskrats in 1 minute, 11.02 seconds.
Foxwell hugged her cousin after the trophies were presented at the conclusion of Saturday evening’s show.
It wasn’t Dakota Abbott’s first championship competition, though her only previous win was in the junior women’s category. Lots of practice helped her place first this year. She credits her boyfriend, Dusty Flowers, with providing the ‘rats for practice.
One contestant, who did not place in the competition, confessed to fashioning tube socks into muskrat shapes to practice, using a wooden spoon for the tail.
Jason Abbott, son of Wylie Abbott Jr., won his fifth championship, the fourth in a row, skinning five muskrats in 1 minute, 37.16 seconds.
Corey Abbott took second, with a time of 1 minute, 46 seconds; Ronnie Robbins finished third with a time of 2 minutes, 11 seconds; Mark Flowers finished fifth with a time of 2 minutes 19 seconds and Dusty Flowers, chivalrous practice muskrat provider, finished fourth, with a time of 2 minutes, 14 seconds.
Among the women competing Saturday evening were other former champions, including Rhonda Aaron, who finished third with a time of 1 minute and 46 seconds, and Alice Welch Little, of Cameron Parish, La. who finished fifth with a time of 2 minutes and 7 seconds.
Little was part of the Louisiana delegation to Dorchester several times in the 1980s, competing in the skinning competition along with her father, Benny Welch, now retired as a high school principal but still operating his alligator farm in Cameron Parish.
Daughter Katie Little, recently crowned Miss Cameron Parish during January’s Fur and Wildlife Festival, sister event to the Outdoor Show, won the women’s beginner skinning title Saturday evening, skinning one muskrat in 1 minute 1.5 seconds.
Daughter Mattie Little earned the women’s junior muskrat skinning title with a time of 4 minutes 55 seconds. During the recent Fur and Wildlife Festival she earned the title of top women’s nutria skinner, an animal much tougher to skin than a muskrat.
Lauren Cameron was crowned Miss Outdoors 2014; Madelyn Hall won the title of Little Miss Outdoors 2014 and Gibby Robinson is Little Mr. Outdoors 2014.
The Outdoor Show was dedicated to W.T. “Billy” Ruark. He was a founding member of the Hoopers Island Fire Company and operated W.T. Ruark Company, which provided seafood for many Outdoor Shows.
The Outdoor Show celebrates Dorchester County’s outdoor heritage of trapping and hunting, with carving and calling contests and a muskrat cooking competition won this year by Patrick Murphy in the traditional category and Rhonda Aaron for specialty dish.
Sunday many of the skinning competitors feasted on the muskrats which had been skinned the night before. The muskrat meat is more important to some trappers. Some provide for older family members who grew up with muskrat as a key part of their diet during trapping season.
This year’s fur market is being affected by what some call the Fur Crash of 2013. After a few years of flush fur sales, the international market is being affected by factors including recent arrests of around 20 fur buyers in China who were smuggling in pelts from the U.S. without paying a tariff of around 30 percent of the value of each pelt, according to Morgan Bennett, one of the fur judges for the competitions. He said $1 billion worth of furs and equipment were seized by the Chinese government.
Ranches where mink are commercially grown are another threat to the market for trapped furs. There are mink ranches in the U.S., Canada and China which are producing pelts more predictably than trapping, though not always of equal quality.
Bad weather, including snow, wind and rain, has deterred trapping this year, Bennett said, with the Maryland Department of Natural Resources extending the season by a week, to March 22.
Although there is no fox skinning competition, fox is a prime target for many Dorchester trappers. Bennett said rain has made the landscape too soggy for trapping fox, describing the best weather for fox trapping as “cold, dry and windy.”