Old skill, new ways: Yellowknife 'part-time' trapper learned his trade online
Devon Allooloo started trapping last year — now he's giving guided tours of his trapline near Yellowknife
Devon Allooloo picks up a floppy marten from a pile in his Yellowknife living room. His daughter, Nylie, two and a half years old, watches with curiosity.
Allooloo hangs it from a snare hung on the wide doorframe of his living room. About five minutes later — with the occasional pause to explain what he's doing — Allooloo holds up the pelt.
Allooloo pins the hide to a board, where it will be left to dry. As he works, he brushes the fur to keep it clean and out of the way.
While cutting a particularly tricky part around the "vent" — a pleasant euphemism for its anus — Allooloo nicks the skin. That's a mark against this pelt when it goes for sale at auction.
Allooloo, who is 24, describes himself a "part-time" trapper. He learned the trade from YouTube videos and online forums, starting up a side-hustle skinning furry critters just last year.
"I looked up some videos on YouTube on how to snare lynx, and then from there I just started snaring lynx," he said. "I got prepared in the summer, got all my traps ready to go, and just went out and did it."
Last year, Allooloo caught 63 marten, eight wolverines, and 11 wolves — netting $15,000 in income — on a trapline less than three hours from Yellowknife.
Trapping isn't cheap
Allooloo sells his fur to the N.W.T.'s Genuine Mackenzie Valley Furs program, which guarantees N.W.T. trappers a set price for furs harvested in the territory.
For marten — the weasel-like critter that makes up the bulk of northern trappers' catches — that's a guaranteed $65 for every pelt. For wolves, it's $400.
If they sell for more than that price at auction, the trapper gets a bonus — another $25 for a marten, and $350 for wolves — plus whatever amount above the minimum the pelt fetched.
That amounts to a healthy subsidy for trappers. Last year, the territory spent an estimated $405,000 on those subsidies, and it's estimated to climb $200,000 this year.
For trappers like Allooloo, that still doesn't mean he can quit his day job. Trapping isn't cheap — the cost of gas, plywood, ammunition and metal traps eats into that subsidy. It covers his expenses, he says, but not much more.
Trapping as tourism
One of Allooloo's day jobs is work as an expert guide and first aid trainer for NARWAL Northern Adventures, a Yellowknife-based tourism company that specializes in outdoor skills training and small group tours.
To beef up their winter offerings, which include igloo building and survival training, Allooloo and his mother, Cathy, are beginning to offer snowmobile tours of their traplines near Prelude Lake, about 30 kilometres northeast of Yellowknife.
"We did our first trapline tour in the beginning of December, and that was for [a] brigadier general of the U.S. Air Force and one of the lead guys of Microsoft, actually," said Allooloo.
"I think it's more of a cultural, northern experience," he said. "I wouldn't be looking for truckloads and truckloads of guests."
Defending the tradition
Attracting too much attention can carry risks for trappers — and not just on the trapline, where Allooloo was once observed by a trio of hungry wolves.
Online, trappers with high profiles can attract hate from animal rights activists and other critics of the industry.
Despite his familiarity with the online trapping community, Allooloo said that's one reason he doesn't record his own how-to videos or post widely about his work.
"I know a lot of people who have more of an online presence … and they've gotten a bit of hate," he said. "I try to keep it on the down-low and keep my head down."
For Allooloo, running a trapline is an opportunity to gain "a better understanding of the ecosystem, and how you can utilize a sustainable resource."
"Even though this is my second year, I've really noticed that if I take too many critters out of one spot, the next year, it's not doing too well," he said. "When you catch more juveniles, the younger ones, that lets us know the population is doing really well."
The next generation
Even if he's wary about taking to YouTube to sing the praises of trapping, Allooloo intends to pass down his knowledge in the conventional way — to his daughter, Nylie.
"I think it should keep going — there's not a whole lot of people doing it," he said. "I think there should be more younger guys experiencing trapping, so they can … realize the lifestyle, how much work it is, and how they can respect the land and pass it on to future generations."