COLUMBIA — Fur haters and squeamish animal lovers, read no further: The National Trappers Association gathered in Columbia this weekend.
On Friday morning, about 100 people sat on grandstands around an imitation pond dug specifically for the 52nd annual National Trappers Association convention. Renowned turtle trapper Jerry Schilling paraded a pair of ornery adult snapping turtles up and down in front of the spectators before demonstrating how to kill them, remove their shell and properly dress them.
A short distance away, in a different shelter, Greg Kohl spent his morning demonstrating proper skinning techniques. Convention-goers wandered in and out of his lecture as he scraped blood-spattered white fat off a raccoon pelt, explaining how to use different skinning knives and how to attach the fur to a post for drying.
Kohl, who came to Columbia from Pennsylvania, has worked as an agent for North American Fur Auctions for the past 11 years. His job is to help trappers nationwide create higher quality furs through seminars and demonstrations, using a skill set he has developed over the course of his life.
"I've been trapping since I was age 12," he said. "I'm 63 now. I'm trying to help trappers get the most from the animals they do trap."
Education is important for trappers, Kohl said. To ensure quality, they need to make the best use of the animals they trap.
"(The animals are) a renewable resource," he said. "If we manage it correctly, we can always enjoy it."
Between 5,000 and 8,000 people were expected to attend the convention, which began at 8 a.m. Thursday and ends at noon Sunday.
People traveled to Columbia from all over North America, said Dave Linkhart, director of national and international relations for the National Trappers Association.
"We have people in from Alaska, Maine, Florida, Oregon, Manitoba and Ontario," Linkhart said.
The national convention is the largest annual gathering of trappers in North America. Trapping, he said, has an impact around the globe.
"A raccoon that is trapped in Missouri could be sold at an auction house in Canada," Linkhart said. "Then the fur could be bought with German money, processed in Italy and sold as a coat in Russia."
Niche vendors make a living supplying furriers and trappers through online catalogs and traveling to local and national trappers conventions.
Donna and Mark June, owners of Mark June's Lures, traveled to Columbia from Nebraska to sell their line of lures and bait at the convention.
"We get to around 13 conventions a year," Donna June said.
Their wares included bait, DVDs and animal urine, including that of the gray fox, red fox, bobcat, raccoon and coyote. They collect most of it themselves at their farm in Nebraska, though they do contract from another source for the bobcat urine, they said.
Trappers place the urine around places where they have set traps to entice similar animals into the area.
"Our best seller is red fox," Donna June said, and they offer two different kinds — fresh and aged.
While much of the convention focused on the practical, sometimes gory details of how to catch and dress animals, there was contrast in the beauty of the end result.
Sydney Friar, recently crowned Miss Missouri 2011, was around to help show off a sampling of the fur coats that drive the fur industry.
"The Missouri Fur Trappers donated a coat to the Miss Missouri pageant when I won," she said. "So we're doing a fashion show this afternoon for (North American Fur Auctions)."
Friar said she doesn't trap in her spare time — though she does love her new coat.
Around the fairgrounds, visitors strolled through rows of recreational vehicles converted into impromptu shops. People from all over mingled among piles of cages, snares, furs and traps, asking questions and discussing techniques.
That kind of fellowship prompted Missouri Trappers Association President Doren Miller to bid on hosting the convention two years ago with the assistance of the Columbia Chamber of Commerce.
"One of the benefits the convention brings is the camaraderie across this great country of ours and the people that are here, because we are like-minded individuals," Miller said.
Miller has been the Missouri Trappers Association president for two years and has been in an elected position for the past 20. He was instrumental in drawing the convention to Columbia when he first took over as president. This year, together with the Chamber of Commerce, the association was able to bring the convention to Missouri again for the third time.
The convention ends at noon Sunday. Admission is $10; children under 12 are free.