walking in the skin of a moose

Hunting season is just around the corner, although the way the weather has been it almost feels as if you might have already missed it.

Hunting season is just around the corner, although the way the weather has been it almost feels as if you might have already missed it.

Freezers will get filled with moose meat and a new stock of tall tales will get swapped.

There is one item that normally gets discarded, but that some people might want to consider leaving off the gut pile: the hide.

It is true, it does not make an appealing throw rug for an easy chair, but with some time and elbow grease it can be turned into amazing footwear.

Plus there are endless uses for the less labour-intensive rawhide, from making chewy toys for the dogs to over stringing snowshoes and securely tying things together.

Rawhide can be made fairly easily by soaking the hide in water until the hair can be scraped off. Further scraping away of any clinging membranes and morsels of fat, followed by more washing, is almost all there is to it.

The most difficult thing is cutting out nice and even pieces, such as five-millimetre-wide strips, without wobbling around with the knife.

Brain and smoke tanning a moose hide for moccasins and mukluks is a much more time-intensive process, the details of which are beyond this column but can be found in numerous books and on the internet.

The rewards of going through all the lengthy work of softening the skin is a piece of lightweight, supple but tough leather that is extremely well suited for footwear.

I happened to receive an invitation to the wedding of a friend down south, in the city, while in the midst of sewing myself a pair of mukluks.

She jokingly suggested that I come decked out in a bush woman outfit, complete with homemade shoes. While it may look funny or quaint to people who have never worn handmade moose leather footwear, those of us lucky enough to own moccasins or mukluks swear by them.

It is thanks to Sam that I became interested in learning how to make them.

He has owned a pair of smoke-tanned mukluks for years and kept telling me how toasty his feet stayed in them.

Clumping along in my felt pack boots, which especially with traditional snowshoes turn walking into a weightlifting exercise, I could see the attraction of wearing something not much heavier than a pair of socks.

But how could feet stay warm in such a thin shell? A good liner, such as the army double-sock type made out of wool, is as crucial in mukluks as in normal winter boots.

Having secured a couple pairs of liners, I set about making a pair of mukluks for myself.

We did not have a moose hide handy for me to smoke tan, nor a brain other than the ones in our heads, and neither did I have enough money to buy such an exceptional piece of leather.

So I compromised and ordered commercially tanned moose leather, a bit thicker than what is often used for making moccasins.

Moccasins can be sewn in a variety of ways and are the first step on the way to mukluks, so it is just a matter of comparing patterns and methods and deciding on one’s preference.

Attaching knee-high pieces of leather and some loops and laces is all that is needed to arrive at a mukluk. To avoid slipping with the smooth leather on packed down snow and ice, it is a good idea to glue on a crepe-rubber sole.

I could hardly wait for the weather to get cold enough to wear my new mukluks. Since they are not waterproof, walking through wet snow or overflow will put a noticeable damper on the footwear experience.

When winter finally arrived, I eagerly put the mukluks to the test.

Because mine were not made out of smoke-tanned leather, they are quite a bit heavier than Sam’s, but still nowhere near as cumbersome as regular winter boots.

Snowshoeing in them is great. I’ve been unable to bring myself to spend more than $200 for a couple of pieces of plastic to strap on my feet, but much as I love my old battered traditional snowshoes, they are quite heavy.

Worn with mukluks instead of boots however, one is almost inclined to dance around with them because they feel so light.

To my delight, even despite the commercially tanned leather, my feet stay much warmer in the mukluks than in any winter boots I’ve ever owned — maybe because the feet are encased more loosely and can move around more.

Any condensation seems to find its way out, resulting in completely dry socks.

What more can a person ask for in the winter?

So when it’s time to go and hunt for moose, it might be well worthwhile not to leave all of the hide on the gut pile.

Walking in the skin of a moose is comfy, warm and quiet — and the way the weather has been, wearing mukluks in August looks like a definite option.

Lisa Hasselbring is a writer who lives at the headwaters of the Yukon River south of Whitehorse.