I liken this to the search for the Fountain of Youth, one of the truly great unfathomable questions of fly tying, guaranteed to plague many generations to come:
Have any suggestions for a cheaper substitute for rabbit fur? I’ve been using rabbit as a binder, but for whatever reason, the price of a bunny skin has increased about 50%. And for whatever reason, I can’t get rabbit skins to dye all the way down to the skin and/or turning the skin into a potato chip.
From a cost perspective, only road kill is cheaper than rabbit. Of course there are many unpleasantries associated with your asphalt bounty, most can only be overcome if you’re single and your neighbors ignore the screams …
A rabbit skin lacks any real leather, it’s paper thin and when subjected to heat turns brittle as a potato chip. Cold water dyes alleviate this only slightly, as age will also turn a rabbit skin into a potato chip.
Depending on the species of rabbit (and its climate) the hair on the skin can be quite dense, making “dyeing to the root” difficult. To fix the issue you must dye the hide exactly like a dry fly neck. First clean and presoak the fur, then pressing it against the bottom of the bowl until all the air bubbles stop coming to the surface – and only then can you transfer it to the dye bath completely saturated (do not wring it out).
Air bubbles are trapped at the roots of the fur – and so long as they appear when the fur is pressed underwater you will have an area the dye will not touch in your final product.
The solution to your problem is to buy a beaver “round”. Coffin Creek Furs offers a large Beaver pelt for $25.00. It is superior to rabbit fur as a binder – and is among the finest of dry fly dubbings as a side benefit. Typically these are 36”-44” in diameter and will offer the average tyer a lifetime of quality dubbing.
Beaver has a thicker skin than rabbit and will only go “potato chip” on you if your kitchen is aflame, along with the surrounding house ..
Caution: Coffin Creek shipments can contain moth eggs – so the pelt should be quarantined (treated generously) in moth crystals for at least a week before adding it to your collection. This is true of most furriers and their hoards of hides.