Trapping is an age-old business. Who really knows when the first trapper came on the scene? It was probably a dude who needed fur to keep him warm, but couldn’t get close enough to that saber-toothed cat to get a spearhead to stick. Maybe he made a trap out of willow roots and caught the cat that way. The next step was to exchange this cat skin with the neighboring tribe for mammoth jerky – and so – the first trapper created himself.
Trappers have always been an enterprising bunch. They are smarter than muskrats and some coyotes. In today’s fur markets, trappers need to diversify their capabilities. To be a real fur harvester, you have to do more than just capture the target animal. Marketing the catch is the hardest part of trapping today.
In times of the fairly recent past, some trappers, mostly highway trappers from the United States, would not even skin their catches, but would take them to a buyer who bought the whole creature. The buyer skinned and put on the skins himself. The fur is then sent to an auction house where North American and international buyers bid on what they need for clothing and trim. There are no major North American clothing manufacturers these days.
There are niche buyers in the United States and Canada, but they do not absorb enough fur to have a significant impact on the overall fur market. Canada Goose, which was the biggest buyer of coyotes for the past decade, is out of fur. As a result, their parka sales plummeted. It’s easy to blame the drop in sales on COVID, but the Chinese shopper, who is pulling Canada Goose’s sales, is a savvy shopper. The Chinese love real fur, not imitations. The Chinese and Russians are the major players in today’s global fur trade.
Fur prices improve in 2022-23. Wolf and wolverine prices will be good, locally and at auction. Lynx should be better on good skins. Marten from Alaska and Canada should cost $40 or more for good pelts. Beaver? Not so good; even extra large can only be expected to fetch $25. Castor Castor is a bright spot at $100 a pound. Wild mink will be virtually unsaleable. The red fox, $10 for the good ones, and the coyotes will cost about twenty-five dollars.
The prices don’t seem to make trapping very interesting. This is where the enterprising trapper comes in. Some trappers have learned to tan their own hides. If so, it can’t just be a homemade tanning product. The tan should be done well and the end product should look pretty in everyone’s eyes. Or the trapper can have his furs commercially tanned. It’s going to be expensive – “it takes money to make money” – but the end result is a lot more money for your fur and a much bigger market. There is a decent market for coyotes, foxes, and tanned cats in Alaska. Tourists buy it, hat and mitten makers are also a fair market. Beaver sells well in local Alaskan markets. Otter, one of the most durable furs, is worth little on the international market, but sells well to hat and mitten makers.
Despite the terrible fur market, there will always be trappers. There are guys in the villages who have established lines that have been used for generations. They don’t trap because they expect to make a lot of money. Most would be thrilled to break even. Trapping is rarely about money; it’s related to the output.
Then there are the roadside trappers — some of them work well. They load up a snowmobile and draw lines away from the highway. Other snowshoes or ski lines start from the road. They spend more money on fuel to get to their line than they expect to earn from fur sales. Many of them take their children out, thus ensuring the continuation of the tradition of trapping.
Then there’s the future Daniel-by God-Boone. This guy drives to the outskirts of town and sets his traps on the side of the road or in parking lots. It catches more neighborhood dogs than anything else, ensuring a continuous and healthy crop of anti-trappers.
There will always be anti-hunters and people who think it’s inhumane to kill anything. There is no argument against it. I trapped full time for 30 years, and I still do a few sets. Trapping can be cruel. Life in the woods is cruel. How many of you who have read this have seen crows attack a moose stuck in the ice, still alive? What about foxes eating bull caribou with locked antlers and unable to move? It’s nature’s way, people. Trappers must practice their trade responsibly. check their traps often and use the most humane methods possible. Those who oppose trapping are OK too.
Trappers were among the first of us. Watch one of those apocalyptic movies where the human race returns to the days of the cavemen – the trappers will be the last men standing.