Editor’s Call: Market Adjustment

Jim Spencer, T&PC executive editor

Fur prices have dropped, but it’s not the end of the world

The 2013-14 trapping season hadn’t even started before the gloom-and-doomers started griping about fur prices falling off from last season’s astronomical highs.

I won’t bore you with the dollar-and-cent figures here. You can find that information elsewhere, and anyway, there’s so much variation in raw fur it would be pointless. But as a general rule, this year’s prices have been roughly 25 to 30 percent lower than the prices paid last season. Last year’s $14 muskrat averages turned into this year’s $10 averages, raccoons fell off considerably and on it goes, down the list of our North American furbearer species.

And when it started to happen, you’d have thought it was the sky that was falling rather than the price of a raccoon hide. Oh, no, the global marketplace is collapsing! This is going to be the end of the trapping industry as we know it! Run, run! Hide, hide!

Give me a break. It might be hard to accept, but the fur industry has always seen drastic swings in the prices paid for raw pelts. It’s been happening as long as there’s been a fur industry, stretching back to the days when mountain men and Hudson Bay Co. trappers collected beavers to supply the top hat market in Europe. When silk replaced beaver felt, the bottom fell out of fur prices, and presto, the first crash happened.

I have no idea how many booms and crashes this industry has seen since those early days, but it’s been several. They seem to happen on about a 20- to 30-year cycle, with some variations and blips in the timing, and it didn’t shock me when prices fell off this year.

The last real crash was in 1987, after Black Monday on Wall Street saw the Dow Jones Industrial Average lose a quarter of its value practically overnight. Do the arithmetic and you’ll see that 1987 was a little more than 25 years ago — right in line with that 20- to 30-year cycle. I sold raccoons for $18 in 1986. The best I got in ’87 was $2.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not predicting such a huge drop in fur prices here. But this rollback is certainly no big surprise, especially when you consider that fur sold for more than it was really worth last year. Throw into the mix the warmer-than-normal winter they just had in China, the upheaval regarding the Chinese buyers who had been flying under the radar but got caught and are now having to pay that country’s import taxes on raw fur, and several other global economic and political factors I’m not smart enough to understand, and it’s hard to imagine this year’s fur prices going anywhere but down from last year.

We all want the highest prices possible for our furs, and I enjoyed last year’s bull market as much as you did. But I knew it wouldn’t last. An adjustment was not only necessary, it was inevitable.

But this downturn, in all likelihood, won’t be as drastic as those in the past. We have a global economy now, and despite its recent mild winter and political turmoil, China is in the fur market for the long haul. So is Russia. There are a lot of people in those countries, and they’re going to keep us trappers in business for a long time to come.

And when you quit crying about the extinct $14 muskrat, you begin to realize there’s nothing really distasteful about selling ’em for $9 or $10.

Jim Spencer, of Calico Rock, Ark., is executive editor of T&PC. To contact Jim, send e-mails to modernmountainman@gmail.com. Visit his website at www.treblehookunlimited.com.


This column appeared in the April-May 2014 Trapper & Predator Caller issue.

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