At the FTA and NTA conventions last summer, dealer sales and trapper enthusiasm were high. The Northeast NTA regional convention, in New York, had the largest attendance of any regional in history. State convention attendance was up all over the country. The fur market was booming, and trappers eagerly awaited the 2008-09 harvest season.
And then, in October, the bottom fell out. The DOW lost 3,000 points in October, closing out the month just above the 8,000 mark — about where it was in 1998, and down 6,000 points from the all-time high of 14,164, set in October 2007.
The Wall Street situation we saw three months ago was reminiscent of Black Monday in October 1987, when the DOW lost a quarter of its value and fell from about 2,000 to 1,500 in one gloomy day. We older trappers remember that day well, because it killed a pretty decent fur market. Almost overnight, $20 dollar ’coons transmogrified into $2 ’coons, and it was five or six years before the overall fur market showed any substantial improvement.
This time, the situation is different, because the 2008 economy is much more global than was the case in 1987. Back then, although President Reagan had already called for Gorbachev to “tear down this wall,” the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics was still strong. Back then, capitalism in China was still a pipe dream. Back then, the European Union hadn’t started having the conniption fits that led, eventually and circuitously, to the BMPs. Back then, most wild fur was consumed here in the U.S. or in Europe.
Today, China and Russia are the major players in the wild fur market, and their economies aren’t linked so closely to ours. One thing is clear, though: The October market correction hasn’t been a positive thing for the fur trade. I’m no expert on world economics or the fur market, but even a dim bulb like me can figure that out.
Here’s another thing that’s easy to figure: Because of the almost inevitable lower fur prices this year, we’re going to see a decrease in trapping and fur hunting activity. Lower raw fur prices always lead to less participation by fur harvesters. I expect I’ll probably take it a little easier this season myself.
But I’m not going to quit trapping altogether, and I urge you not to quit either. When the bottom fell out of the fur market in ’87, hundreds — make that thousands — of trappers and fur hunters hung up their tools. As a consequence, many small trapper supply companies and luremakers went out of business, and most of the country fur buyers closed their doors as well.
There were still enough suppliers to keep us equipped through the lean years until the market improved, but the shortage of country fur buyers was — and still is — a critical handicap to the raw fur industry.
Fewer country fur buyers means fewer options for trappers and hunters to dispose of their catch. Most of us old hardcores finish our own fur, but many folks simply don’t have the desire, the time, the expertise or the facilities to skin, flesh and dry their catch. And if any one of those four ingredients are missing, it removes the incentive to catch the fur in the first place. If you can’t get rid of it, what’s the point?
That’s why it’s so important for us to keep trapping during this downturn. Cut back if you want to, but don’t cut and run. If large numbers of trappers quit this time like they did in ’87, the number of suppliers and fur buyers will dwindle even further, and our infrastructure will eventually weaken to the point that it collapses. And the antis will have won, because we’ll be dead from our own too little.
In times like these, it’s important for us as trappers and predator callers to remember the real reasons we get out there in the first place. They’re the reasons those who would take trapping away from us can’t and won’t ever understand. Sure, we want to get paid as much as possible for our hard-won catch, but unless you’re a heck of a lot better trapper than me, you can make more money flipping burgers than trapping. That’s true even when the market is good.
But we’re not out there just for the money, any more than a baseball fan attends games to catch foul balls. You know that as well as I do. We’re there for the entire experience — for the solitude of winter sunrises, for the chance to find the subtle furbearer sign that catches our eye like a blinking light, but that the average person doesn’t even notice. We’re there for the Christmas-morning feeling that sets us a-tingle in those final seconds before each set comes into view, and we’re there for the electric jolt that shoots through us when a well-made set connects.
But more than any of those things, more than the sum of all of them put together, we’re out there because we are trappers. To be doing anything else at this time of year is unthinkable.
Jim Spencer, of Calico Rock, Ark. is executive editor of T&PC. To contact Jim, send mail to P.O. Box 758, Calico Rock, AR 72519 or emails to firstname.lastname@example.org.