By Serge Lariviére
Fall is here and trapping seasons all over North America are about to begin. By now, every trapper out there has a plan, either to take advantage of the money species such as western coyotes and western cats, or to plain just have fun trapping as usual. For some forward-thinking trappers, periods of low fur prices are perfect for securing additional permission or expanding traplines, as for sure there will be fewer trappers out there chasing low-price species such as raccoons and beaver. Landowners continue to have wildlife issues regardless of fur prices, and most may even have more problems as fewer trappers may be active in their area, thus allowing for more problem animals to roam.
When will fur prices climb back up? Everything that we hear on the news these days is bad for the fur market. Global warming is bad, political conflicts in Asia, or with Asia, all undermine our ability to use the great markets to their fullest. When economic sanctions are applied against countries that buy fur, they buy less fur, and trappers eventually see reduced fur prices. When storms or tragedies hit parts of the world, people forget luxury items and spend instead on day-to-day life items, the essentials, the basic supplies, not the luxury goods. We must not forget that fur is a luxury item, and the end consumers usually are fairly wealthy people with a taste for luxury. In contrast, most trappers live a simple life, work hard for the money they have, are careful about how they spend it, and probably do not always understand why would someone pay $10,000 or even $20,000 for a garment made of fur. But the truth is, the consumers that are wealthy and crave luxury are the ones that support our business, and although most trappers may not always understand, for sure we should all appreciate that there are some people rich enough to buy our skins!
Everything I hear in the trade suggests another 2-3 years of tough going. The inventory of skins in storage, in the dressing plants, in the garment factories, and probably in the retail stores is huge from all accounts and prices will not climb back up until this excess is pushed through the production line and out the door in the hands of fur-wearing customers. There has been not a single positive sign out there so no reason to change anything in the key points we have issued before.
What to Focus On
1. In tough markets, only the very best pelts sell. Wait for fully prime, find alternate markets or uses for damaged skins.
2. Coyotes are hot, catch them if you can. Probably the only profitable trapping out there is western coyotes, but even Eastern skins sell very well if they are fully prime. Three ways to make money trapping this fall: coyotes, coyotes and coyotes.
3. Better cats always sell, because there are so few of them. If you know where to find western bobcats with nicely spotted bellies, catch them when they are prime and cash in on this profitable but limited furbearer.
4. Northern trappers will be able to accept marten prices, as the better skins also end up in the trim trade. Female fishers also should sell well, so marten and fisher trappers may not get real rich, but they should have no issues selling skins and paying bills.
5. Forget water species unless you trap for fun. If you go for it, wait as late in the fall as you can, handle the larger ones well, and they will sell. Small and damaged skins will be tough to sell. If you go after beaver, save the castors. That market is extremely hot right now, and some animals may provide upwards of $10 in castor glands alone! If you can sell the meat (for food, bear bait, dog food, mink farms, etc.), sell it. Use the beaver guts to draw foxes and coyotes to your sets, and most importantly, keep your landowners happy and free of beaver problems. Explain to them that there is no financial incentive in trapping beavers, and that your work is a way for you to pay them back for letting you access their land. Some trappers use beaver trapping to gain permission to hunt ducks, deer, etc. Mink and muskrats, well, that is a love affair. When you decide to focus on these species, you must be pretty passionate, but mink trappers tend to be that way! Otters? The markets will be soft, so not a good time to launch a high-production otter trapping venture.
I have to tell you that I have been blamed before for being so pessimistic in this report, but my job is to tell you what I know and hear from the trade I follow so closely. Threats of international wars, economic sanctions to penalize missile-testing countries, political tensions between Russia, China, Korea and the United States all undermine our ability to sell fur over there. Even big climatic events instill fear with consumers, and storms, tornadoes, and flooding all make it more difficult for us to sell fur. Nobody buys luxury goods when their survival is at stake. Let’s just hope we see some calming down of international tensions, and a record-cold winter in China and Russia would be just fine as well. But in case you wonder, I will be out there trapping again this year, trying my best to follow my own advice. I am still passionate and still love handling fur. And yes, I will set traps for mink, raccoon and beaver and I will do my best to handle them to perfection. I am a trapper and I will be there when the prices come back up.