Scratching Out a Profit

Times are tough in the fur industry, and everybody knows it. However, the fact that you’re reading this magazine is a pretty good indication that you’re not letting a gloomy fur market and a shaky economy destroy your interest in trapping. Not completely, anyway.

I’m also hoping all this negative information hasn’t caused many of you to hang up your traps for the year. It’s understandable that many of us (if not most) will scale back somewhat this year, given the economics of the situation, but it would be a crying shame if a bunch of us quit trapping just because fur prices stink.

For one thing, the trapping lifestyle is a big part of what defines us. It’s part of what we are. We trap for money, sure, and we all want to get as much as we can for our furs. Nothing wrong with that. But even in a strong fur market, it’s hard to make a decent wage as a trapper, so most of us are also in it because we truly enjoy trapping. To up and quit is to lose it all — both the paycheck and the enjoyment.

Anyway, there are more ways to make a paycheck from the trapline than by merely selling the fur. For example, my trapping partner and I sell our ’coon carcasses. I’ve talked to other trappers who have developed markets for beaver meat, muskrat meat and even nutria meat, both for human and animal consumption. Sure, it takes a couple more minutes for me to gut and bag a ’coon after I’ve skinned it, and we have to store them in freezers until we can get them to our outlet. But every year, the proceeds from our ’coon meat more than pays our fuel bill. That’s an important consideration even when fur prices are high. It’s absolutely critical when prices are low.

’Coon meat isn’t the only part of the ’coon that’s commercially valuable. Two years ago, more or less on a lark, my wife decided to start making necklaces from what she calls “raccoon ivory.” She uses the bone as the centerpiece, adds a few beads, and the result is a variety of surprisingly attractive necklaces, no two of which are alike. Even more surprisingly, she’s selling these things like hotcakes, both on our Web site and in person at conventions and shows.

Selling other parts from your furbearers can also be a source of decent income. Teeth, skulls and claws of many furbearers can be sold, and of course, there’s always a market for glands as long as you harvest them and store them properly. Check with luremakers to see how they want them collected and stored before you start harvesting glands.

There are other sources of trapline income, too. Nuisance and damage control work is the obvious leader in this regard, and in low fur markets like this, there’s always a spike in nuisance and damage complaints from critters like beavers, otters, muskrats, coyotes, ’coons and skunks. If you’ve been considering branching out into damage control work, now might be a good time to hang out your shingle.

Speaking of skunks, collecting the musk from the anal glands is surprisingly easy and practically odorless if you do it right, and doing so turns what most trappers throw away into a profit of $5 to $6 or more per animal.

An alternative to selling your fur for very little money is tanning the pelts and selling them yourself to individuals and nature center type outlets. There’s an additional investment involved, of course, to get the tanning done, but it’s usually possible to recoup that and quite a bit more when you sell the tanned pelts. Some trappers also sell whole furbearers — particularly otters and well-spotted bobcats — to taxidermists.

In many ways, this downturn in the fur market could be an opportunity in disguise. There are going to be trappers who quit because of the economic situation, and the places those folks trapped will now be available to others who have decided not to quit. Their equipment — traps, snares, stretchers, lures, stakes, the whole nine yards — might also be for sale, and often at bargain-basement prices. The fur market is eventually going to recover, and stocking up on supplies while you can find them cheap might be a wise investment.

The thing to keep in mind through all of this turmoil is that we trap because we love it — or at least we say we do. Seems to me like this would be a good time for us to prove it.

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

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