BY JASON HOUSER
I was a lot like most new trappers many years ago when I only sold my furs to the local country buyer. It was a simple process. They would buy about all my fur, and he did not care if it was even skinned, let alone finished. This made the selling process easy for a young kid.
I don’t imagine I got the best prices for my furs that I would have got if I had shopped around. I did not haggle over the prices, and as a youngster, I sold most of my fur in the “round” (the entire animal). I looked forward to the trip with my father every year to sell my season’s catch, and the money I received. But, as I got older and began to rely more and more on my fur checks to help pay the bills I stopped selling all my fur to the country buyer. Noticed I said, “selling all my fur to the country buyer”. I still sell him some, but more on that later.
I had always seen advertisements for the big fur auctions held in other countries, but quickly dismissed the idea of sending my fur to one. Figuring the international auctions were for dealers and trappers with a lot more fur than I had to sell, I never looked in the process until a few years later.
My brother-n-law had been selling to North American Fur Auctions (NAFA) for years. In the early 90s, he convinced me to put a dozen or so coyotes up one season and send off to the auction. I figured it wouldn’t hurt to try.
When the auction was over in February, all of my coyotes sold and the averages were considerably more than I got locally for the rest of the animals. I was not completely convinced yet that international fur auctions were the way to go, but I was more open to the idea than what I was just a few months before.
Bag it & Tag It
The process of getting your furs to the auction is an easy process. Years ago, trappers and hunters had to make long drives to a receiving agent or box the furs and send it through UPS. Not anymore though. Now, receiving agents come to you, or at least very close. NAFA and FHA have agents the run pick-up routes in each state at per-determined locations and times.
The auction companies provide free bags to place your fleshed and dried pelts in. NAFA will even except green hides, and finish them for a minimal fee.
The bags can be picked up at most state and national conventions, by calling your agent and asking for bags to be sent to you free of charge, and your supply can be replenished when you drop your furs off. They always have plenty to hand out.
To keep track of each bag, what is in it, and whom it belongs to, a tag will have to be filled out. The tag will require information such as your name, address, telephone number, license number, account number if you have one, and the amount of each furbearer species in each bag. The tags need to be filled out in duplicate with one tag attached outside the bag, and the other goes inside in case the outside tag is lost. The auction company provides the tags.
Besides the tags, you will have to fill out a receipt. This will include the same information as the tags, plus CITES numbers from river otters and bobcats.
Your receiving agent has several stops throughout a day, and he must stick to his schedule in order to be able to get to his next pick-up location on time. If you are running late, or are not prepared, this slows down the entire process, not just for you, but lots of people. Always be on time, have all the paperwork completed, and your fur bagged and tagged. Things will go a lot smoother this way. A big bag will handle several finished pelts. They also have smaller bags for frozen pelts.
Once you turn the fur over to the receiving agent, there is nothing more for you to do but wait. The auction company will acquire all the paperwork needed to get your fur across the border and into Canada. Also, until it is sold, the fur is insured against fire and theft.
North American Fur Auctions normally has four auctions a year. Most years they are held around the last week of January, the last week of March, again the last week of June, and again in September. These are subject to change from year to year, depending on the demand.
To have your fur in an auction, it needs to arrive 5 to 7 weeks in advance. This is enough time for them to get the fur graded and sorted along with the other hundreds of thousands of furs they will receive. They have a last receiving date for every auction. If you send frozen green hides, it might not make the next scheduled auction, depending on how fast it can be thawed, fleshed, stretched and dried.
After your furs arrive at the auction house, they will be sized and graded, and put in a lot with similar skins. From the moment your fur shows up, until it is shipped out to the buyer, it is tracked with a barcode. The barcode ensures that you will be paid for your fur.
Cross Your Fingers
Once you drop your fur off, there is no turning back. You do not have the choice to decline an offer, but it should be comforting to know the more money you make, the more money the auction house makes. They normally receive a 11 percent commission on all fur sold. They are in the business to make as much as they can from your furs.
After your skins have been graded, you will receive a lotting letter through their website. The lotting letter shows how many skins you have, size and their grade. Each skin is assigned to a lot. I like to follow the auction on the internet, and when one of my lots is up for sale I can follow it. Within seconds, I know how much the fur I had in that particular lot sold for.
About three weeks after the sale, a check shows up in the mail. The check will be for the value of the fur, less a commission fee, shipping fee, and a small drumming fee (usually one dollar per coyote pelt).
If your skins did not sell, they will be offered at a later sale, or a private treaty sale. The company is responsible for your fur between sales, and will take good care of it and store it in a climate controlled setting.
Even after all these years, I still sell about 30 percent of my fur to a local country buyer. I do this for a couple of reasons. First, I often need operating money throughout a long trapping season and have to sell some fur. Second, I hate putting all of my eggs in one basket. Some years the international market is the best option, and other times it is not. Unfortunately, there is no crystal ball to predict the best place to sell your fur. I enjoy selling to a country buyer and will continue to do so, but I like to have options. I don’t know of any proven way to get the most money for my pelts each year. But it is a good feeling knowing that several hundred buyers from across the world are competing to buy what I have.