Country Buyer Blues: The Fur Industry Keeps Evolving

By Jim Spencer

Finally, this ongoing fur market slump is showing signs of easing. Some of the signs are political, some are economic, and some are…well, let’s just say that nothing in the fur market has ever been permanent, and it’s simply time for things to start changing. High prices don’t last forever, and neither do lows. It’ll take a while, but things are improving.
But I’m afraid one thing that happened when the bottom dropped out of the fur market is going to last, and that’s the lack of country fur buyers. When I was a kid and even a young man in my 20s and 30s, every small town had at least one country buyer, sometimes two or three, and there were also traveling buyers who came around several times each season to buy from trappers and coon hunters. Nobody needed to finish their own fur; there were plenty of buyers willing to buy it green or even on the carcass. They generally wouldn’t pay quite as much as for well-handled finished stuff, but there were many of them. The competition kept most of them pretty honest.
Not so any more. Country buyers were getting scarce even before the crash, because most of them were older people and they were retiring and/or dying off at a rate faster than they were being replaced. If you’ve been trapping long, you’d no doubt noticed that phenomenon. And if you kept on trapping a little through these past two seasons of abysmal prices, you no doubt noticed that even those few are now mostly gone as well.
The prediction from this corner is that not very many of them are coming back. In the future, dealers willing to buy green fur are going to be few and far between.
I’ve already predicted this would happen. When the fur pipeline dries up, as it pretty much did, the infrastructure breaks down. And the first thing to break down, in this case, is the bottom end of the supply chain: the trappers and the country buyers. Farther up the pipeline, the brokerage houses, the auction houses, the garment manufacturers and the fur retailers have kept crippling along, working with the few items in their inventory that have been selling, and holding the rest of their stuff until times improve.
But the country buyers? Don’t hold your breath until you find one.
What this means for trappers is simple: those of us who continue to trap will have to learn how to process our own fur. No more skinning the critters, stuffing the pelts into plastic bags and freezing them. Going forward, it’s going to be hard to find a buyer for that kind of fur.
Many trappers have always fleshed and dried their catch, and many more of us, myself included, started doing it many years ago. I admit that I’d still rather catch fur than handle it afterwards, but I do get quite a bit of satisfaction out of putting up my catch. A shed with rafters full of well-handled pelts is a joy to behold.
If you haven’t made that step yet, you’d better start learning how. Now’s the time. You’ll regret it if you don’t.

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