By Serge Lariviére
October is when final plans are set for the upcoming trapping season. Some northern states and provinces open up for trapping in late October, but I suspect most states have their fur season opening in November. Fur grows on animals with shorter photoperiod, and the longer trappers can wait before setting traps, the more fur animals have when they are harvested. Waiting, sometimes even a few weeks, can make a real big difference in primeness. And primeness is key when the market is tough — as it is expected to be this upcoming year.
As many of you know already, we have been cursed with probably the longest period of low fur prices ever in the history of the fur trade. If you look at ups and downs, some people believe there is a 10-year cycle in fur prices, with big peaks every 10 years or so. Well, the last one was in 2013, and this next selling season will be 2022, nine years later. One could say that we are about to see prices explode upward — as they did in 2013 — but usually recovery in fur prices takes a long time, and the signs from the market suggest we are still a long way from celebration.
Our most recent indicators, and probably the best market indicators remaining, are the results of the wild fur auction sale held by Fur Harvesters Auctions in North Bay, Ontario, Canada (www.furharvesters.com). Fur Harvesters just completed in late July their final auction of the 2021 selling season, and just like the sale previous, this sale had to be conducted online because of COVID-19 pandemic precautions. Holding an auction online is a very difficult task when buying fur has a tradition of being a touch-and-feel business. How can you feel the softness of a bobcat pelt when you cannot touch it? Sure, buyers are experienced, and auction staff are experts at advertising the true nature of products they offer. But still, selling online is nowhere near as exciting — and lucrative — as selling to buyers in person.
Maybe also the buyers that travel from around the globe want to make sure to cover their costs by bringing home enough goods so that their trip is warranted. Buyers online do not have this issue. Buy a lot or buy a little — you have not left your office and no expenses are incurred. Combine that with a world economy that still is on recovery mode — our wild fur trade is showing very few signs of recovery. But there are a few goods signs out there, and we will start with those.
Muskrats sold almost entirely at an average price slightly above $5 USD – which is very good! Muskrats are a large volume item that is the backbone of many traplines in agricultural areas, and many trappers harvest muskrats in the hundreds, some even in the thousands. At $5 each, muskrats are definitely worth trapping, and with the decreased offering of ranch mink caused by the closure of so many mink farms, muskrats should continue to rise next year.
Castoreum, castor glands on a beaver, also continue to sell very well, with prices exceeding $100 USD per pound — which makes this item probably the most profitable part of the beaver (unless you have a market for the meat). Beaver pelts are still very difficult to sell, but big castor glands will be your reward. Make sure you know how to handle them well, because right now this is the only money in beaver trapping. Many trappers have no choice but to harvest problem beavers on their trapline, often as a service to landowners in exchange for hunting or trapping rights, so at least you get some money along with good meat (if you eat it or can sell it) or outstanding bait.
Coyotes, which ranked at the top of the profit list when all else struggled, seem to be slowing down, but are still worth catching. Western skins with pale fur and soft, white bellies have dropped below the magic $100 mark, but still sell very well. Eastern coyotes have fallen back to “normal” levels at about $25 average. Western trappers can still cash in on the coyote craze — but all signs suggest that this is slowly cooling off and I certainly do not expect coyotes to be going up next year.
As many of you have heard, the largest company that drove this market, Canada Goose, recently announced that they would quit using fur as trim on their parkas, and coyote was the number one fur in use. Sure, other companies will continue to use coyote fur as trim, but when big players start getting off the bandwagon they started, often others follow. If you have access to abundant Western coyotes, catch them when they are prime and go big again this year. You may not make as big a profit as previous years, but there is still money to be made in trapping Western coyotes.
Taxidermy goods are probably the final good news. Outstanding wolves, wolverines, bears or very beautiful skunks will sell well. Very few trappers have these skins in numbers, but if you catch something exceptional or unusual, talk to your local taxidermist before you skin it. You are likely to be paid more.
On the disappointing side — raccoons top the list. Many trappers in the U.S. have access to very abundant raccoon populations, and they are fun to trap. But right now, selling raccoons is a tough business. If you decide to go after them anyway, wait as long as you can to catch fewer of them, but with better fur. The market will be extremely tough, only the best goods will sell and anything subpar will likely remain unsold. I suspect that there is a large inventory of raccoon skins in storage waiting for the market to rebound, so this item is very unlikely to bounce up next year.
Otter, fisher, wild mink and red fox also face tough market conditions. American marten is also disappointing at averages of $20 to $35. Marten is the backbone of Northern traplines — along with beaver — and Northern trappers will find it tough to make money running winter lines this upcoming year.
In conclusion, we are still facing some challenges and the COVID-19 pandemic, even though it appears to be slowing down, but it still carries its negative impacts on our trade. I do not expect this upcoming season to be much different than this past year, and hopefully, the world will start getting back to normal and we can start seeing live auctions again in the fur trade. When that happens, maybe we can finally start down the path of seeing decent fur prices once again!