12/5/2019 9:35:00 AM Fur trapping and trading in disarray
Ron Kuecker Outdoors Columnist
Fur trapping is only for the hardy amongst us. That's the way it has always been. Fur trading, likewise is a tough business. That's the way it has always been. This year, almost more than ever in modern times, trapping for furs of value is in disarray. It begins with a drop in fur value that eliminates many trappers from the hard work and expense of running a trap line. Traps, no matter what kind you choose, have become very expensive, and they need care. Gasoline is 10 times more expensive than when I ran a little muskrat, raccoon trap line one year as a teenager. Gas went for a quarter a gallon "back then." Now it is $2.50. And furs are cheap, way to cheap, won't even cover expenses unless your very good and don't value your time worth very much. Muskrats are a dollar or two, raccoons five to $10, a good mink is only worth a 10 dollar bill and the best coyote from our area up to a $20 bill. I remember when big mink would bring $35, skinned and stretched. In today's dollars that's about $350. Nice check if you could get it. In northern Minnesota they go after different furs. Mostly they seek pine martens, fishers, bobcats and an occasional coyote. That season is starting right now while our mostly water trapping in southern Minnesota is over. How would you like to place then pick up traps during this early snow season we've had? So, high expenses, low income and a terrible November when furs become prime, what else could go wrong? Well, it happened. Canadian bankers have determined there is no future in fur trapping and trading. They've pulled their credit line from the main purchases of our furs, the North American Fur Auction (NAFA). This has left that Canadian auction market to declare bankruptcy with a possible reorganization plan. Present creditors will probably lose a lot unless a new business plan can be found. There is another fur auction in Canada east of Lake Huron, a long distance to transport furs of decreasing value. A couple of trappers and one coon hunter have told me their usual fur buyer is telling them they will continue to be viable purchasers. But what can they pay if their usual purchaser from Canada is not in business? Well, we will see how it plays out as winter approaches but a product without a market does not sound very promising to me. Many trappers just love doing it for enjoyment and being outdoors in the early morning. But as the sport of duck hunting declines because of hard work, expense and a place to do it, so will trapping for enjoyment only. The consequences If trapping goes away, whether short term or long term, there will definitely be some consequences. Especially it will be seen in our raccoon population. Now we will enter into a boom or bust population cycle. We are almost there right now. The coon tracks and trails, at least in the areas I hunt, indicate a large population of the so-called masked bandits. In the past, and most likely in the future, a large population of raccoons has resulted in distemper outbreaks. They are susceptible to both canine and feline distemper, which are totally different viruses. I have personally seen terrible outbreaks of mostly canine distemper and it's not a pretty sight. Suffering and a slow death is very common as nature provides its very unpleasant population control. In the meantime, despite what even many professional wildlife managers dispute, high numbers of nest predators like the omnivorous and ubiquitous raccoon will devastate our ground nesting birds of all types, both game and non-game. Maybe South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem had it exactly right when she initiated her spring trapping program. Ten dollars a tail sounds like a reasonable reward to control the coon population. Trapping, trading history Fur trapping and trading was once big business and led to the development of our country. The French operated mostly in what is now Canada and the northern United States. The English and Dutch got their start in what is now New York state. John Jacob Astor, a governor who learned English in London, then came to the continent to establish the fur trade, became our first millionaire despite huge competition from the Hudson Bay Company. His home and place of business was on Mackinac Island where the Astor House is a large tourist attraction every summer. The French trappers and traders used friendliness and cooperation with the natives to obtain furs. The English seemed to be more interested in conquering and establishing settlements. Astor's American Fur Company became the leading expansionists and set up trade in the Rocky Mountains via their Missouri Fur Company. Early mountain men such as John Colter (considered the first) and Jedediah Smith who followed him and set up the famous Green River Rendezvous in Wyoming were the leaders. But even then, the logistics of getting trade supplies from the east to the trappers in the west was huge. Then hauling the furs back on those same pack horse trains surely raised the price of furs on the international market. Our situation hasn't changed that much, logistics are the same but the price of beaver pelts was certainly higher during those rendezvous days. Only now we refer to it as the North American Fur Auction in Canada. I hope we can hang on to this trapping tradition, it is so Americana.