Tuesday, February 7th, 2023
Tuesday, February 7th, 2023

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Sportsmen Since 1967

As fur prices inch upward, trappers hoping for rebirth

Freeport, Ill. – Lee Stewart and John Wilson are on opposite
ends of the state and opposite sides of the fur trade.

Yet it’s no surprise they have identical views on the current
condition of trapping.

“Us older guys have been getting too old and the younger guys
haven’t been following us up,” said Stewart, a lifelong trapper
from Modoc.

Wilson, of Freeport, is an agent with North American Fur
Auctions. He describes the wane in interest as a product of the
times.

“Kids would rather spend their spare time playing video games,
rather than set and run traps,” he said.

Last year, Illinois issued 3,687 trapping permits, just slightly
fewer than the 3,814 it issued 10 years ago during the 1996-97
season.

According to state records, permit sales dropped steadily after
the ‘96-97 season and skidded into the early 2000s, hitting a low
of 2,888 in 2003-04. Crunch the numbers and you’ll discover that
between the 2003-04 season and the 2006-07 season, nearly 799
additional trappers purchased permits – a roughly 30 percent
increase.

“You can track trappers’ interest in Illinois by the prices
being paid,” Wilson said. “It’s not much different than any other
commodity.”

Price-wise, the Illinois fur trade peaked in the late 1970s and
early 1980s. In the 1978 season, raccoon pelts sold for an average
of $27.25 – and that’s in 1978 dollars. To contrast, raccoon pelts
averaged only $4.20 in 1999. The next year, the price rose to
$6.30.

In 1979, the average beaver pelt sold for $14.40 and muskrat
sold for an average of $6.35 – again, in 1979 prices.

Beaver pelts averaged just $9.80 in 2000, while muskrat sold for
a mere $2.45.

Raccoon prices, which have slowly climbed, hitting an average of
$8.90 in 2003-04, are ranging from $12 to $22 this year.

“This is a good year, because the raccoon catch is down, even
though the population is up,” Wilson said. “Bad weather up north
hurt some trapping and a cold winter in Russia, which is a major
purchaser of U.S. raccoons, cut into their production.”

Prices for muskrat, beaver, coyote and fox are expected to
remain steady, at least at the same levels as last year. A shortage
of muskrats may inch the average price higher than last year’s
$2.50 to $3.50 per pelt.

“Some prices, like those for beaver, might increase a little
because fewer guys are going after them,” Wilson said. “They’re
hard to catch and their pelt is hard to prepare. When a guy figures
his labor against the price, many feel it’s not worth it.”

Coyote pelts, which have hovered around $12 to $13 the past
couple of years, may also be more in demand. As DNR furbearer
biologist Bob Bluett explained, “When gas is $3 a gallon, who can
afford to run a long coyote trap line?”

Though no one expects the sport to return to its glory days of
the 1970s, there is new reason for optimism about trapping’s
future.

In his role as National Trapping Association director for the
Illinois Trapper’s Association, Stewart said more people,
especially young people, are taking trapping education courses.

“People say to me ‘there aren’t any more trappers left’ but
that’s not true, there are still trappers around,’ Stewart said.
“There just aren’t many.”

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