Sunday, January 29th, 2023
Sunday, January 29th, 2023

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Trappers face uncertain prices, but ‘buzz’ holds

Springfield —  Will roller coaster fur prices kill the buzz enjoyed by Illinois trappers?

Unlikely, grizzled veterans of the sport contend.

The season, which kicks off Nov. 5 in the north zone and Nov. 10 in the south zone, is setting up to be another active one, with river otters, beavers, and coyotes getting the most attention by experienced trappers. A solid muskrat market would attract younger and “on the fence” trappers.

As of Oct. 23, DNR had sold 4,742 trapping permits, which is slightly ahead of the pace set last year, when a total of 7,782 permits were sold.

The 2014 preseason total is nearly as many as were sold in all of 2011 – just three years ago.

“Trapping has become a thing again, and not all of it is because of the higher fur prices,” Neal Graves, vice-president of the Illinois Trappers Association, said. The ITA itself is in a growth stage and recently started a veteran’s outreach program, in which the trapping organization will raise funds to help U.S. veterans.

Just five years ago, it appeared that trapping was dead in the state – only 3,750 trapping permits were sold in 2009. The opening of a river otter trapping season in 2012 went a long way toward bringing new interest to trapping.

Some old trappers came back into the fold, too.

“Trapping has a lot of tradition to it, and it takes a lot of skill,” Graves said. “Some people are coming into it for the challenge. Good fur prices don’t hurt, either.”

And that brings us to the eve of the new trapping season.

Markets in recent years have created a profitable situation for trappers across the country, including  in Illinois. But early projections for the coming year are “iffy.” The world’s major fur-clearing house foresees challenging wild fur market conditions. For example, North American Fur Auctions, the largest auctioneer on the continent, confirmed in its most recent fur forecast that the 2013-14 selling season was one of the most difficult environments the organization has faced in its history.

Managing director Herman Jansen said “this was primarily due to one of the warmest winters on record in China, Russia, and Europe.” Retail fur sales tumbled, directly impacting wild fur markets, driving down prices and clearances of pelts. Making matters worse, Jansen said, “The mild winter hit at a time when we had previously reached record prices for our product.”

The impact of the weather slashed the majority of wild fur prices anywhere from 30 to 70 percent off what had previously been stable and welcomed pelt prices. Retail prices were off as much as 50 percent at times. Such a sentiment in the marketplace led to weaker May 2014 sales results. Only a few standouts – muskrat and coyotes – held firm.

Wild fur stockpiles, however, are not as large as many within the industry would have expected in such conditions, potentially making for a silver lining of good news for trappers. Muskrat pelts are also projected to continue selling at full clearance and acceptable price levels. 

Perhaps the best sign that the fur market may be capable of weathering the conditions are the results for NAFA’s September sale, which generally focuses on clearing held stock in preparation for the upcoming trapping season. Coyote and muskrat fully sold, as did the Section I grade furs for mink and red fox. More than 350,000 raccoon pelts were also sold to Russian and Chinese buyers. Beaver, which has been plagued with low prices, fared better than anticipated, too.

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