There aren’t many trappers out in the backcountry this season. There are certainly a few diehards that trap just because they need an excuse to be out in the wilds. Additionally, there are sport trappers running around who have little knowledge (but are working hard at getting some), and are unsure about what do do with the fur they catch. Then, there are the dedicated few who realize there isn’t much money to be made in the fur market. These guys have spent time exploring specialty markets and, in many cases, developed their own markets.
The majority of trappers who are making any money at all in their endeavors are selling fur to taxidermists or to local niche marketers who need fur to fill hat and mitten orders. Some of the true bush operators are doing their own tanning, sewing and marketing. Yes, you can sell some fur this way. Not many, if anyone, can make a true living wage by these methods. However, the trapping lifestyle does not require making $30,000 a year. A successful season depends on perspective.
Doing a considerable internet search, you can find a lot of bunk. I found an informational site that claimed that the average trapper made $16.91 per hour!?! A good marten line must then produce 12 marten for every eight-hour day — at present prices. Trappers don’t get paid vacation or time off. That would equate to over 1,000 marten in a three-month season.
Fur prices have hit rock bottom. The good news is that some items look to be on the upswing. Marten is one of them. This winter, Alaskan trappers could conceivably net 50 bucks for good quality skins. The average is likely to be less than $40, though. Red fox will sell poorly or possibly not at all. Local fur sewers may take a few fox. Muskrats have held their value through the pandemic. Three or four dollars is reasonable for decent skins. Lynx are an enigma. They have value for certain, but buyers are reluctant to set a market price. Expect $70 on the fur market. One may get double that from the tourist market.
Coyotes, which have been a bright spot in the fur market, are destined to drop in price. Canada Goose, which has been featuring coyote ruffs on their high-end parkas, recently announced they are going fur-free. Canada Goose was fueling the surge in coyote prices. Whether the decision to cut fur was in response to the anti-fur folks, or a cost-cutting measure, is unknown.
Beaver, long a staple for trappers, have become an item of doubtful value. A decent large beaver used to bring 60 or 70 bucks. Now they are worth $10 — or less. Back in the day, the middle 1800s, a beaver pelt was worth two bucks to the trapper from the buyers at the Hudson Bay Company. The price at one of the “rendezvous” was somewhat less. That was double the wages of a normal day’s work at that time. Beaver hides were bought by the pound in New York and London. Five dollars per pound was the accepted rate. The average dry beaver pelt weighs a pound and a half. There was money to be made in the beaver market. Today, beaver castor is worth more than the skin. Castor sells for just under $100 per pound. A large beaver might carry four ounces of castor.
There was money to be made in the Alaskan fur market also. It wasn’t long ago — in the late 1970s, when I personally averaged over $300 each for cross fox and just under $200 for red fox. Fox are worth $10 today, if one can sell them. Wild mink are worth only a few dollars each. Mink ranchers, who provide almost all of the mink used today, have mostly gone out of business. The furs they do have are sitting in cold storage in the forlorn hope the market will rebound.
The demise of the fur market can be mostly blamed on the reaction to COVID. China, the largest consumer of fur in the world, is largely shut down. Korea still takes a few furs, as do the Russians. But COVID is not the only reason for the dramatic downturn in fur prices. The anti-trapping, anti-killing anything movement has also taken a toll. Rather than getting into a debate with an anti, a good suggestion would be that they turn their efforts into saving some of the folks living homelessly on the streets of our cities — possibly by giving them a fur coat.
Trapping is not an archaic enterprise that is destined for the scrap heap. Trapping is a very important area of expertise. Good trappers, true experts in their fields, are becoming more and more rare as age takes a toll. Fur prices will rebound, albeit slowly, and likely not to the levels we have seen in previous decades. However, look around you. In what direction is our world heading? How important might it soon be that some will need to take their living from the land?