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Selling This Year’s Catch

March 29, 2012
By Ralph Scherder - Hunting Editor , Ohio Valley Outdoors

On February 17th, 2012, I attended the Pennsylvania Trapper's Association District 2 fur sale at the Burnt Ridge Sportman's Club in Cowansville, PA. They had four fur buyers there making offers, which according to my buddy Matt, is the most buyers they've had at this event in the five or six years he's been going.

This was my first time, and as soon as I walked in the door I was certain I'd never seen so many trappers in one room in all my life. There were piles of raccoon skins and bundles of red and gray fox spread all over the floor of the large meeting hall. Every step had to be carefully placed in order to not leave a boot print on someone's prize coyote.

There was a line for each buyer. After talking to some guys who'd been there since the doors opened at 7 AM, we picked the line for the guy we thought was paying the most for raccoons. I had 53 raccoons in all to sell.

As reported in several of the fur trade market magazines, muskrats were the hot commodity and most guys there bragged about $8 averages. Raccoons, however, were another story. Few pelts on the market are more volatile than raccoons their value seems to change on a daily basis. I could only hope we were there on a good day.

Three major factors affect fur prices: economy, demand, and weather. Although the economy hasn't been on solid ground in a long time, fur prices have increased quite a bit the past four or five years, mostly due to the hard winters experienced throughout the United States. For many guys, previous hard winters have ended their trapping ventures fairly early in the season, and so the raccoon and fox harvest was way down, which drove prices for those animals up. This year's mild winter, however, provided trappers a long season and a lot more fur on their stretchers, which will likely result in falling prices. Basic economics, I guess.

Many collections of fur are bought on speculation, much like investors buy and sell stocks, trying to anticipate what the condition of the market will be when he sells them a few months later. The goal of the buyer is always to pay less than what he'll sell them for, which is where the bickering and haggling between trapper and fur buyer comes in. The bickering and haggling is expected, and even somewhat of a rite of passage, before furs and money change hands. There are no hard feelings about it. It's just a natural course when each party is trying to turn a profit for their efforts.

Fact Box

Three major factors affect fur prices: economy, demand, and weather.

Some guys at the fur sale got bids from all four buyers before deciding which one to sell to. Some guys got bids from all four buyers and then said the heck with it and took their furs back home saying they'd send to auction (either North American Fur Auctions or the Fur Harvesters of America) and see what happens there.

Personally, I don't think it's worth sending furs to auction unless you have a pretty large collection. I've sent to the big auction houses in past years, and yes, the averages paid for my fur was a lot higher than I'd have received from a local country buyer. However, once NAFA or the FHA deducted their commissions, membership into their organization (which is necessary in order to sell fur through them), hide preparation costs (fox and coyotes get tumbled in sawdust to fluff and shine the fur), and shipping costs from the depot to auction housewhat's left? Let me tell you, all those expenses put a hurt on that $13 average on raccoons or a $25 average on fox.

I've found that, unless you have over a hundred raccoons or a good number of canines, the bottom line is usually about the same whether you sell locally or send to auction. Also, there are benefits to selling locally. First of all, you're supporting a local business, as many local buyers also sell trapping supplies. And second, when you go to an organization-sponsored fur sale, you're supporting trapper associations.

The only cost of selling your furs at an event like this is the four percent commission you pay as donation to the association. It's four percent well spent, in my opinion. Organizations such as the Pennsylvania Trapper's Association have worked hard to get youths involved in the sport, and by the looks of it, their hard work is paying off. There were more youths and teenagers selling furs at that sale than I ever thought possible. It was refreshing and exciting, and I hope they'll continue trapping and loving the sport as much as I do. Seeing so many new faces makes me optimistic for the future of trapping.

After almost four hours of standing in line, talking and laughing and telling stories with other trappers and coon hunters, it was finally my turn to put my furs on the table. The buyer sorted my raccoons in just a few minutes. He piled them according to size and quality and then spent a few seconds scribbling an offer onto a yellow notepad. When he was done, he didn't say a word, just slid the notepad in front of me and raised an eyebrow in question.

I pretended to consider the offer. In actuality, it was a good price. I'd done my homework before going to the sale and sized and graded all of my fur and estimated how much I could expect to get for them. His number was only two dollars less than what I'd anticipated.

"If you add two bucks to that, you got a deal," I said, more joking than anything.

He laughed and shook his head. "I can do that," he said.

Only reason the two dollars was important to me was because it gave me an even $8 average for my coons, not bad considering the current state of the fur markets. Many guys there averaged much less for their raccoons, which kind of makes me feel good because I've spent a lot of time and effort learning how to put up my fur the right way in order to get top dollar.

In the end, though, it's not about money in fact, the good things in life seldom are about money. It's about the experience. Trapping is hard work but lots of fun. Any money received from selling furs is just icing on the cake. As for the money earned from this year's harvest, well, I could use a few new traps, and some fur stretchers, and a new fleshing knife, and some new chest waders, andokay, you get the picture.



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