Fur Market Heydays

A look back at the good old days — when fur was in high demand.

Fur Market Heydays

Fur was big business before the market crashed in 1987.

The pile of prime pelts had been the center of my attention for the past few minutes as I sorted through them for the second time — a final inspection before offering the young trapper a price. During that time, my thoughts drifted back to when I was a few years older than him, as I perused his catch of muskrats, coons, red foxes and a large bobcat, or lynx cat as they are called in the fur trade, while he waited nervously for my evaluation and offer. 

During my senior year in high school, I ran an extensive trapline near my hometown in the southwest corner of Minnesota and ended the season with a cache of 200 muskrats, 50 coons, a dozen red foxes and 30 mink. At the time I got the seemingly munificent sum of $.60 per rat, $2.50 per coon and $2 per fox. Mink was the only furbearer in high demand and I ended up with a $20 average for them. Here I was some 25 years later buying fur in Colorado, New Mexico and Utah and about to pay $7 for a muskrat pelt, up to $50 for a coon, $70 for a red fox and over $300 for a bobcat.   

Wild and even ranch-raised furs are examples of the supply and demand principle of marketing in that a shortage of supply any given year will generally increase demand and price the following year. 

In 1970, when I moved to Pagosa Springs, Colorado, as a conservation officer with my pack of four well-trained Plott hounds, the first year I ended up with 30 bobcats by the end of the season, half of which I had caught previously that were skinned, stretched and had been stored and half fresh from my new stomping grounds, where a government trapper had virtually eliminated coyotes and the bobcat population had proliferated.  

I had turned down $10 each for the cats that spring but the next year when the offer jumped to $25 per pelt, I figured that was as good as it was going to get and threw in a dozen prime finished coyotes for $5 each. Had I kept them another couple seasons my average would have been over $100 per pelt and two years later would have jumped to $250 each. Patience and timing can be a hunter/trapper’s greatest assets when determining when to sell their fur.

When I quit the game department in 1979, I started trapping in southwestern Colorado full time and the first two weeks of doing so, I never saw my home in the daylight. I left in the dark and got home in the dark. I was also spending a lot of time and money buying furs from local hunters, trappers and ranchers, and even though I felt I knew furs I spent several days with a friend who owns interest in one of the major fur buying companies learning the fine points and idiosyncrasies of grading and buying fur. It was time well invested. That season I caught or shot just under 200 coyotes, 66 bobcats, 50 pine marten, a couple red foxes, a couple badgers and a dozen nuisance beavers for a total check of $36,000 plus.  

New York was long the center of the U.S fur trade, with much of the retail garments going to the European countries. However, when New York furriers started shopping their labor to Asian countries, many of which saw the potential of the fur trade when combined with their cheap labor, long hair furs such as coyotes, coons, foxes and cats came on strong. Fox and mink farming peaked out, too, because these new comers didn’t have expertise in grading and it was easier to buy matched mink and foxes from fur farms to turn out uniform fur garments. However, this phenomenon kicked the whole fur price market in the butt big time for many years.  

Unfortunately, with the development of quality faux furs, tremendous pressure from the antis and conflicts in Europe, our fur market has been and is, topsy-turvy at best. Fur prices are more unpredictable than ever when you have lynx cats today that might bring $1,000 if you can find a place to trap them with trapping seasons shut down completely in several states and limited and closed hunting seasons in other states. On the other hand, you have states such as Iowa, which has some of the best quality raccoons that are virtually worthless, and unharvested to the point where the state has just opened the season night and day on private land, with no license or limit to try and curtail their crop depredation.   

For my money there isn’t such a thing as a wasted or worthless day of predator hunting or trapping, and having a freezer or tote box full of prime, put up pelts is like money in the bank! 


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