Beaver were the top selling pelts of the day. Europeans preferred their hats made from the soft, warm fur of American beavers. Native Americans and settlers in the new land would barter and trade for pots, tools and even food. Beaver pelts became the standard for pricing among fur traders.
As other materials became available for hats, coats and other specialty clothing, the market for furs declined. There has been some controversy about the use of fur in modern times. However, the foreign fur market has seen a dramatic increase for quality pelts. Russia, China and South Korea has created a strong demand for fur.
Alabama fur trappers
Fur trapping in Alabama is regaining strength again. With the demand for fur increasing, fur trapping across the United States seeing interest increase. The higher fur prices make it worth the time and effort to trap and sell pelts.
While fur hides from the Southeast are not as desirable as in the northern and eastern sections of the country, Alabama trappers are back setting lines.
“I have been trapping from around five years,” said Andy Barker of Munford. “I’ll usually start setting traps around mid-January.”
Barker says there is a lot to learn about trapping and finish out the furs. The Alabama Trappers and Predator Control Association can answer questions and help those interested get started in trapping. Trapping is highly regulated and a fur catcher license is required.
Trapping can help control wildlife populations, particularly among predators. Coyotes, bobcats and foxes can offset other wildlife and small game numbers. Beavers also can cause damage to farmland and forests from flooding caused by beaver dams.
Deer, turkey and other wild game benefit from the trapping of predators.
Fur catchers have restrictions on the types and size of traps used in Alabama. Leg-hold traps cannot have a jaw width greater than 6 inches. Teeth or serrated jaws are not allowed. Traps must be identified / tagged with trapper name, address and license number.
Basic trapping techniques
Trapping is an art form that has diminished over the years.
Many outdoorsmen used trapping to supplement their income and provide for their families. There is more to trapping than just setting a few traps. Special regards must be given to scent control, baiting and knowledge of the fur bearers.
“I boil my traps in hot water to clean and eliminate any scent,” Barker said. “After boiling, I’ll coat the entire trap with hot wax.”
Barker said the wax helps keep the trap from rusting and acts as a lubricant.
He wears rubber gloves when handling his traps and when setting them out.
Determining what type of animal you are attempting to catch will define the area to place the trap.
Coyotes have a keen sense of smell. They can walk down a trail and catch the scent of bait blowing across. Coyotes are more apt to use old logging roads, trails or even dirt roads.
“Look for something that will catch the eye of a predator,” said Barker. “A single rock, a stump or log will get the curiosity of a predator.”
Barker said to place the trap where the animal is most likely to step. Sticks, logs or brush can be placed near the trap to direct the animal to the trap. The bait or trapping scent is placed beyond the trap location.
You want the animal to focus on the scent and not the trap.
Cut-over areas and filed edges are top spots for predator traps. The predator will travel along these routes to search for prey. If the trap is set in a natural corridor, the more likely the animal will step in the trap.
For coyotes and bobcats a 1 3/4- to 2-size spring trap works the best.
Smaller size traps can be used for raccoons, beaver, nutria and other fur bearers. The traps are required to be checked every 24 hours.
“I usually bury my traps just under the surface,” said Barker. “I like for the plate to be level with the jaws.”
Once the trap is set, Barker will cover the trap carefully with loose soil and leaves. The trap should be camouflaged as must as possible. Trappers should wear rubber gloves and boots when setting out traps to keep from leaving any scent. Barker also suggests not letting any morsels or dripping from the bait touch the ground outside the trap area.
For predator trapping any type of meat can be used for bait. Allow the meat to become a little rank and place it in sealable plastic bags. Do not remove the bait until the setting the trap.
Under the trapping regulations, all fur catchers are required to carry a choke stick when trapping. Also, a .22 caliber rifle or smaller can be used to dispatch the animal.
Fur buyers prefer their pelts be tanned a specific way. Before attempting to tan and sell any furs you may want to contact the fur buyer for their preference.
It is easier to secure the hide by the rear legs and cut to the center. Predator furs are cut in tube shape. Do not cut the fur down the belly. Also, the furs must be dried and fleshed out properly. There are skinning and stretching frames available from trapping supply houses.
Fur pricing depends on the location where the fur is trapped. Barkers says the area around Mt. Cheaha falls in the pricing region of Tennessee and therefore brings a little better price.
Prices for pelts do fluctuate depending on the market and the demand for specific types of fur. Also, the pelt condition and how well it is tanned out can have an effect on the price.
Coyotes can bring in around $30 to $60 per hide. Red fox pelts can range from around $20 up to $60 for top end furs. Beaver pelts around $25 to $35 and raccoon hides range from around $10 to $20 each. Again, these are average ranges of prices, and they do change.
Trapping has a long history in America. It was trappers and fur traders that help settle the interior of our country and establish outposts that later became cities. While there is some controversy surrounding trapping and fur trade, it is a viable wildlife management tool.
There are some upcoming youth trapper education workshops, which are conducted by the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources. On Jan. 31 through Feb. 2, a trapping workshop will be held in Scottsboro. Those interested may contact Mike Sievering, wildlife biologist at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Charles Johnson is the Star’s outdoor editor. You can reach Charles at ChrJohn7@aol.com.