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Trapping can be a fulfilling pastime, despite low fur prices

By Keith Sutton

This article was published November 19, 2017 at 12:00 a.m.

jim-spencer-of-calico-rock-shows-a-seasons-haul-of-raccoon-mink-and-otter-furs-he-realized-a-profit-of-hundreds-of-dollars-from-the-sale-of-his-pelts-but-spent-hundreds-of-hours-and-incurred-many-expenses-while-trapping-all-these-animals

Jim Spencer of Calico Rock shows a season’s haul of raccoon, mink and otter furs. He realized a profit of hundreds of dollars from the sale of his pelts but spent hundreds of hours and incurred many expenses while trapping all these animals.

Fall is here, and furbearer trapping season has begun in Arkansas. The period for trapping beavers, muskrats and nutrias started at sunrise Nov. 11

and runs through sunset March 31. Coyote trapping season started at sunrise Aug. 1 and continues through sunset March 31. The trapping season for all remaining furbearers in the state — including mink, raccoons, skunks, opossums and other species — began at sunrise Nov. 11 and ends at sunset Feb. 28. There is no daily limit or possession limit on any furbearers trapped during these seasons.

The global fur market isn’t very good right now. Things such as global warming, political conflicts in Asia and economic sanctions against countries that buy furs have led to a reduction in prices paid to trappers for their furs.

Will fur prices climb back up? That’s difficult to predict, but many Arkansans who trap don’t really worry about that. The reasons they trap are far broader than just dollars and cents.

The Real Reasons for Trapping

Although monetary return is important to most trappers, those individuals who begin trapping because they think it will be an easy way to make a fast buck soon find out otherwise. If the average trapper took his annual earnings, subtracted the costs of traps, equipment and transportation, and then divided the remainder by the number of hours spent obtaining permission, scouting, preparing equipment, setting and checking traps, and handling and selling the fur, he would realize his hourly earnings are quite small. With fur prices depressed right now, earnings will be even less.

Nevertheless, trapping offers many benefits: the chance to spend more time outdoors, learning about animals and their behavior, practicing a skill with roots deep in history and much more. If you’re doing it simply for the money, however, you might want to reconsider. There are many quicker, easier ways to earn extra cash.

Learning the Basics

If you have the motivation and perseverance to do the work involved with trapping, day after day, regardless of the weather, then congratulations. Trapping is a highly fulfilling pastime participants find very enriching. If you’re just getting started, however, you must first learn the basics. The best way is from experienced trappers willing to share their knowledge. How might you find such a person?

Start by joining the National Trappers Association, the nation’s largest trapping organization, or one of NTA’s 51 state trapping affiliates. These organizations represent thousands of trappers nationwide.

Visit NTA’s website at www.nationaltrappers.com. On the homepage there, you’ll find a section called “What’s Happening in Your State?” Click on the drop-down box, and select Arkansas. There you’ll find contact information for local affiliates, information on licenses and permits you’ll need, and, by going to the website of your state trapping association, information about meetings and workshops you can attend to meet fellow trappers. Most states offer trapper-education workshops to help novices get started. Attending one allows you to meet key people and obtain important information that will prove invaluable as you learn to trap furbearers.

Books, Magazines, Etc.

An online search will turn up dozens of helpful books on trapping. One of the best for beginners is Guide to Trapping, by Jim Spencer of Calico Rock. I’ve often accompanied this hardcore Arkansas trapper to run 200-plus traps on a trapline spanning 60 miles or more, and the number of furbearers he caught was amazing. In Guide to Trapping, he covers strategies for successfully harvesting raccoons, muskrats, mink, otters, beavers, coyotes, gray and red foxes, bobcats, skunks and opossums. He discusses trap styles and the basics of establishing and working a trapline. His field-tested techniques, carefully explained and illustrated, will help new trappers make sets that deliver maximum results. Order at treblehookunlimited.com.

The novice trapper can also glean many tips from trapping magazines such as Fur-Fish-Game (furfishgame.com), a standard since 1925; Trapper & Predator Caller (trapperpredatorcaller.com); and Trapper’s Post (trapperspost.com).

Also available are scores of trapping DVDs, easily found online, and hundreds of videos available free through

YouTube.com.

Trapping Supplies

Supplies you’ll need for trapping include all sorts of products, from traps, scents and clothing to dirt sifters, fleshing tools and fur drying frames. An extensive list of reliable dealers is available through Fur-Fish-Game’s Trapper’s Marketplace at www.furfishgame.com/advertise/2017_Trappers_Mrktplc.php.

Understanding Wildlife

Furbearers in Arkansas include the raccoon, mink, beaver, muskrat, otter, nutria, fox, coyote, opossum, skunk and bobcat. Those you intend to trap must be studied intensively so you know as much as possible about their habits. As a trapper, you will have to study signs left by wildlife in order to set each of your traps in just the right place within the proper habitat so the target animal will put its foot or head in your trap. Doing that requires an amount of knowledge even some biologists don’t possess. To gain that knowledge, plan to spend hundreds of hours outdoors studying your quarry and everything it does.

Pelt Care

Before you start trapping, it’s also important to learn how to properly care for the pelts you’ll obtain. Most fur buyers will purchase pelts “in the round” (whole), but properly skinned, stretched and dried pelts are much more valuable than whole animals. The trapper who handles his own fur can also present a larger “lot” of fur to a buyer, rather than a few animals at a time, and he therefore has more bargaining leverage. Additionally, stretched and dried furs can be hauled, shipped and stored more easily and allow the trapper to take advantage of the market or markets promising the highest return. Whole animals or “green” (wet, unstretched) pelts must be sold quickly to a nearby buyer.

Fur Marketing

You may sell your pelts in several ways: to a local fur buyer, to a traveling fur buyer, to a mail firm or at a fur auction. Each offers advantages and disadvantages. Selling to a mail firm, for example, doesn’t allow you to deal with the buyer personally, and the pelts must be packaged and mailed. Auctions usually charge a small commission fee subtracted from your earnings. Local buyers sell later at auctions, so they may not pay as much for your furs.

Learn as much as you can about each method of sale, and shop around to be sure you get the best prices, regardless of the method you choose.

Conclusion

This is only a cursory look at some of things you need to know if you plan to earn money as a trapper. While trapping is a great way to spend more time outdoors, if you hope to add some dollars to your bank account while doing it, you must remember it’s like any other business. Success requires extensive knowledge, dedication, entrepreneurship and a good bit of luck.

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