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story.lead_photo.caption Hunters like Jim Spencer of Calico Rock often sell squirrel tails to Mepps or trade tails for lures, in order to make something useful out of a byproduct of the hunt that’s usually thrown away.

Arkansas’ squirrel season runs through Feb. 28, and the world-famous Mepps Lure Co. reminds hunters they can make money by saving and selling the tails of the squirrels they kill to eat. The tails can also be traded for Mepps fishing lures.

Mepps, a subsidiary of Sheldon’s Inc. in Antigo, Wisconsin, uses hair from the squirrel tails to create hand-tied, dressed hooks for well-known fishing lures like its Aglia spinnerbaits. The company has been recycling squirrel tails for more than half a century. In fact, Mepps has recycled nearly 8 million tails since the mid-1960s, more than any other company in the world.

Some of the hair is used in its natural state. Some is dyed in a variety of colors. All of the hair is hand-tied onto Mepps lures.

“Over the years, we’ve experimented with hundreds of other natural and synthetic materials: bear hair, fox, coyote, badger, skunk, deer and even Angus cow,” Mepps communications director Josh Schwartz said, “but nothing works as well as squirrel-tail hair. The texture is perfect — not too light, and not too stiff and brittle.”

The number of lures that can be made from a single tail depends on the size of the lure. Mepps squirrel-tail spinners come in a wide variety of sizes, from tiny trout lures to giant musky and pike lures.

At one time, the company received around 300,000 squirrel tails a year, but that number has declined by two-thirds in recent years as a result of declining numbers of squirrel hunters in many parts of the country. Even so, some Arkansas hunters, such as Jim Spencer of Calico Rock, still pursue squirrels throughout the May-through-February season and save all tails from the squirrels they kill so the tails can be recycled.

“My wife, Jill, and I have sold to Mepps for years,” Spencer said. “I started doing it back about 1965 or so, when a nickel was as big as a manhole cover, and if memory serves me right, the price hasn’t increased much since then. We don’t do it for the money anymore, but we both like the idea of making something useful out of a byproduct

of the hunt that’s usually thrown away. It’s really not worth the bother from a purely economical standpoint, but it’s a form of environmental recycling we like and think the world could use more of.

“I don’t really think of myself as ‘living green,’ but, hey, why not repurpose things like squirrel tails when you get a chance? It’s a cinch the squirrels don’t need ’em anymore.”

Mepps buys good-quality gray, fox and black squirrel tails for 16 cents each in quantities under 100, 19 cents each for more than 100, 21 cents each for over 500 and 22 cents for over 1,000. If the tails are best-quality premium grade, with long, straight, nonslipping hair and proper preservation, prices go up to 20 cents (under 100), 23 cents (over 100), 25 cents (over 500) or 26 cents (over 1000).

Most folks who send Mepps squirrel tails double their value by trading them for Mepps lures. All-in-all, that’s not a bad deal. The hunters get a great day afield and get to enjoy a meal of fried squirrel or squirrel and dumplings, too. Then they take the part they used to throw away, offer it to Mepps to recycle, and the company sends them Mepps spinners in return.

Mepps noted that the tails are best on squirrels taken after Oct. 1. Hunters should not remove the bone from the tail. Deboned and split tails have no value. Instead, salt the butt end of the tail generously, using either dry salt or a dip in a strong saltwater solution.

You should also be sure the tail is straight before drying. Tails that dry in a curled position cannot be used. And store tails in your freezer so they aren’t exposed to flies.

Dried squirrel tails can be shipped anytime, but other tails are best shipped during cold weather months (January, February and March). Include a piece of paper with your name, address, phone number, email address and the tail count inside each package. And indicate whether you would like to receive the cash value for your tails or you would like to take advantage of the company’s lure exchange program. You can simply write “Trade for cash” or “Trade for lures” on the paper.

Ship the tails by First Class Mail, First Class Parcel or Priority Mail if under 10 pounds, or UPS Ground if over 10 pounds. The tails should be packed without additional filling in the smallest packaging possible. Shipping will be refunded on shipments over 50 tails.

Send your tails to Sheldons Inc., 626 Center St., Antigo, WI 54409-2496. Additional information about the squirrel-tail program, including video instructions for submitting your squirrel tails, is available on the Mepps website at

When Mepps receives the tails, the company’s experienced team will grade the tails as premium, average or unusable. With more than 50 years of experience, you can trust their appraisal will be fair and accurate. If you have indicated “Trade for cash,” a check will be sent to you. If you have indicated “Trade for lures,” you will be contacted to take your lure order.

Josh Schwartz said Mepps wants to be sure hunters know the company does not advocate harvesting of squirrels solely for their tails.

“Our intention has always been to make use of the tails from squirrels that have been harvested for the table,” he explained. “We see our squirrel-

tail program as making full use of a natural resource and not letting anything go to waste. Instead of throwing away the tails, hunters can recycle them into Mepps lures.

“Nobody will make a great deal of money selling squirrel tails,” Schwartz continued. “That’s never been the intent. It’s simply a way to pick up a little extra cash or get some great Mepps lures, while making full use of a game animal. Good hunting can be turned into good fishing.”

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