Fur flies at trappers gathering

A pelt is examined at the recent fur sale.

The fur was flying at a recent trappers’ rendezvous in Crossville.

Stacks of pelts at the annual fur sale flew off the tables as trappers across Middle Tennessee cashed in a long winter of hard work.

“This is always a popular sale,” says Lebanon’s Clarence Dies, an official with the Tennessee Fur Harvesters Association who along with wife Laura assists with the annual event. “We have trappers coming in from all over. It’s fun to see old friends and meet new ones.”

Trappers getting together to sell their pelts and socialize is a tradition dating back to the mountain men of the 1800s.

“It’s great to see the tradition carried on,” says Dies, one of thousands of fur trappers in Tennessee. They range from professionals who reap a sizable profit, to amateurs who trap mostly for the challenge and enjoyment.

Dies, an instructor at the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency’s trapping seminars in West Tennessee, started trapping as a youngster along the Cumberland River.

“It’s something I’ve always enjoyed,” he says. “Like most trappers, I don’t do it for the money. It’s cold, hard work, and I’d hate to think what we make per hour when the furs are sold.”

Skinning a beaver and stretching and scaping the pelt can take two or three hours, depending on the speed and skill of the individual. Setting the traps, running the trapline and carrying out a heavy, water-logged beaver adds additional hours.

The payoff?

At the recent Crossville fur sale, beaver pelts brought around $20. A prime bobcat pelt sold for $42.50 and an otter pelt that a few years ago might have been worth $100 went for $27.

Raccoon pelts, once a staple of fur trappers, brought from $1-$5, depending on size and quality. Possum pelts sold for around $1.

There were pelts of coyotes, minks, muskrats and otters, and even some skunk pelts. The skunk pelts sold for as little as 75 cents.

Knoxville’s Mike McMillan is a professional trapper specializing in “skunk-removal.” He has been in business for 25 years, trapping and removing nuisance skunks from homes and businesses. He puts the pelts to use.

“I use them for crafts and novelty items,” McMillan said. “That’s about all they are good for. Not many women want a skunk-skin coat or hat.”

Coyote populations continue to expand, and their pelts outnumbered all others at the sale. Prices ranged widely, from $10 to $25, depending on quality.

Not only are trappers collecting more coyote pelts, but predator hunters also contribute to the market. Last month’s predator hunt in Wilson County brought in 38 coyotes, and the pelts were harvested by a commercial furrier.

Commercial trappers face a growing faux fur fashion trend, and also have to compete with commercial ranches that raise fur bearers.

“It’s a challenge,” Dies says, “but we’re hanging on. We’ve had good turnouts for the trapping seminars, and that’s a good sign for the future.”

Larry Woody is The Democrat’s outdoors writer. Email him at larrywoody@gmail.com.

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