With the low prices that are on the horizon at our fur sales this year, some of us trappers are pondering was to do with our catches and how to make up the difference in the prices we might be paid at auction. Currently prices are dismal and probably wont get any better until long after the change of guard in Washington. There are several ways to make significantly more by keeping your fur this year and putting a little more work into a finished product. This includes self tanning, selling to taxidermist and others, craft projects, selling meat, skulls and skeletons.
Once you finish fleshing those raccoons, fox and coyotes, take a minute to go over them again and get ready to enter the world of self tanning. Tanning has come to be known as an difficult process when if fact it is more time consuming than anything else. There are tons of ways to tan from using salt, alum, brains and commercial tanning solutions. I prefer to use the salt method, which involves soaking your pelts in salt water for several days followed by layers of salt to pull out the moisture. Being that you can buy a 50 lb bag of salt for $4.00 at Tractor Supply, this is not a huge cost investment. While you are there, go to the equine section and pick up a bottle of neatsfoot oil to finish your tanning process and you are good to go. The process can be done in about a week not including time to stretch and soften your pelt. Once you are done, you can either sell as is or smoke your pelts for a rich, golden color on the underside. I use a old smoker for this purpose and find that the propane burner makes for easy temperature control and even smoking of your tanning project.
Once you get done tanning your furs you can begin marketing your products via the internet on E-bay and other trapping and taxidermy websites. Taxidermist are always looking for suppliers of quality furs as well as those that know how to tan and prepare fresh pelts. Remember that the way a taxidermist wants a pelt cased is very different that what auction houses want. They are looking for intact feet with claws and pads included in the skinning. Also most prefer a non cased pelt unless they are sending it off to have it tanned themselves. In addition to taxidermist and fur lovers that want your finished pelts, you may find a good market on the Native American pow-wow circuit. In my past life, I created Native American jewelry and attended pow-wows in Alabama, Georgia and Tennessee. The vendors at these events have a special group that they market to and fur is a needed commodity when it comes to making regalia, crafts and ceremonial items. The coyote, for instance, is one of the most revered and cherished animals in the Native American world and many will pay a hefty price for a well tanned and smoked pelt to make into a head dress.
If you are not familiar with the pow wow circuit or you are not near one don’t let that stop you. Design your own crafts and sell on Ebay, Etsy or other online shops. This can be as simple as stretching a raccoon pelt with leather thong on a framework of saplings tied together into a square. Many will pay for this unique item to hang in their mountain cabin or vacation home. This can be done with beaver, deer, coyote, fox or any other medium to large fur bearer. Keep them plain for a mountain man theme or tie feathers and beads on for a more Native American creation. You can also make money on coon skin caps, fur possibles bags, peace pipe bags and anything you can imagine. Fur is a powerful item that people just love to feel and spend money on.
Other ideas include the selling of meat, not only for human consumption (if legal in your state) or to other trappers for the making of various baits. Raccoon is very popular in the southern states around the holidays and makes an excellent meal. The bobcat that you skinned out can be taken and the meat ground for predator bait bases. This also includes the selling of glands to trappers as well. A gallon of coon glands go for well over $40 and all it involves is an extra 5 minutes while skinning to cut the vent and section of the intestine out and throw in a jug in the freezer. Before you throw the carcass away, take off the head with a saw and throw it in the freezer as well. Lot of people are looking for skulls and skeletons, either with the meat on or cleaned by dermastid beetles. A meat-on skull will sell from $1 to $5 depending on the animal. Simply freeze and then advertise on taxidermy or trapping websites to get customers. You can wrap them securely in plastic and newspaper and ship overnight or next day without the danger or thawing. Another idea is to get you a colony of beetles that will strip and eat the meat off the skull in a matter of days and you have a product that some will pay upwards of $10 to $50 for especially if it is whitened with peroxide and have the teeth intact or glued into place. Last but not least, remove the penis bones from raccoons for a Appalachian novelty that sells well in my home state of TN. Legend has it that this “Tennessee Toothpick” was used as stoppers on moon shine stills when the whiskey was flowing into bottles too fast. These can be sold for $5 in various markets.
There are many ideas that today’s trapper can use to make money and continue to enjoy the traditions of the trap line. The fur market will not always be as low as it has been but its nice to have some ways to fall back on and still make a profit from something we all dearly love. Whether its the feel of fur under our hands or the cool morning air as well walk our trapline, no matter the pay, this is all worth it.