One big plus about trapping is that you have the opportunity to cover your expenses, and even make money. Now don’t get me wrong, you’re aren’t going to get rich from trapping. There is alot of hard work that goes into trapping, and that’s before you even catch an animal. When you get to the point of skinning, fleshing, and stretching fur, that is what separates the men from the boys.
There are plenty of “trappers” out there that sell their fur on the carcass or green (skinned but not fleshed), and I’m not knocking those guys and gals, its a huge time investment. But there is something to be said for taking an animal from a carcass to a beautiful piece of fur ready for market. When you run your fingers through a finished hide there is an enormous amount of pride for the hard work that went into handling that fur. And even more so should you get a coveted “Top Lot” Award, which means your fur graded as one of the best furs in its category.
You can watch my videos on skinning, fleshing, and stretching a beaver. The process is similar for most other furbearers, except than every other animal is case skinned versus open skinned. So with a raccoon or fox you wouldn’t cut it down the belly.
One question I hear often is what do you put on the hide when stretching it to preserve it. Absolutely nothing. You just want the hide to air dry, it will last for a long time dried as long as you keep it away from moisture and bugs. You don’t want to put any kind of preservative on the hide because it could affect the tanning process once the buyer purchases the hide. The only exception to this is you may find in handy to use borax from time to time. I’ve seen people use borax on bobcats or coyotes that were getting a “green” belly. This will stop the rotting process and help the hide dry quicker. I also occasionally use borax on the head and around the base of the ears of coyotes, bobcats, and foxes simply because these areas can take longer to dry than the rest of the hide and I don’t want any part of the fur starting to slip.
Slip, or slippage, is what you call it when the fur starts to come out of the hide. This immediately destroys the value of the hide because buyers want intact furs and do not want to risk buying a half spoiled fur.
So the obvious way to make money trapping is by selling your furs. You should be warned that the fur market is very volatile and cyclical. When fur is in fashion, or when Russia is having a particularly cold winter, demand can be high, and thus price can rise, but just as quickly it can plummet.
During the mid 2000’s otter prices were sky high. It was nothing to average $150 for a single otter hide, and that’s southern hides, which are usually less valuable. Otter fur was in high demand in China and trappers were seriously pursuing otters. Then one day the Dali Lama spoke against wearing otter fur, and overnight those $100 hides turned to $20 hides, if you could sell them at all. The lesson here is always take fur prices with a grain of salt.
Selling hides is the obvious money making option, but there are many others trappers can capitalize on. Where legal, carcass markets can be beneficial. In many areas of the south raccoon carcasses can bring more than the fur is worth. There are other areas of the country where selling beaver carcasses for dog food is common, particularly in areas of the north where people have sled dogs or bear dogs. There is also the option, if you can find it of selling beaver, or other, carcasses to zoos or facilities with big cats. It can pay to think outside the box to make the most with what you’ve got.
Glands are an option as well. Many trapping supply dealers will buy different glands to use in lure making. The two big ones are beaver castor and skunk essence, which can be tricky to extract. And there are many small glands in canines and bobcats that are desired, you just have to know where they are located. Alot of places will also buy whole muskrats, for the glands and the meat.
Next you’ve got bones, especially skulls. It can really help to do some networking with taxidermists. Anyone who has dermestid beetles has to keep fresh meat for them all the time, and there are several large skull cleaning outfits that will buy large quantities of raw skulls for cleaning and selling. The more unusual species are usually in higher demand, like bobcat and otter. Of course to sell the skull it can’t have a bullet hole in it, so care must be taken in dispatching an animal to ensure you aren’t damaging the product.
Other bones can be sold as well. Baculum bones are a novelty that can usually be sold as are teeth. Typically the larger the quantity the more success you will have. You should also check with your local regulations, as some states do not allow the sale of carcasses or bones.
I mentioned taxidermists with the bones, but they can also be a really good outlet for whole animals as well. If you catch any animal that is out of the ordinary or has an unusual feature (melanism/albanism or some other oddball color) it can pay nicely to have a taxidermy connection, especially since many times these furs are less desirable from a fur buyer’s perspective. A nicely spotted bobcat can bring top dollar too, possibly more from a taxidermist than from the fur market. It can be worthwhile to talk with some larger taxidermists as well, I’ve run into situations where a taxidermist had a large order for a variety of wildlife to mount for one of the large outdoor stores. Talk about a gold mine, they may buy everything you catch.
Another plus to dealing with taxidermists is they usually like to skin the animal themselves, to ensure the job is done right, that’s less work for the trapper. Just keep in mind you’ve got to have a really nice specimen with little to no damage and you may need to freeze the animal whole for a period of time until the taxidermist can pick it up.
I’ve had a lot of luck dealing with taxidermists, selling everything from whole animals to boxes of frozen skulls. It is definitely worth pursuing.
An option that may be appealing during low fur prices is having your furs tanned and selling them to individuals tanned. It can be a bit of a gamble, and takes more of an investment, but if you can get some buyers lined up it can be a nice way to bump your fur check up. Unless you’ve got some tanning experience though my advice would be to have them professionally tanned. I tried tanning myself and it turned into a big ordeal and I just could not get a nice finished hide. The fur tanned fine but the flesh side of the hide was stiff and rough, compared to a professionally tanned fur that is soft and supple. I finally gave up and decided from now on I’d ship off anything I wanted tanned (you can read more about my fur tanning experiment here)
In some areas of the country bounties are still in place. That simply means someone will pay you for killing that animal. In the south there are some places that offer a beaver bounty, so they will pay so much per beaver tail. This can provide you more of an incentive, but there are always people cheating the system, which is why the bounty system has been phased out in many places.
The follow up to that would be to get paid for your trapping services, a nuisance trapper basically. You would charge a landowner for getting rid of whatever animal he/she wants to get rid of. This is one thing that does have potential to turn into a business. The one thing I would caution anyone who is contemplating this angle is to not sell yourself short. It can sometimes be hard to put a price on your time or your ability, but you want to make sure it is worth your time to be doing the project in the first place. Too many people, especially beginner trappers, set their initial prices too low, which makes it hard to move price up afterwards. Your time is valuable, your knowledge is valuable, if it wasn’t that landowner would be solving the problem himself. Also keep in mind that most states require a special nuisance trapping license that is separate from your fur trapping license, so double check that.
Don’t by any means take this as a comprehensive list of ways to make money from trapping, these are just a few that I have experience with. I’d say get as creative as you can in finding ways to make trapping pay, you never know what may come up. Just remember we aren’t doing this strictly for the money. We trap because it is part of our heritage and it is our responsibility as conservationists to ensure good stewardship of our natural resources.