The 2017-2018 trapping season is upon us, and trappers everywhere are looking for a clue as to what fur prices will bring. Since the crash in the fur market a few years back, it’s been tougher to get information on fur prices until late in the selling season, after trappers have harvested, prepared and shipped most of their furs. This makes it difficult to determine where to focus your trapping effort. However, there’s still a lot of information we can use to predict what we’ll see for fur prices this season.
The fur market ended on a low note last season, with NAFA’s July fur auction turning into a bit of a fire sale. The few buyers bidding on fur were looking for deals, and in many cases, they got them. The continued low market that’s spilling into this year’s selling season hinges on a couple of key factors: the price of oil and the value of the U.S. Dollar.
The bulk of the fur that we trappers harvest is ultimately consumed by Russia, and a strong Russian economy is critical to maintaining a solid fur market. Russia’s economy is overwhelmingly dependent on oil exports, and the recent crash in oil prices sent the Russian economy into a tailspin that it hasn’t yet recovered from. In addition, a strong U.S. Dollar makes our exports more costly for foreign countries to purchase, making buying U.S. fur even less attractive.
There is some encouraging news – oil prices have been slowly creeping up, and the value of the dollar has gone down in recent months. Still, conditions remain in a rough state, and we shouldn’t expect a recovery in fur prices anytime soon.
So in a nutshell, expect the low prices we saw at the NAFA July 2017 auction to continue into this season. Below are some predictions based on today’s information for individual species.
Beaver – This is probably one of the most disappointing fur items in today’s market. Beaver will be a tough sell this season. The hatter (felt) market is strong, but hatter beaver can be low quality, early, southern pelts, and typically command low prices. There will be little premium for fully prime northern beaver. Sadly, $8 – 12 average is about what we can expect at this point.
Raccoon – Some buzz was going around this summer about a bump in coon prices. Unfortunately, I’m pretty certain this was just a rumor. All information points to an almost nonexistent coon market this season. Demand for raccoon in this fall’s fashion lines isn’t there, and it’s speculated that a huge volume of coon pelts are being held in cold storage in hopes of a bump in the market. Those pelts will need to be sold at some point. A $5 coon average this season is probably a safe bet, with better money for some of the higher quality skins. This could change throughout the season depending on the size of the harvest.
Muskrat – with a recent rise in ranch mink prices, muskrats should see a small bump in price. The major auction houses held back a lot of rats this past season in hopes for better prices, but for the most part this didn’t materialize. I’m guessing rats will average around $3 this season.
Coyote – the coyote market continues its strength, bucking the trend of most other furs. The higher quality pale western coyotes are holding their high price, though eastern dogs have taken a bit of a drop recently. Western coyotes should average $50-75, with Eastern goods bringing around $20-30.
Mink – we’ve seen a long term average for wild mink around $10 for the past decade or so without much variation, but this year wild mink may average a little less, maybe around $8.
Otter – expect around $20 average for otter, possibly $30.
Bobcat – this is a high end item that has gone down a bit in price over the past few years, but demand for high quality bobcat skins from the western states remains high. Averages around $300 should continue, with much better prices for select, super high quality, well spotted cats. Eastern goods should fetch around $50-100, and southern cats may get around $25-50.
Red Fox – prices for reds haven’t varied much over the years, but may be a bit lower this year. Look for around $15-20 for the better pelts, single digits for flat or lower quality foxes.
Marten – low harvest makes these a bit of a specialty item that is still in demand, and prices shouldn’t be much different from last season. Alaskan and Canadian marten should average around $75, semi-heavy marten from areas like northern Maine should average $30-40, and marten from the western U.S. states will probably be worth $20-30. Marten trappers would be wise to get their furs to the Fur Harvesters Auction sale in Helsinki, Finland next March for the best price.
Fisher – these are similar to marten – limited supply specialty items. They’ve taken a hit in recent years. Fisher should range in price from $20-40 this season.
Lynx – prices continue to be disappointing, and I feel bad for northern trappers who relied on lynx pelts for a large part of their income. The same skins that brought over $200 on average just a few years ago are lucky to get $70. Expect lynx to be in that $70 range again this season.
Overall, it’s going to be another tough market for trappers this year. Many folks will drop out of the ranks and move on to other things. Others will continue trapping because it’s part of their culture, they enjoy it, and they just can’t imagine not trapping a season. For me, these low prices present an opportunity to become a better trapper. With fewer trappers out there, competition is less of an issue and I can take the opportunity to try different things and learn trapping techniques – and make mistakes – at a pretty low cost.
There’s always a chance that the market will pick up, and we trappers are eternal optimists when it comes to fur prices. Still, it’s good to enter the season with eyes wide open to the reality that is this year’s fur market. Good luck and happy trapping!