DANVILLE – Fox, coyote, muskrats, beavers and bobcats all were spotted last month at the Montour-Delong Fairgrounds on Route 254 … at least, their pelts were.
Trappers hauled these and other Pennsylvania fur-bearing species into a building there for a fur sale organized by District 7 of the Pennsylvania Trappers Association, which encompasses Lycoming, Clinton, Centre, Union, Northumberland, Montour, Columbia and Sullivan counties.
Pennsylvania has quite an international market for furs, which happens to be one of the very few things that the United States actually exports to other countries.
Hundreds of those furs came from about 94 trappers who waited for buyers to grade the furs and then bid on them.
These sales can get pretty competitive. A lot of fur comes in the doors, and a lot of money goes out.
“When they get here, they come up and register what furs they have by species. The tables all start to fill up and the live auction starts. The buyers stand against the wall and can bid per piece, or like 30 fox for $30 apiece,” said Peter Rake, District 7 director for the trappers association.
The buyers then take the furs and usually sell them to brokers. Afterward, most of the furs are exported.
“A lot go to Canada,” Rake said. “China is the biggest market. They have the largest middle class population than any other country. They have now started to buy luxury items.”
Pennsylvania furs also may end up in markets in Russia, Italy and Greece.
Donald “Dutch” Elsasser, of McAlisterville, in central Pennsylvania’s Juniata County, sorted through fox pelts with help from his daughter, Wendy. They were grading the furs before the next round of the sale began.
“They grade the color; prime, which is the inside color; size; and if there is damage,” Rake said. “These things determine how much they are going to pay.”
“When grading the furs, we are deciding what we would bid on and the quality of the fur, the size ” Elsasser explained further.
He has been in the fur business for more than 54 years and owns and operates Cocolamus Creek Supplies, a trapping supply store.
Elsasser used to trap often but, now at age 75, he said, “I can’t do things I used to, unfortunately but I can buy fur.”
A sale like this one, he said, can be a demanding day, sometimes lasting from early morning to late in the evening.
“You just raise your hand really, you aren’t sure what you are going to get for the fur. I can tell you this, the fur was well paid at that sale. It sold good and there was competition, that is what drove some of the prices,” he said.
Elsasser will take the fur he purchased to another sale in May or June.
“The fur goes to Canada to be auctioned off up there … so to speak, I am selling to a broker,” he said.
Fur is sorted into categories by quality, color and four grades.
“Then it’s auctioned to the world,” Elsasser said.
The market often fluctuates. Elsasser noted said it would be nice if one knew exactly what, say, muskrat would be from time to time, but no one does.
“It’s a gamble of sorts, you follow me?” he said. “The price on the market is set by the world market and the world is a pretty big place out there.”
For fur buyers and sellers, last year was a good year. Elsasser agreed that things went well and, this year, he thinks those in the business were anticipating the same. But, he said, there were some downfalls, though he didn’t explain what they were.
“If it wouldn’t be for the foreign markets, we wouldn’t have a fur business or fur market,” Elsasser said. “I don’t know what we would do with it. We do not have the fashion to consume it. The trouble with fur is some frown on them when you wear it.”
Rake and Elsasser both agree trapping needs to be done.
“It’s actually population control. In this area, we have had a problem with mange in the red fox. It will – it may take awhile, like six months – but it (mange) will kill and it’s not a pleasant (death),” Rake said.
Trapping can help protect crops, property and livestock. Rake said it also helps to keep small game, turkeys and other animals thriving for hunters.
“They must be controlled one way or another, but you can’t over harvest it or under harvest it. It’s better to think them out,” Elsasser said.
The Pennsylvania Trappers Association is the oldest and largest trapping organization in the United States. In Rake’s district alone, more than 300 people are members.
Aside from holding sales such as this one, the organization listens to its members’ concerns about trapping and works with the state Game Commission to try to change or tweak seasons.
“One of those is the fisher season. It’s only five days long (and) we think it should be more like 10,” Rake said.