Fur trapping is part of wildlife management

TRAPPING is an outdoor activity that involves many skills. Close observation of the details of how wild fur bearer animals live day-to-day is one important aspect. Those details are predominantly sign left as tracks the ground (or snow) of travels they make in search of food. Each species has its own habitats and habitats. Learning the who, what, where and when for furred animals is a huge part of successful trapping.

Special equipment for the task requires traps of various sizes and design to fit the need. The cost of traps is just one factor that must be borne. Learning how to set them correctly to properly target only the animal one is after comes after lots of experience. This is the “art” portion of this outdoor skill, tricks of the trade so to speak, of what works best most often. Another cost is appropriate licenses. The trapper also needs to dress for all kinds of weather and that means boots, heavy clothing and other special gear to wade streams, persist through snowy fields, muddy stream banks. The effort expended to find, set up and run a trap line can be extensive, financially and physically.

Keep in mind that if one invests the time, special tools and equipment and money to go trapping, you will soon learn that doing so is for the enjoyment of the effort. It is certainly not for any financial big windfall. Fur prices fluctuate with world wide demand. And demand is different for each species because the furs of some animals are best suited for a wide variety of clothing trim or other applications.

Fur buyers know the market and what they pay is reflected on what they can afford to offer someone who brings in raccoon, muskrat, fox, coyote, bobcat, opossum, badger or striped skunk hides. Well groomed, cleaned, stretched and dried furs prepared by the trapper will always bring an improved price because all the hard work has been accomplished before the sale. Animals brought in still frozen on the carcass bring lower prices precisely because lots of work remains before the furs can be offered to fur auction houses. As an example, a raccoon pelt from early in the season may not be prime, the term used by trappers and fur buyers to denote the quality of the fur. As colder weather approaches in late fall and winter, the hair of fur bearing animals is in much better condition to help the animal withstand the rigors of winter weather. Prime furs bring better prices. But remember, better price is always a relative term because demand dictates how much a buyer can pay. Raccoon pelts are lucky to bring $12 dollars today. A good large prime mink pelt may bring $15. The bottom line is that trapping is a skill enjoyed by a very small number of outdoors men and women. If they factored in their time, it would soon become apparent that this outdoor endeavor is not going to make big money ever. The love of the trapping, its required skills and the appreciation for the management contribution to wildlife populations is the passion that has to drive this outdoor activity.

Trapping licenses sold in Iowa in 2013 shape up like this: Residents purchased 19,334 fur harvester licenses. An additional 810 combo fur license with habitat fee, a new license option last year, were sold. Trapping season end dates for most species of fur bearing animals is Jan. 31. Beaver is the one exception as that season ends April 15. Coyote fit into a bracket of its own with a continuous open season.

HUNTING seasons are also winding down. The pheasant, late muzzleloader and archery deer and archery fall turkey seasons closed Jan. 10. The special late January antlerless deer, in select counties of southern Iowa, will still be held Jan. 11 through the 19. Cottontail rabbit season continues until Feb. 28. Crow hunting season begins Jan. 14 and goes through March 31. Waterfowlers can still go after snow geese under the authority of the light goose conservation order between Jan. 18 and April 15.

A series of new hunting and fishing license options were introduced in 2013. More than 68,000 Iowans took advantage of these choices. Part of the promotion was the chance to win $50 gift cards for use in sponsoring retailer’s stores. The stores offering the gift cards came from all over Iowa with one to three gift cards per store. DNR Director Chuck Gipp said “we greatly appreciate the partnership of license retailers from all across Iowa that participated and helped make the new license offering successful.”

Here is the breakdown on the new licenses: 16,439 people bought the three year fishing license. A bonus line option for fishermen sold 6,388, which allows a third line in the water instead of the limit of two for regular licenses. 6,356 hunters bought a three year hunting license. And 38, 975 people purchased the Outdoor Combo for hunting, fishing and habitat stamps. These license options were offered after a survey of hunters and anglers of what licenses most interested them. By bundling several privileges into one package, a convenience was established in addition to a modest price reduction.

FISHING license data for 2013 is now available, a bit of year end review by the numbers. The electronic license sale data shows that 241,332 people bought annual fishing privileges. Lifetime fishing sales numbered 6,469. For the occasional fisher person, 1,183 seven day licenses went out the door, and 2,899 one day licenses. Trout stamp sales numbered 37,493.

On the hunting side of the ledger, 56,180 annual hunting licenses were bought, 2,380 lifetime licenses, 55,733 habitat fees, and 25,717 migratory game bird fees. Deer hunters got their tags to the tune of 53,795 for shotgun season 1 and 44,712 for shotgun season 2. Archers bought 54,069 tags for deer and 19,078 late deer tags for either muzzle loaders or bow. Youth made purchases of 9,975 deer permits. Spring turkey hunters for seasons 1, 2 and 3 had licenses numbering 18,025. Season 4 turkey came in at 15,823. Archery turkey tags went out to 5,904 spring time frame bowhunters. Youth spring turkey tags tallied in at 4,043.

All of the license fees paid by sportsmen and women contribute directly to fisheries and wildlife management on public lands. In addition, these funds support fish and game law enforcement programs by Iowa game wardens. There are no statewide general tax payer appropriations to this segment of Iowa DNR operations. Other non wildlife segments, divisions, and bureaus (State Parks for one example) of the DNR do depend on legislative appropriations.

The list of CONSERVATION organization related dates to put on the calendar will grow this winter. Here are just a few: Pheasants Forever holds its statewide convention Jan. 31 Feb. 1. Feb. 8 is the local Bear Grove Chapter of Whitetails Unlimited banquet at Marshalltown’s KC Hall. DUCKS UNLIMITED’s State Convention is Feb. 14-15. The local DU Marshalltown area banquet will be March 15. Local deer hunters can bring antlers for scoring to the Grimes Farm and Conservation Center the evening of Feb. 18, a Tuesday night. The Iowa DEER CLASSIC is Feb. 28 March 2. All of these “cabin fever” therapies help inspire outdoors people going into 2014.

Garry Brandenburg is a graduate of Iowa State University with BS degree in Fish & Wildlife Biology. He is the retired director of the Marshall County Conservation Board. Contact him at PO Box 96, Albion, IA 50005.