Traditionally, it’s been common to provide a reasonably accurate picture of what the fur market is going to look like by the time fall rolls around and trapping season gets underway. But the past few years have been anything but traditional in the fur market, and uncertainty is the new name of the game.
These days a large percentage of the fur that’s harvested in the fall and early winter months won’t be sold until the following spring, or even summer, making it difficult to predict what will happen. But one thing we know for sure is that fur is in less demand than it was years ago, and most items are going to be difficult to sell for prices that most fur harvesters would consider reasonable.
As I’ve said in the past, the modern fur market is global. Unlike the historic market, where a great deal of domestic production was consumed in North America, today’s market relies on buyers in China, Greece, Italy, Russia and Korea. Unlike in the U.S., fur is fashionable in these places, and the economic well being of their consumers is critical in driving the market. China is the largest buyer. With the global pandemic spreading through urban centers in the country, Chinese cities have been in and out of lockdown for the past year or so. These lockdowns grind local economies to a halt. People can’t get out to shops to buy fur coats and other garments. There’s also little reason to spend on fashionable clothing when folks aren’t going out and socializing like they once did. All of this means bad news for fur dealers in China and those who supply them.
Similarly, Russia has been one of the largest buyers of fur globally. Despite disruptions in trade as a result of the ongoing war, the value of the Russian ruble has held up, indicating that Russia’s buying power in relation to the U.S. dollar is pretty good. That said, trade relations have almost completely broken down between Russia and most of the Western world, making for a much more challenging environment to sell fur into.
All of that said, there still is a market for wild fur, it’s just not what it once was, and it may be more challenging to get some furs sold at any price.
Fur Harvesters Auction, Inc. is the one remaining fur auction house in North America, and sells a large portion of the wild fur produced in the U.S. and Canada. Travel restrictions from the pandemic and war related sanctions have made it impossible to hold an in-person auction for international buyers to attend in Ontario. With continued online auctions, fur can be sold, but buyers have less confidence in what they are buying without being able to thoroughly inspect the lots, and are often willing to pay less. An eventual resumption in the traditional auction format, perhaps in 2023, should help with fur prices, provided global demand for fur products recovers.
Groenewold Fur & Wool Company, the largest private buyer of wild fur in the U.S., has close connections with the fur market in China and monitors day to day sales of fur items in numerous Chinese shops. Groenewold regularly runs fur buying routes across the midwestern U.S. throughout the trapping season. After discontinuing many fur buying routes last season due to the lack of fur sales, the company expects to resume routes and actively buy fur this coming season. The question is, how much will they pay?
Fashion trends continue to drag on the fur market. Despite all of the obvious benefits of fur – its incredible warmth and durability, sustainable management, environmental friendliness and biodegradability, and the necessity to harvest animals to manage healthy populations, the animal rights movement continues to influence the industry and fashion. Several fashion lines have announced they’ll discontinue using fur. Canada Goose – the largest buyer of coyote pelts and trendsetter in fur lined parka fashion, has gone ‘fur free’. In addition, several cities in the U.S. have passed rules banning the sale of fur products, and some states are contemplating fur bans as well. Just when we should be celebrating the benefits of wild fur, society seems to be running away from it.
We know the overall trend in the fur market isn’t great, but what about specifics on certain species? Even in poor markets, there’s usually a bright spot somewhere. Let’s take a look.
Coyote – For years coyotes were the one standout in an overall poor fur market. This was driven primarily by the trendy fur lined parka hoods sold by Canada Goose and other similar coat companies. The trend appears to have finally reached its end, and demand for coyote pelts dropped off a cliff last year. That’s unfortunate because coyotes are one of the most prolific furbearing species, and humans benefit greatly from responsible, sustainable levels of coyote harvest. With the low prices to come, we may not see much harvest for fur, and animal damage control trapping will likely need to play a larger role in harvesting coyotes. The best quality Heavy western coyotes will still be in demand, but at a lower price, likely around $30-40.
With the limited demand for coyote pelts likely to be filled by western heavies, the lower quality Eastern and Southern coyotes will be priced low, with Easterns bringing in the $15-25 range and the rest around $10-15.
Muskrat pelts did okay last year, particularly early in the selling season, but the continued low price of ranch mink and lots of held over rat pelts from last year will have an impact. I’d expect $2-3 on average for muskrats.
The market for raccoon pelts continues to be very poor. A very abundant item with low demand and high processing costs has created a situation where it’s going to be difficult if not impossible to sell many raccoon skins at any price. The best quality pelts – the largest sizes that are fully prime and undamaged – will have demand and may sell for $10-15, but the rest may not sell at all, or if they do, average in the low single digits. It would be wise to keep only the best of your raccoon catch for the fur market.
Beaver pelts are used in two very different markets. The most prime northern beaver pelts with long guard hairs and thick underfur command very high value, but these are costly to produce and demand is limited to a small portion of the overall beaver market. This results in high prices being paid for winter caught beaver from sections that produce dark pelts. These may turn into plucked, dyed and sheared garments sold in high end markets, or into niche items like hats, mitts and blankets.
It only takes a small number of pelts to satisfy the demand for better quality beaver, and the remainder mostly go to the hatter market. These pelts are ground and crushed into felt and used to make cowboy hats. Pelt quality isn’t a concern for the low end markets, any beaver pelt can be used, and they don’t pay well. There seems to be no middle market for beaver pelts these days.
Top quality beaver pelts may get $25 or more this year (which might be one of the few bright spots in the market), with northern collections likely averaging around $15-20. Beaver from most other places will probably continue to average in the $10-12 range.
Beaver castor continues to be in high demand. Low beaver harvest means supply hasn’t satisfied this demand in recent years, which has resulted in high prices. Last year we entered the season with castor averaging close to $100/lb. The market weakened throughout the season and I was hearing reports of $60-70/lb, but the late season auctions saw a run-up in price back to the $100 mark. We’ll likely continue to see castor sell at last year’s levels.
Otter prices haven’t changed much in years. They’ll probably continue to sell for $15-25, which is a shame for such a nice quality pelt. I’ve had all of my otter pelts tanned the past couple of years and have explored several ideas for unique uses of these pelts.
Marten was one of the items that sold a bit better than expected toward the end of last season. With uncertainty around the availability of Russian sable in the world market, many buyers may turn to North American marten as an alternative. Heavy marten from northern Canada and Alaska should bring north of $40 with some room for advancement, with Lower 48 marten in the $20-30 range.
Fisher will probably continue to average $20-30. This is another item I’ve chosen to have tanned and seek alternative markets for rather than sell into a poor price environment.
The demand for better quality Western bobcats has waned recently. Instead of averaging $300-500 like in years past, I think the new reality for these is in the $200-300 range. The good news is that the lower end of the bobcat market has moved up over the past year or so. These bobcats, from Canada and parts of the Lower 48 outside of the top Western sections, may continue to bring averages of $60-90. However, any weakness in the market could send these prices down to the $30-50 range.
Nobody seems interested in Red Fox or Greys. They’ll probably fetch around $10 on average.
Skunks will sell well – there always seems to be a specialty market for them – at about $5, perhaps more at local auctions.
Norther wilderness trappers – those living a lifestyle myself and others have dreamed about – are fortunate enough to have a few species that will sell well even in poor markets. Wolves and wolverine are harvested in small numbers and always have adequate demand at respectable prices, around $250-500 on average. Canada lynx aren’t in great demand but have been selling at slightly advanced levels recently, and a limited harvest may help put lynx averages north of $60. Granted, this may be small consolation for a northern trapper with the elevated price of fuel and supplies needed to travel great distances in the bush.
For several years doing this fur market report I’ve hoped we’d seen the bottom and had better prices just around the corner, but the rebound has yet to materialize, and the reality is that it may not happen any time soon. The market is changing, and we as trappers and fur harvesters are going to have to change and adapt with it. In the words of the old mountain man, “fur will shine again”. Will it be as bright as the days of past fur booms, or just a glimmer of its former self? Time will tell.