Barry Warner is well aware that fur prices are expected to be higher than they’ve been in years, but that’s not what motivates him to run a trapline this season.
A love of the sport is what compels the Dallas resident to string steel on the land and in the water.
Warner, who is the assistant director for District 9 of the Pennsylvania Trapper’s Association, has been running a trapline for years regardless of fur prices. He said prices have been climbing a little bit each year but it doesn’t impact his desire to trap.
“The number one objective is to enjoy the sport,” Warner said. “If you consider the price of traps, lures and gas, you’re not going to come out ahead.
“I trap with a friend and we’re not out there to hang up big numbers. Our main concern is to enjoy the experience and not have a detrimental impact on the species.”
Last season’s fur sale hosted by District 9 resulted in hefty average prices for virtually every species, including red fox ($37.95), gray fox ($29.50), raccoon ($14.65) and muskrat ($11.68). Even coyote pelts, which historically haven’t commanded high prices, resulted in a decent average price of $18.96.
Many trappers and fur buyers are expecting somewhat higher prices for most species this season, and that could lead to more people running traplines this fall and winter.
Bill Williams, who is the information and education supervisor for the Pennsylvania Game Commission’s Northeast Region, said prices usually have a direct impact on participation in trapping. From 2006 to 2012, sales of resident adult furtaker licenses have increased each year, to a high of 38,341 last year. In 2002, only 19,251 adult furtaker licenses were sold.
“Fur prices drive trapper numbers,” Williams said. “That includes new trappers and those returning who may not have participated in the past.”
While Warner said it’s good to see more people becoming involved in trapping, the higher rate of participation puts an increased emphasis on the importance of education. All 12 districts of the trapper’s association conduct annual trapper training programs, and the Game Commission holds Successful Furtaking courses across the state.
Considering that less than two out of every 1,000 Pennsylvania residents are trappers, Warner said education is imperative in order to keep the public’s support of regulated, responsible and ethical furtaking.
“That could change with just one irresponsible act,” he said. “Although fur prices may be higher, the main goal is to conduct ourselves in a responsible and ethical manner.”
And that isn’t limited to public image. Williams said trapping plays a vital role in managing the populations of furbearers. As a result, he said, diseases such as rabies and mange are held in check. Warner added the control of furbearers such as raccoon, opossum and skunks helps limit predation on ground-nesting birds, while management of fox and coyote populations helps keep them in balance with prey species such as rabbit.
But what do ethics and responsibility really mean when it comes to trapping?
For Warner, it’s about using the right equipment and even modifying traps.
“There are dog proof traps designed so that the only animal that can get their foot in the trap is a raccoon or opossum,” he said. “And there are modifications that can be made to foothold traps, such as laminating the jaws for a more humane hold.
“There are even precautions that are taken now with the higher coyote numbers in the state. I recommend using double stakes or earth anchors in case a coyote gets into a set so it won’t pull out.”
Warner targets just about every furbearer species on his trapline and keeps tabs on population trends during the summer and early fall. He said the region has decent numbers of gray fox, while reds can be found in farming areas.
Raccoon populations are high as well, he said, as are mink and beaver.
“Last season, with the ice staying on late, it prevented some beavers from being taken, so their numbers look extremely good,” Warner said.
When it comes to muskrats, however, Warner said the population has declined in many areas.
“If I get a complaint from a landowner about muskrats, I’ll trap them. But in an area where they have a chance to come back, I’ll leave it alone,” he said.
While trapping season for all furbearer species except mink, muskrat and beaver have already begun, Williams said the northeast part of the state remains a stronghold when it comes to trapper numbers.
“It’s pretty popular here. We always get decent numbers at our trapper education and cable restraint courses, and there’s always new trappers looking to get involved,” he said.
Warner welcomes the increase in trappers, but he hopes they do it for the right reasons.
“To be a trapper you have to know so much about the species — habits, food preferences. It’s a challenge to go after a coyote, which has a home range of 10 miles, and get that animal to step onto a small trap pan,” Warner said. “I get a lot of pleasure out of trapping and putting up that beautiful fur. I have a lot of respect for the species and trapping is really a part of who I am.”