Neil Olson’s trappers convention: Fur prices lure trap buyers

J.P. Wilson of Morrisonville, N.Y., leads a workshop on water trapping during the 36th annual New England Trappers Weekend in Bethel on Saturday.
Daryn Slover | Sun Journal
J.P. Wilson of Morrisonville, N.Y., leads a workshop on water trapping during the 36th annual New England Trappers Weekend in Bethel on Saturday.
Posted Aug. 26, 2012, at 6:42 a.m.

BETHEL, Maine — People turned out in droves to buy traps on Saturday from vendors at Neil Olson’s 36th annual New England Trappers Weekend.

For the most part, people weren’t buying furs, Tom Stevens of Stevens Fur Co. of Dedham said. A former trapper, he now buys and sells furs for a living.

“What people are buying here are traps and supplies, because this is a trappers’ convention, and trappers aren’t going to buy a lot of fur, because they have their own furs,” Stevens said.

“Seventy percent of the money spent here is on traps … and I believe it’s tied to the spike in fur prices.

“Now if I go to some other type of event, they’ll buy the furs like crazy. If you go to the Fryeburg Fair, they buy furs like crazy.”

Despite the country’s economic woes, fur prices for muskrat, marten, bobcat, otter and beaver have all risen and stayed up since last winter, he said.

“Prices were up a bit at auctions last winter and it has sparked the interest,” Ted Perkins, of the Maine Trappers Association, said. He was busy signing up new members and selling raffle tickets for a 30-gun raffle.

Perkins said prices for marten, otter and bobcat have been good, whereas “muskrat has been fantastic.”

“Beaver has gone up, so it’s half decent,” he said. “When the dollar weakens, that also helps our price.”

All of which is good news for New York vendors like Jim Geffert, the owner of Night Owl Lures and rancher Perley Champney of Vermont.

“People here today are looking for skunk-based lures for fisher,” said Geffert, who extracts a quarter to half an ounce of pure skunk essence per euthanized nuisance skunk for his product Crossbones. One ounce sells for $5 on his website.

It also works for martens, he said.

“It’s a good draw for fishers, because it calls them in from long distances,” Geffert said.

Champney said he has more of an advantage as a vendor at Olson’s event, because he sells trapping and hunting supplies and trap parts and pieces.

He said he got into the business after the fur trade collapsed along with the stock market in 1987.

“Everybody thought I was nuts, but it was something I wanted to do,” said Champney, who has trapped for more than five decades.

“A lot of its because I know what it’s like to stand on the other side of the table and not have a lot to work with.”

Fur prices dominated talk on Saturday morning at some vendors’ booths.

“Muskrat fur is the highest it’s ever been in the history of the fur trade,” Stevens said.

“They averaged $10 this year. I mean, they were higher than that. Some people will tell you they got $13 and some will tell you they got $15, but I’m talking average.

“Up until two or three years ago, muskrats were $2 or $3,” he said. “Most people would have figured $5 to $6 is a good price for muskrats.

“They talk of this fur business being as high as it’s ever been at auction companies if you talk to them, and I’ve been buying furs since 1975, and I’m trying to figure out why they say that,” Stevens said.

“Because red foxes back then were $75 to $80 and now they’re saying they’re really high and they’re selling for $30, $40, but that’s still half of what they were back 30 or 40 years ago.

“But muskrat, there’s no question they’re higher,” he said.

People of all ages carried traps — from rustic looking to flashy new wire and cable snares of all sizes — while shopping for the best deals.

Several carried back to their vehicles newly-crafted tanning hide stretcher boards or skin-drying boards, which resembled long, skinny ironing boards without stands.

The convention began on Friday offering many national vendors and hourly seminars from experts detailing the trade. These continued through Saturday, along with children’s activities like eel racing.

By 10 a.m. Saturday, more than 1,000 people of all ages had passed through the front gate, a ticket seller said.

“Neil Olson’s is an institution and a lot of people like to come to this.” Perkins said.

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