Trapping season for furbearers opens Saturday, November 2, and outdoorsmen will head out in pursuit of most anything covered in fur. Muskrats, mink, raccoon and fox are the most common quarry, and occasionally even a skunk or opossum pelt will show up in the local fur markets.
Fur prices have gradually increased over the years to the point where a good trapper can make a few dollars now. It is hard work and trap routes must be checked daily, but for those that love the out-of-doors, the cash reward can be secondary to the sheer enjoyment of just being out there.
Strangely enough, times have changed. Forty years ago, we didn’t trap for coyotes or otters or fishers. They just did not exist in this area or in the northern part of the state where this writer grew up.
In fact, this is only the third year that otter trapping will be legal. Otters were introduced back into the state in the 1980s and have done very well, becoming established in just about every county. According to the WVDNR website, 192 otters were harvested last year in the state and 10 were taken in Pocahontas County. Several were taken on Stony Creek in the general area of the Fish Hatchery where they perpetuated a lot of mischief and ate a lot of fish. The raceways of the hatchery were like a McDonalds, a regular fast food buffet for otters. Others were seen on the Greenbrier and Elk headwaters and could be just about anywhere.
Bobcats and beaver may be the trapping mainstays. Nearly 2,000 bobcats were checked in last year along with 1,742 beaver. In recent years, beaver had become a real problem by damming small creeks and culverts, flooding meadows and chewing up fruit trees and young forests. Pelt prices were depressed and trapping was not worthwhile. Those prices may have turned the corner for now and headed up.
Another less common furbearer is the fisher, a medium-size member of the weasel family. They prefer the high spruce country of the mountaintops and live on red squirrels, snowshoe hare and porcupines as well as insects, mushrooms, fruits and anything scrounged from the forest floor. Fishers were re-introduced to the mountains about 35 years ago and have gradually established a foothold, but their favorite red spruce habitat will always be limited. Still, the DNR reported that 130 fishers were checked in by trappers last year.
Otters and fishers must be checked in at an official game checking station or with a Department of Natural Resources representative. Bobcat and beaver must also be checked in, and the game checking tag provided by the DNR must remain attached to the pelt of any of these four until it is sold or processed. In addition, any otter or bobcat that is sold out of state must also have a CITES seal from the state where it was harvested. The CITES seals are only available at DNR offices.
DNR officials are also collecting otter carcasses for population studies. Hopefully biologists will use these to guide future management decisions.
Fur prices have increased because of higher international demand.
At the WV Trappers Association auction in Glenville last spring, average bobcat pelts were bringing in nearly $125 apiece while the average beaver skin was going for $25. Otters were bid in at up to $117 each while fisher ranged from $80 to $105.
The second part of the split turkey season runs through November 16.
There will be a limited bear hunt during the Buck Firearm Season in Pocahontas and 18 other counties. Hunters must have received a permit from the DNR from applications sent in earlier in the summer or be resident landowners. This is for private land only and no dogs are allowed at this time.
Dave Curry is a telescope operator at the NRAO and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org