Wild fur and natural medicinals of the Appalachians

Red fox, bobcat, beaver and mink furs lay in a luxuriant pile on the back of Dayton Dove’s pickup truck. The furs, as well as medicinals, were purchased Tuesday during Dove’s visit to Marlinton. L.D. Bennett photos

Laura Dean Bennett
Staff Writer

You may have seen the ad for Dove’s Fur in The Pocahontas Times over the years and wondered just what this kind of business is all about.

Dayton Dove, right, is pictured with Terry Friend and his collection of chaga. Friend has been selling ginseng and chaga for many years. “Dayton’s always been a fair trader,” Friend said.

Well, it’s about a gentleman by the name of Dayton Dove who comes to the Pocahontas IGA parking lot in Marlinton every two weeks and buys not only wild furs and hides, but all manner of native medicinal plants and botanicals.

A good deal of Dove’s time is spent traveling, as he is usually in his pickup truck four days a week, plying his trade.

Dove said he has always enjoyed collecting and dealing in the wild furs, hides and medicinal botanicals of the region.

“And I’d enjoy it even more if the prices would come back up,” he said. “I have an ample supply of fur put back, waiting for the markets to rise again.”

Dove is extremely knowledgeable about all harvestable and marketable flora and fauna of the area. 

No matter what is unpacked and unwrapped before him – giant mushrooms, dried roots, deer hides or luxuriant furs – Dove can instantly recognize what he’s looking at and what he can afford to pay for it. 

The medicinal botanicals go on the weight scale, the furs are each examined for a moment or two and a deal is made. 

This is a man who may be living in the modern world – trading with local harvesters, selling to international markets at Canadian auctions and Asian markets in California – but he is an example of a classical mountain man, making his living “off of the land.”

Dove’s ancestors came from Rockingham and Highland counties in Virginia, but Dove grew up in Grant and Pendleton counties in West Virginia.

He has lived in Petersburg all of his adult life – to date.

He attended Shepherd College and was one year shy of getting his degree when he decided to go into business for himself.

Dove parks his pickup truck in the IGA parking lot every two weeks and meets the “free trappers” and medicinal botanical collectors of Pocahontas County who come to sell him their harvest.

“I’ve been coming to do business in Pocahontas County for a very long time,” he said.

He has dozens of regular suppliers here and is on good terms with them all.

“People here are honest and genuinely friendly,” he said, with a smile. 

Maybe that’s a big part of his success. 

Dove has a good sense of humor and seems to enjoy visiting with his customers – and making a deal that’s fair to all.

“This business provides a pretty good living,” he said.

But it used to provide a much better living.

Dove started his business during the heyday of the wild fur business.

“The 1970s and 1980s was when fur was trading at the highest dollar amount in history,” Dove said.

“That’s when fox pelts, for instance, were going for between $40 and $60 each – and raccoon furs for $20 to $30. 

“I went into the business because it was a good way to make money. But these days, there’s much less demand for wild fur. The market for wild fur is in a downswing right now and has been dropping for about ten years.”

The red fox furs brought to him last Tuesday were bought for between $4 and $16 each.

He bought bobcat furs at $8 to $50 each and beaver for $3 to $14. 

Pocahontas County’s freelance trappers or “free trappers” bring many kinds of furs to sell to Dove.

He regularly takes in coyote, red and gray fox, bobcat, mink, raccoon, opossum, groundhog, beaver, striped skunks and weasels – like fishers and spotted skunks (also known as “civet”), and the occasional otter. 

Muskrat is the fur most often brought in to sell. 

Currently it is going for $2 per hide. 

It is the second largest harvest in fur in the U.S. right now, with raccoon being first.

Dove sells most of his furs at the West Virginia Trappers Association Auction in Glenville or travels to Canada to one of four major fur trading centers.

The beaver furs are primarily sold in Jackson Hole, Wyoming.

Dove also deals in deer and cow hides, antlers and horns.

Tom Sharp, of Marlinton, has been selling cow and deer hides to Dove for about 20 years.

“I tell everybody, ‘don’t throw those hides or horns away!’” said Sharp, who works at the Green Bank Green Boxes. “I tell them to bring them to me.  I salt them down and dry them and sell them to Dayton.”

Dove also buys antler sheds. 

These days the antlers are used for dog toys.

Right now he’s paying $5 a pound for them, if they are still brown, meaning they are fresher. 

Sellers who bring in antlers that have turned white or have been painted, only get $1 a pound.

Dove is an expert on fur.

Fur is either “green” or dried and stretched. 

Trapping in West Virginia is done on an honor system. 

When you trap something you can call it in or register it online.

Trappers are assigned a 6-digit DNR number for life. 

The fur-bearing animals are only legally hunted or trapped from the first week of November through the last day of January (for fishers) and the last day of February, for everything else.

But, for coyotes, which are considered to be a particular nuisance, there is a continuous open season here in Pocahontas County.

One interesting thing about coyotes that was learned in talking with Dove is that it is a fallacy that our burgeoning coyote population here in the county is due to them having been brought in here. 

Rather, coyotes, which are present in all of the “lower 48” states, are migratory – they go where the game is.

We see more coyotes here now because they have migrated here from other states – particularly from Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan and the Great Lakes region – being attracted by our abundant population of deer and small game.

Dove buys coyote pelts for about $15 each. 

Coyote is also rather popular right now in the Asian market, being used as garment trim for collars, hoods and sleeves. 

Dove also buys frozen squirrel tails (bone-in), which are used for fishing lures and flies; and “buck tails” – white-tailed deer tails – which are used to make deep sea fishing lures.

Beaver castoreum are the scent glands taken from either side of the anus. 

Beaver graze on pine bark so, surprisingly, the castoreum smell sweet, like pine. They are brought to Dove in dried form and sell for $45 per pound.

Dove also enjoys reading about and keeping up with the markets for native flora and fauna and is very knowledgeable on those subjects, as well.

And he needs to be. 

He has to stay current with the up and down swings of the wild fur, deer hide and botanical industries in order to know how much to offer for whatever is being brought to him for sale.

For instance, Dove said right now, a large proportion of our fur and hides are being sold to China, although the prices Chinese dealers could pay dropped about three years ago when China imposed higher taxes and tariffs on fur and hides. 

When he was first in the business, most of the furs and hides were being sold to Europe, the Balkans, the Middle East and Canada. 

But now, with the expansion of their economies – China, Greece and Russia are the largest markets for fur.

Dove also does quite a bit of business in purchasing medicinal mushrooms, plants and herbs harvested here in Pocahontas County. 

There are 50 to 100 species of medicinal botanicals which are native to our area and their current value, like the market in fur, varies. 

Collectors in Pocahontas County bring Dove: chaga, ganoderma appalanta, reishi mushrooms, black and blue cohosh, blood root, goldenseal, skunk cabbage, cherry bark, ginseng, witch hazel, wintergreen, sweet black birch bark (teaberry flavoring), wild geranium and Virginia snake root (camphorous), just to name only a few.

Last Tuesday, a gentleman brought in three huge chagas, weighing a total of 114 pounds.

Chaga is a tree fungus which grows on white and yellow birch trees. 

It is considered to be a very valuable Asian medicine.

The inner, orange part is the medicinal part. 

It is dried and used to make an elixir, or tea.

“Green” or fresh chaga sells for about $22 per pound, and dried chaga sells for $15 a pound.

Ivan Withers, an old friend from Shepherd College, who lives in the Brush Country, was visiting with Dove and provided an on-the-spot testimonial for chaga tea.

He said that chaga tea “tastes okay, certainly not unpleasant.”

“Maybe 30 or 40 years ago, I had three or four chaga roots and we dried it out,” Withers said. “I was curious about it. We brewed it up into a tea.

“Honestly, I was surprised. I remember that it really jazzed me up and made me feel good.”

Dove said he buys some goldenseal in Pocahontas County, but that most of the goldenseal that he collects comes from Preston County.

“Most if it is coming from Northern West Virginia and Southern Pennsylvania,” he said.

Right now, goldenseal roots and tops brought to Dove are selling for $30 per pound for the dried roots and $8 a pound for the dried tops. 

Dove sells his chaga to private buyers in Los Angeles and San Francisco for the Asian and Korean markets.

The other medicinals and botanicals he sells to some of the largest crude drug buyers in the country.

 He ships to four buyers in North Carolina and one in Missouri, and he will be driving to Canada again in May to see what the fur market is doing and may sell some of his fur there.

Dove said that there is a good market for ginseng.

It is one of the most popular and valuable medicinal plants that grows in the Appalachians. 

The roots are dug up and dried, and they are currently selling for about $600 per pound.

“I probably buy about a hundred pounds of ginseng a year in Pocahontas County,” Dove said.

Does he use any of the medicinal plants himself?

Yes, he does occasionally chew ginseng root and brews it into tea.

“It has the effect of reducing stress and reducing blood pressure,” Dove said. 

Although he buys a lot of furs, hides and antlers, Dove doesn’t hunt anymore – he’s too busy to hunt.

Whenever he has time, he catches up on his reading.

But he said he still likes to get out and do a little native trout fishing when he can.

Dove says he’ll be looking forward to some fishing during his trip to Toronto this May.

“And I’m also looking forward to checking out the French Canadian women,” he chuckled. “You can put that in your story.”

Dove’s Fur can be found in the Pocahontas IGA parking lot two Tuesdays of each month, 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Watch for his ad in The Pocahontas Times.

more recommended stories